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Chapter Nine

Career Psychology is copyright © Dan Joseph Cavicchio. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be republished, reproduced, or transmitted in any form without the prior written permission of the author. The material in this book is provided solely for informational and educational purposes. It does not substitute for professional counseling or therapy. Information in this book does not represent clinical advice for treatment of psychological disorders.

Chapter Nine
Interviews / A Deeper Look

In the last chapter, we explored the flow of the interview process from your first contact with a company all the way to salary negotiations. As a reminder, coming across as helpful and friendly—and focusing on a connection with your interviewer—is the most important thing you can do.

Let me now take a deeper look at the process of interviewing by sharing some questions I have received.

Q: I recently interviewed with a company and had a great connection with everyone. I was sure I'd get an offer. But to my surprise, they decided to go with a different candidate. What do you think happened?

A: We can never know for sure. But there are three common scenarios that might have occurred.

In the first scenario, everyone at the company may have really enjoyed meeting you. But perhaps there was a candidate who had just a slightly tighter skill-fit for the job opening. There's nothing you can do about that, except to keep the door open and the relationship positive.

The other candidate might decide the day before she's scheduled to start that she changed her mind and will not be joining the company. I've had this happen!

Or she may join, and then decide to leave after a few weeks. I've had this happen as well!

Or perhaps in a few months, the company may find that they need a second person to join the team. This happens frequently.

Any number of things may play out. Because of that, it's a good idea to keep the channels of communication open and friendly while you pursue new opportunities.

As a second scenario, the company may have promoted someone from within to fill the role. Some companies have a pre-selected person that they want to promote into an opening, but due to company policy they are required to conduct a public recruiting search.

I disagree with policies like this. They are designed to minimize favoritism and keep the playing field open, but they usually end up wasting people's time and creating false hope for outside candidates. In every situation I recall, the company went with their "inside" person despite interviewing multiple "outside" candidates. Thankfully, this isn't very common.

A third possibility is that the company experienced a change in business conditions mid-way through the interview process. Perhaps they just learned that they are going to merge with a larger company, and that all hiring is temporarily frozen. Or perhaps a big sale was delayed. The company won't disclose this to you—they will simply say that you were not selected for the position.

This type of situation happens very frequently. As with the other two scenarios, there's really nothing you can do about this development except to keep the communication channel open and positive.

Perhaps after the company completes its merger, or the sale comes in, they will contact you and see if you might still be interested—especially if things stay friendly and open between you.

In all of these scenarios, the people you interviewed with may have really liked you. They may truly want to have you join them. I recommend that you keep an open and positive connection with them, as conditions may change at any point.

Q: I keep interviewing over and over without getting an offer, and I have no idea what I'm doing wrong. I ask for feedback, but no one wants to be honest with me. Is there anything I can do?

A: It's unlikely that a recruiter or hiring manager will give you honest feedback about how your interview went. You can certainly ask, but it's rare for companies to be disclosing about why they chose another candidate.

If this is a pattern, I recommend scheduling a session with a career counselor. You can then run through some "mock" interviews in order to receive feedback. I have done this with many clients, and in almost all cases there are blind spots in communication styles that need to be identified and changed.

For example, some people give such complex, lengthy answers to interview questions that the interviewer becomes bored and disinterested. I've had hiring managers say, "Dan, I couldn't even get a word in with that candidate!"

Other people do the opposite; they give extremely curt, sparse answers. The interviewers are forced to ask follow-up question after follow-up question in order to "pull out" information. This also diminishes the interpersonal connection that we're aiming for.

Running through a practice interview with a career counselor—or a trusted friend or family member—can provide some feedback about these types of dynamics. You can even take a step further, and record a video of the practice interview in order to review the flow of communication.

As I mentioned, establishing a connection with your interviewer is key. If you're forming connections, you're probably on a good track. You might simply need to keep plugging along.

If you aren't feeling a strong connection with your interviewers, there may be a number of communication style shifts that will help.

Q: Should I bring copies of my resume to an interview? Or anything else?

A: Sure, it's a good idea to bring a few copies of your resume. Some of your interviewers might not have a copy in front of them. Your resume gives them a great jumping-off point to ask specific questions about your experience.

