Have you ever bombed on a job interview? Well, this episode could prevent that from ever happening again. McKenna Bailey, author of We’re Just Talking, is about helping people ace the job interview. Through preparation and the right state of mind, you can enjoy the interview and land the gig.
We also talk about our experience working together as coauthors on the book Play For A Living. Be sure to listen as well as read, because at the end of the episode, she shares the most awesome luck we’ve experienced since publishing the book.
McKenna Bailey: I graduated college in 2011. So it wasn’t 2008, it wasn’t the worst period of time but everybody was hearing that it’s going to be hard to get a job, you’re probably going to have to do internships where you’re not going to get paid, you’ll probably live with your parents until you’re 35. It was just a very bleak situation.
Going through school, I talk about this in the book, I was always pretty average. I was smart enough to get good grades, but I was sort of in college for the experience of college.
If the all stars aren’t getting hired, I’m certainly not going to get hired with my English degree from Arizona State. Love the school, but what am I going to do?
I would have to send out hundreds and hundreds of resumes to companies, but when I would get the interview, I noticed that I would get the job.
“My resume wasn’t stellar because there wasn’t a lot to it, but I found that once I got into the room, that I could get people to want to work with me.”
It happened frequently enough that I’ve been lucky enough to always be employed since graduation. It was happening while I watched other friends go on interviews and just not get it and get frustrated.
You start to feel that guilt when you feel like you have this thing that other people don’t have and you don’t really get what the difference is, because you’re not in interviews with other people.
I wanted to help other people, and I wanted to take whatever I knew and spread it out. Everybody wants their friends to be successful.
Charlie Hoehn: When you would go into these interviews, would you notice the employer’s demeanor shift by the end?
McKenna Bailey: There was specifically an interview that I did with a tech company in San Diego, and I went in and met with their HR person. We were going through the typical questions and I was giving answers, and I think we can all sort of remember the time when we give the blanket answers or the answers that we’re supposed to give.
I think it was probably 45 minutes into this conversation where you sort of get worn out just talking about yourself and trying to anticipate what you’re supposed to say.
“I think feeling a little bit fatigued from this interview, I gave a genuine answer to one of her questions.”
That spurred us into a conversation about growing up and our mothers and our personality types. It turned away from just listing my skills into giving context about who I am as a person, what motivates me, what I would like to do in the future. For me, that was the moment where I realized that the skills that I had listed on my resume got me in the door.
But this idea of becoming a person that they want to be around for eight hours a day was the difference between them hiring me and them hiring somebody else.
We’re Just Talking Action Steps
Charlie Hoehn: What do you want listeners to really remember and be able to take action on?
McKenna Bailey: Yeah, I definitely gave it all away in the title. I think the thing that really motivated me to finish the book and release it is that we’ve sort of going back to what we’re talking about.
The recession gave everybody this anxiety about getting a job and about how there’s such an imbalance of power in these interviews now. There’s so many people who want a job and very few people who are giving them away.
I think that it shifted the way that we view it. From this interrogation of, “My god, I’m never going to stack up.” And I’m trying to start to shift it back to this is just a conversation about the subject that only you know the most about which is yourself and your experience.
Charlie Hoehn: If you are good and you know how to come across as sane and professional in these interviews, you can get the job.
McKenna Bailey: Right, I spend a lot of time in the first half of the book talking about how there’s a lot of people who apply for the job that they want and not the job that they are qualified for, right?
There’s a lot of up front work about researching the company, researching the role, taking inventory of your skillset and your experience.
“If you’re punching above your weight class, the idea that you can get into the room and charm them is probably not going to work out.”
There is a lot of upfront work to do, but I think because people have this natural anxiety about the job interview, a lot of good people blow it. I really want to try to give them the confidence and the new perspective to say, look this is just an hour talking about yourself, which is everybody’s favorite topic.
Take stock of what you want to say, what you want to highlight. Think about how you can tell your story in an interesting way, because really, that’s what’s going to separate you, that’s what’s going to make you memorable.
It’s not all of the numbers on your resume it’s, “Can I tell you a story that makes you engage with me that makes me interesting to you?”
