Leadership Advice #78: The Worst Job Interview Advice I’ve Ever Been Given

I had my first “real” job interview in the middle of my senior year in college.

It did not go well.

A few weeks before the interview, I had attended a mandatory session for business school students about how to perform well during a job interview. I’m sure we learned some invaluable lessons, but unfortunately my takeaway was this:

It’s okay to take time to think about a question before you answer.

I am here to tell you that in a job interview, this is terrible, terrible advice.

So here’s what happened: I walked into this job interview in my oversized suit. It was with BP, as I recall. I handled the first few questions just fine, and then the interviewer asked me a hypothetical question about an issue at work.

I didn’t have a quick response, but I had been prepped with the idea that it would be okay if I took a second to think about it. So I said, “If you don’t mind, let me think about that for a second.”

Here’s my stream of consciousness that followed:

Okay, I need a good answer to this question. Conflict at the workplace, how would I deal with it? Come on, Jamey, do this! Okay, okay, focus before you start to think about the fact that you’re still thinking about the question. Wait, you’re doing it. You’re no longer thinking about the question–now you’ve gone meta. How long have you been thinking? It feels like somewhere between 30 seconds and 20 minutes. Maybe they haven’t noticed how long this is taking. Maybe you’re perceiving time differently than they are. Maybe every movement you make appears in super slow motion to them, like in The Matrix.

At this point I’m standing up in front of the interviewer, mimicking Neo’s movements while Agent Smith shoots at him.

Again, the interview did not go well.

Here’s the thing: You need to be able to think on your feet at your job, and you need to be able to prove you can think on your feet at the job interview. Basically, you need to be able to BS. It’s an important skill. You may not start off with a great answer, but as you talk you respond to the interviewer’s responses and improve your answer as you go. It’s the exact opposite of sitting there in silence thinking about The Matrix.

So please, if you’ve heard this advice, disregard it. Prove you can think on your feet.

What’s the worst (or best) job interview advice you’ve ever heard?