Just make sure to bring the same version of your resume that you originally submitted to the company. As you remember, I recommend that you slightly edit the "summary" section and the first few bullets of your recent jobs in order to highlight matches. Please double-check that you're bringing the correct version.

For added impact, you can also bring additional materials to share with your interviewer. These might be samples of your work, a reference letter, or even an outline of some initiatives that you can help the company with.

Let me share a quick story about this. I once worked for a company that interviewed a candidate to be their CEO. Prior to his interview, the candidate hired a private librarian to track down the company's international shipments—information that was not easily available. He brought a copy of the shipping report to the interview.

What an impact that document made! The company owners were fascinated that he had been able to identify that information. It impressed them about his ability to pull together data. It also gave them something to talk about in the interview. I remember them flipping through the report long after he left.

If there is something helpful and relevant that you can leave with your interviewers, it can have a nice impact.

Q: When a company asks me about my salary, do I have to tell them? I'm underpaid right now and would prefer not to discuss it.

A: "What is your current salary?" used to be a standard question in interviews. However, an increasing number of cities and states are banning that question completely, in order to reduce pay disparities and inequity. So you will probably be asked this less frequently as time goes on.

I myself always ask candidates, "Can you tell me what salary/wage you're looking for in a new role?" Most recruiters these days will only ask about your salary desires. We will not ask about your history.

If you are asked about your current compensation, and you don't feel comfortable sharing details, you might try redirecting the question by stating your goals. Here's how that would look:

A recruiter asks, "Can I ask what you're currently making?"

You say, "Well, I'm ideally looking for $50,000 for a new position."

You simply bridge to your new target. Many recruiters will be OK with that answer, and won't press you about your current salary or wage. You've just told them the most important thing.

If they do ask again, you can say, "Honestly, I'm being paid less than market rate in my current job, but I'd really like to get up to $50,000 in a new job."

Another option is to visit or another salary survey site, and say, "I've done some research on salaries for this type of position, and it seems as though the median is $50,000. Is that in the range of what you'd be comfortable with?"

Recruiters are generally looking for a ballpark number in order to ensure that you're in the same range as other candidates. They don't usually care about tracking your salary history.

Although it's rare, you might be asked about your current salary on an application form, rather than in an interview. It's up to you about whether to leave that part of the form blank. (You can always write, "Will discuss in person," or something similar.)

If you're required to disclose your salary history on an ATS form, I don't recommend that you lie. Instead, share the information and then explain to the company in an interview that you have been paid "under market" and that you're seeking $50,000.

You can also share a story about why you stayed at a below-market rate job. Perhaps you loved the company, the people, and the work. You can turn your under-market pay history into a testament about your loyalty.

But then let them know what salary or wage you're seeking in a new job. That is what really matters.

Q: I have a criminal conviction on my record, and I don't know whether to disclose that in an interview. Do you have any thoughts?

A: I have worked with a large number of counseling clients with a variety of criminal convictions, including felonies and sex offenses. So I am very sensitive to how challenging the job search process can be when criminal history is involved.

You'll have to make your own decisions about this. However, you should be aware that an increasing number of states and municipalities have "ban the box" laws which prevent companies from asking about criminal history at early stages of the application process.

Because of that, most of us in the HR world do not ask about criminal history. We usually do run a criminal background check as part of the job offer process. But if that background check comes back "clean," we don't dig around for information. We allow the background check service to do the investigating.

You should consult with your attorney and ask her about how your record may appear. I would defer to your attorney's opinion on how to proceed. However, I can say that many criminal records are either sealed, or have expired within a particular locality's reporting timeframe, and therefore do not show up on criminal background checks. Therefore, you might sidestep the entire issue.

If there is a criminal event that you're certain will show up on a background check—and you're fairly sure that the company will run a check—then you might consider discussing your situation in an interview. I have had candidates disclose their experiences in the initial interviews with me, and I certainly appreciated their honesty. Each company will have a its own level of comfort with conviction histories.

While we're on the topic, let me share a strategy that I have recommended to some of my counseling clients. If you have a felony-level conviction in your background, and are struggling to find a company that will hire you, you might want to consider self-employment—or pursuing a line of work that allows you to set yourself up as an independent contractor.