Charlie Hoehn: Give me an example of a typical story that somebody might tell that’s actually not a very great story and then flip it. If that’s too abstract, maybe do your own story.
McKenna Bailey: I worked at an advertising agency and was tasked with sort of educating this company. It was a snack brand, and in 2016, the UN declared it the year of the pulse, and the pulse is not an interesting thing.
It’s like lima beans and legumes, it’s a very weird…The pulse is a different word when you say pulse to most people, they think heartbeat.
I was tasked with not only trying to get people to not think about heartbeats but also educate them. Beans are sustainable, they’re a good source of protein for people, it’s what most people in the world eat.
This client is telling me, this is very exciting, our snack brand fits under that umbrella, let’s talk about how this is our year. I had no idea what that was like.
I talk about this with people in interviews about this challenge that I had to overcome, right? Because my first natural reaction was like, “No way, let’s talk about something else, this is crazy.” It was something that they really wanted, so I really had to figure it out.
I think the idea of telling this story where I had no idea how to do this, it was an incredible task that eventually, we sort of abandoned because it didn’t work. This idea of presenting it in a way that is humorous because when they ask you about challenges, people automatically sort of clam up and they don’t want to look weak, they don’t want to look like they don’t know what they’re doing.
Presenting it in a way that no, I had no idea how to do this, but we tried and ultimately, admitting that we abandoned this challenge. It sort of shows that I know when to call it, I know when to say that I did this wrong or this wasn’t the right call or we should have thought about it differently.
Not being afraid to say that and also, being able to wrap that up in sort of a humorous, interesting story that they will remember is helpful.
I put it in the book, I give you pages to sort of write out these challenges and then work them through so that you can know what kind of story you’re going to tell about this thing.
That’s really all it is in the interview. Just presenting the thing that you don’t feel confident about in a way that you think a lot of people will react to.
Where Interviews Go Wrong
Charlie Hoehn: An example of how you could have told that story poorly would be, I don’t know, blame it on the employer or the client? What is the average person doing in that scenario? Do they not tell it at all?
McKenna Bailey: Yeah, I think the natural inclination is to pick things where…If they ask you, let’s say, if somebody talks to you about your weakness and you say, I stay at work too late, the natural inclination is to say something that’s not totally genuine.
You want to present yourself as the best of the best because you have this anxiety about, “Well, I don’t measure up so I’ve got to sort of pad all of my answers.”
Where I suggest in the book is really, you’re trying to make a genuine connection. You’re trying to have a conversation with this person so that they believe not only in your talents but that you are a good energy for their team.
They are asking that question because they want to see how you problem solve, they want to see how you act when you’re stressed out and if you’re going to make everybody’s day worse when you have a bad day, right?
“You’re not trying to give a perfect answer.”
You’re trying to give them like, I don’t react as poorly as somebody else, I’m not a volatile person, I’m not a person that gets angry and blames everybody else. It’s not about being perfect, it’s about being a person when you’re giving these answers.
Recovering from Bad Experiences
Charlie Hoehn: How do we muster up that confidence again? How do we get into the state that you’re talking about if we’ve had some bad experiences with companies?
McKenna Bailey: Yeah, I talk about that a lot in the first half of the book. In this conversation, it’s a two way street, right? You are trying to figure out if your personality also fits with them.
Now, I know the reality of some people just need a job, you know? They don’t have the luxury of saying no to a job offer. But I think when you’re initially doing the research to apply for a job, it’s important to really look at how they talk about their culture.
You know, companies get reviews on sites like Glassdoor.
“You can research the company just as much as they’re researching you.”
Really take a look at what didn’t work in your past. Say okay, I’m no longer going to try to work for a company that has XY and Z, but what I really loved about that company are these three things.
When I go on my job hunt, these are the things that are my top priority because if you feel the confidence of I also have to like this company in order to accept this job, then you sort of feel a little bit more empowered to ask the right questions, to answer in a way and maybe follow up with your own question. Really make it a conversation where you’re learning just as much as they are learning about you. That will give you an insight and to try to avoid the things that made you miserable at your previous jobs.
Charlie Hoehn: What do you tell people to get into the right emotional energetic state before they go into the interview?
