While I make a good effort to maintain an upbeat, cheerleading tone on this blog, I’d be lying if I told you I was in a great mood all the time. This is especially true if I’ve been out of work for a long time. It’s been a while, but, that doesn’t mean I’m unfamiliar with long-term unemployment or low morale. It can be a challenge just to get up in the morning, let alone show up for the occasional interview or client. Yet it’s never more crucial to summon a positive attitude than when those opportunities arise. So how do you do sound your best if you’re really not feeling it? Read on and see how I’ve done it.
Act Like You Don’t Need the Job
A lot of acting involves behaving/performing as someone else or as someone with circumstances radically different from your own. So yes, that’s what I’m recommending: acting, NOT lying. Much like lying on your resume, that’s a great way to ensure that you don’t get hired or that you get fired quickly once the lie is discovered. You need to put yourself in the mindset of a person who is calm, contented, enthusiastic, optimistic, and confident.
You know what sort of person acts that way? Someone who doesn’t need the job.
Much like dating in the social world, “Needy is not a turn-on.” You might make the interviewer feel a little bad that you’re out of work, but odds are, so are many of the other people applying for the job. Therefore, saying, “I really need this job (or work)!” is not going to help your case. It is also likely to hurt you in salary negotiations because the employer will think they can lowball you. It’s better to act as if you are currently employed and to negotiate with your known value in mind.
Believe That You Already Have the Job
By this, I don’t mean you should cop an attitude and start calling everyone by their first names right away. Rather than behave as someone who needs to demonstrate your qualifications, act like someone who is ready to jump in and do the work. One way to ensure this mindset is to ask about practical matters such as, “What does an average day on the job look like?” or “Who would I be working with (or for)?” In any case, you should go in with some questions in mind. You’re not showing up for an inquisition, you’re there to have a conversation, and you can feel more confident just by having something of your own to say.
One way to have this sort of confidence is to investigate what you can about the employer or customer and identify where you might be of the most help. Or, if you can’t find anything, you might ask, “What are your biggest challenges with X project/work?” Either way, you can offer a little free advice on how to make the product/process better. Or, if that sounds too much like “mansplaining,” you can ask, “Have you tried [whatever advice you’d suggest]?”
The goal is to go in there with the confidence of someone who knows what s/he is doing and then to prove it.
Look and Feel Your Best
This usually goes without saying, but you should dress nicely for the interview. What does “nicely” mean? Well, in the gendered workplace, you might read here or here for suggestions, with an eye toward “business attire.” Also, assuming you’ve been dressing yourself for 20+ years, you should have a good idea of what clothes you look good in or make you feel/look smarter, classier, more intelligent, etc. Wear the good stuff. Maybe treat yourself to a good meal after the interview afterward (if you can afford it). Look on the interview as an opportunity to shine and show your potential employer/customer your best self.
Often the best way to help you feel better is to look the part.
It’s entirely possible that the job you’re interviewing is not something you want to do all your life–it’s just a job to keep body and soul together. There’s no shame in that. It might be a job not too many others want or like, either. That doesn’t mean you can’t sound or be enthusiastic about the work. After all, a steady paycheck might be a definite mood enhancer if you get the job, so you can channel the morale boost from the potential paycheck into your interview mood.
Also, if you’re a life-long learner–and if you’re a technical writer, it’s pretty much an occupational hazard–you can always learn something new, even in a job that you wouldn’t normally do. That’s more or less how I approached writing for an information technology department. I wasn’t gung-ho about the position and I had no idea what I was writing about half the time. To compensate, I took the time to learn about the technology so I could explain things more clearly, which was, after all, why I was there. I enjoyed the research and my employers appreciated my diligence. If you like learning, you can be honestly enthusiastic about expressing that.
Mind you, it can be difficult to be enthusiastic if you’re asked about long gaps in your employment history, but that, too can be met with enthusiasm. Rather than squirming uncomfortably and trying to offer complicated explanations, that’s an opportunity to demonstrate a positive attitude. “Yes, I know. It’s been difficult to find a job for someone with my skills lately, but I know if this opportunity doesn’t work out that another will present itself soon.”
Be Friendly and Polite
Related to enthusiasm is friendliness. You might be an introvert, like me. That doesn’t mean you can’t be cordial in your dealings with your potential employer or their staff. Don’t just turn on the charm for the interviewer; use please and thank-you when interacting with anyone and everyone you contact at the company/organization, from the CEO to the interviewer, receptionist, or janitor. And while I try to ensure that I at least send an email to my interviewer(s) within 24 hours of talking with him/her/them to thank them for their time, I’ve read that a handwritten card shows that extra bit of effort. Even if you don’t get the job, it will be remembered and appreciated.
Again, there is a huge difference between acting and lying. You should not lie about any particular regarding your work history, experience, or skill set. What you might have to do, however, is fib to yourself about how confident you’re feeling about yourself and your ability to get or do the job. The short version of my advice regarding maintaining your confidence is simply, “Fake it until you make it.”