For example, let's say that you set up a landscaping business and then approach corporations about providing landscaping for their office complexes. If they hire your company, they will very likely not request any type of background check on you. After all, you're a business that they are working with. You are not an employee of theirs.

People who work on an independent contractor basis—whether they are website developers, office cleaners, drywall repairers, lead generators, or anything else—are often not background-checked. I have had numerous counseling clients who successfully went down the freelance, independent contractor, or self-employment route due to criminal backgrounds.

And of course, there are corporations that are open to hiring people with felony backgrounds. Some of these companies were founded by people with felony histories themselves, and they are committed to giving folks another chance. Feel free to do some research online as the list of companies is frequently changing.

Q: I interviewed with a company last year, and never received any further contact after the interview. I assume that they filled the position, but I have no idea. Why do companies sometimes stop communicating like that?

A: Ideally, that should never happen. On behalf of all of us in the recruiting world, I want to apologize. Everyone who interviews deserves clear communication about the final decision on filling a role.

Perhaps the recruiter lost track of whom he had already contacted. I'm sure I've made this mistake myself. Or perhaps the company put the search on hold and hasn't yet made a decision.

If you haven't heard from the company within a few weeks of your interview, please go ahead and reach out to them. You might want to first try the recruiter or HR generalist whom you originally spoke to, but you can also directly contact the hiring manager. They might be able to share an update with you.

If they outright ignore you—well, that's not a company that I personally would want to work for. You may have dodged a bullet.

In my own work, I can't respond to every applicant for a job. But I certainly try to communicate clearly about decisions to anyone who has been through the interview process. Again, our apologies. Hopefully this will not happen to you again.

Q: A commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) is important to me. Is it OK to ask about policies like these in an interview?

Sure, it's perfectly appropriate to ask about DEIA initiatives and any other company policies at any stage of your interview. The HR professionals might have the deepest understanding of specific practices (especially as they relate to hiring and professional development), so they might be the best people to ask.

I do suggest that you take an encouraging approach with your questions. Some smaller companies may not have spent much time thinking about diversity and inclusion efforts. They might not have a policy in place. However, they might be eager to learn about DEIA initiatives.

A direct question like, "What is your DEIA policy?" may be met with confusion at small companies. An alternative might be to say, "I have a commitment to supporting diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in the workplace. Is your company open to efforts to support those?"

Companies who have a DEIA commitment will immediately share the details of their own efforts with you. Companies that haven't thought a great deal about diversity and inclusion may nonetheless be delighted to receive your insights about strengthening new practices.

On a related note, you can also ask your interviewers about the broader culture at their company. General questions like, "What is your company culture?" might be challenging for some interviewers to answer. But if you lead with your interests, it will make it easy for the person to respond.

For example, you might say, "I've really enjoyed working with companies that have a team-focused, collaborative culture. Is that part of your company's culture, as you see it?" Most people will respond very positively (and often, very honestly) to questions like these.

Q: Dan, I read your comments about working with anxiety. But I've had full-blown panic attacks in interviews, where I had to leave the room. I'm terrified to interview again and have been avoiding interviews for years. What can I do about that?

A: I am aware of how truly overwhelming panic symptoms can be. You are courageous for wanting to work with this dynamic. Some people simply drop out of the work world entirely after encountering panic-inducing situations in the workplace.

My answer is that I encourage you to schedule a few sessions with a counselor or psychologist who specializes in working with panic symptoms. You deserve direct, personalized support.

Having said that, let me outline a few approaches from the world of cognitive behavioral therapy that you can discuss further with a therapist.

You might find it helpful to practice replacing old self-pressuring thought patterns with new de-pressuring, self-accepting thoughts. The key is to begin to strengthen these new thought patterns well before your interview takes place.

I often tell my clients that the process is like going to the gym. If you have to lift something very heavy in a month, you don't want to wait until that day and try to "ramp up" your strength.

Instead, it's best to go to the gym today, and lift a few weights gently. Then go again in another day or two and lift some more. Then again. After a few weeks of this, you will be significantly stronger. So it is with the mind as well.