McKenna Bailey: I will preface this by saying, this is the most difficult thing that anybody could do. This idea of sort of letting go of the result, all you can do is the preparation work beforehand. I talk about this at the end where up until I had written the book, I had always gotten the job offer if I got to the interview phase. Between starting the book and finishing the book, that wasn’t the case.
I had done all the interviews and lost out to somebody who was just better than me. There’s really nothing you can do about that. You can present yourself in the best way you can apply to the job that fits your experience level and your skillset and do all of this preparation work, but somebody might be better than you. There’s nothing about that that is in your control.
What I try to instill in them is that one, you’re an expert at the topic of you.
“There’s no way that you can get these answers incorrect because you know you the best.”
The second thing is doing the preparation beforehand, really getting those stories out on paper, you can practice how you tell those stories so that when you get in front of people, it isn’t the first time you’re saying them.
I’m sort of cautioning, it’s too much practice, because then you sort of step back into the rehearsed…But there is so much preparation that you can do make yourself ready to ace this interview.
If you lose out but you did all the work, then you have to take that with you and go on to the next one. Because eventually, it’s going to work out if you invest the time and the effort into yourself.
Interviewing in the New Market
Charlie Hoehn: What are some of the transformations that you’ve seen?
McKenna Bailey: Yeah, one of the things that has been interesting is that I put the book out and a lot of people who are in user experience have contacted me about this. There is a trend right now that people that are coming from different areas of life and different industries are sort of migrating to being UX designers. They are struggling a lot with, “How do I implement what I’ve done in the past and make it applicable to what these people are asking for when I want a UX designer job?”
It’s really been helpful, especially with the stereotype of who that person might be, who wants this UX job. Really empowering them to understand that it’s not about facts, it’s not about technical skillset. That’s listed on your resume. That gets you in the door.
“What you want to do now is bring your personality out.”
One of the things that I have been hearing from these people is that they have a hard time coming out of their shell. They have a hard time believing in their portfolio and their experience and making those connections.
What I bring to these consulting sessions is that there is a story here, and the best way to get it to work is to figure out how to tell that story in a compelling way.
Because on paper, black and white, they may not look like they connect. But the difference maker is you and your personality and how you think about it and how you make the connections. And then, how you can tell that to somebody else so that they believe that you are the problem solver that they need on their team.
Success with We’re Just Talking
Charlie Hoehn: So McKenna tell me a story about somebody who’s implemented this advice, somebody that’s a friend of yours that maybe you offered some coaching on?
McKenna Bailey: Sure I was talking to somebody who was trying to switch industries, and he had the base talent that this company was looking for, but he felt insecure about his portfolio. He didn’t think that he had the work to prove that he could be successful in this role, and he had already submitted his portfolio.
They had already seen it, and so I was trying to communicate to him that if you got to the interview then they believed in something that they saw in this portfolio. And it was his job during the interview to sort of tell the story about how these things that he had done in the past can be applied to their particular organization.
For him in particular, he is very much I would say like numbers-oriented. He doesn’t like all of the fluffy words that I use. But humans connect to stories. You can give people facts, but their eyes glaze over, and that’s not something that they are interested in.
Coaching him into telling these stories and telling the story of how you got to this final product like how did you figure out that this was the design that solved the problem and giving that back story. Although it was sort of counter to his nature, it really helped him understand what people in an interview were looking for. That shift that he made of, “Right I don’t have to prove my skills. I have to prove who I am as a person and all the stuff that sort of goes on internally and tell that story to somebody.”
It really helps him understand the objective of the interview and how to be more open and more engaging and not just pummel people with numbers and results. You know I could see the shift in him in the way that he was thinking.
“He embraced storytelling and it really made him a stronger interviewer.”
When you think about if anyone has ever been on the other side of it, when you are doing interview after interview, it’s the things that when you are talking about with your team. “Oh no Sarah was the girl who had the dog that jumped the fence every night.”
You know those little anecdotes are the things that people remember when they are talking about who you were. And so giving them all of that and making yourself memorable by saying all of these stories that are either humorous or compelling really just makes you memorable and that’s a step up that everyone needs.
Keep listening to the interview for our work together, our success, and where Bill Murray and Oprah come into play!