You can begin today to strengthen a new de-pressuring, self-accepting thought pattern that says something like this:

"It's OK to feel panicked in an interview. It's just my adrenaline and stress circuits firing. Many people feel that way. If I have to leave an interview because I'm feeling overwhelmed, that's OK. There are plenty of other companies to interview with. If I feel panicked, it doesn't mean that I've done anything wrong. It doesn't mean that I'm flawed. It just means that this area of life is challenging for me, just as it is for many other people."

The goal is to strengthen that new way of thinking in a calm, gradual way over time. As you practice thinking that way on a day-to-day basis, you might eventually find that those thoughts form a general "attitude" that runs on its own in the background. That is the goal.

You might also talk to a therapist about the process of "graduated exposure." I strongly recommend that people work with a therapist on this type of approach, rather than go it alone.

The process of graduated exposure involves gently, gradually, and repeatedly entering into situations that trigger a small, manageable amount of anxiety. Over time, you gently increase your depth.

As an example, you might take five minutes to sit down with a friend (or even your pet!) and pretend that you're answering one interview question.

Just one interview question. Perhaps with your sweet cat.

You do that every night for a week.

Once that becomes easy, you increase to several questions in a row.

Then 15 or 20 minutes of questions.

Then you record a video of that interview practice and review the video by yourself.

Then you review the video with another person and invite feedback.

And so forth. The goal is to help the mind develop a greater comfort with the interview process through gentle, gradual repeated steps. Eventually, you might apply for a job that you're not really interested in, simply to practice interviewing in a low-stakes environment.

Again, I recommend that you do not do this without help from a therapist. People have a tendency to overshoot in this process, get overwhelmed, and stop the process entirely. A good counselor or therapist can help you pace the steps in a gentle, gradual manner.

On the mindfulness level, you can practice what I call the "waves" technique: You can give your feelings permission to arise in your awareness, and then pass through you, as if you were standing waist-deep in the ocean encountering a series of waves.

In this process, you don't battle against your feelings. Instead, you hold your center as you allow the feelings to rise up in your awareness and then pass by.

When the next wave comes, you do the same: Allow it to rise up in your awareness, and then pass by. You don't fight or hide from your feelings. You simply allow them to rise up and pass through you while you hold your center.

A mindfulness-oriented counselor or therapist can help you with this process. If you'd like to research therapists who specialize in these types of techniques, you might want to look up "cognitive behavioral therapy," "dialectical behavioral therapy," or "acceptance and commitment therapy," often referred to as CBT, DBT, or ACT.

There are countless other therapy modalities, of course. Any of them can be helpful. I encourage you to follow your own inner wisdom as you reach out for help. Your courage to tackle this dynamic is admirable, and deserves to be supported.

Let me conclude this chapter with a summary of the themes I have covered.

Anxiety is normal in interviews. Anxiety shows that you care about the job, and want to make a good impression. (If you didn't care about your interview, you probably wouldn't feel anything but boredom.)

Most companies are not looking for smooth operators. Instead, they're looking for friendly, trustworthy people who are authentic and kind. You can focus on simply being helpful in your interview. Whether or not you receive a job offer, you will very likely make a positive impression.

The first person you might talk to is a recruiter or human resources generalist. You can focus on relationship-building with these people, and help them to see the "matches" between your skills and the job at hand.

If that goes well, you will likely speak next with the hiring manager. This is the person you will be working for, and she is the real decision-maker.

In your interview with her, you can focus on developing a sense of connection and rapport. She will ask you about your skills and background; you will have plenty of time to describe those. But often, the sense of connection is even more important.

Stories and anecdotes can be a great way to answer questions in an interview. You may want to prepare a few stories in advance, especially stories about positive accomplishments, and stories about challenging experiences that you learned from. You may be asked about "strengths" and "weaknesses"—and if so, you can draw on those stories.

If you receive a job offer, you can aim for win-win solutions when you have discussions about salary.

If you do not receive a job offer, you have not been rejected. You have not failed or done anything wrong. There simply wasn't a match for this role, at this time. You can move on to offer your help to another company.

Let me now discuss a different path through the world of work: self-employment.

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