Sound advice Thursday: The bad first impression friend

Dear Steph,

A good friend has been interviewing for jobs for quite a while and is feeling very defeated. At first, family emergencies kept coming up, so it was okay that she hadn’t been offered a full-time position. Now, after about two years of being under- and, at times, unemployed, her stress is starting to take a toll on her relationship with her boyfriend and friends (including me). How can I gently suggest that she solicit some outside help on her interview skills without insulting her? I am confident that is where the problem lies.  She’s capable and has a great work history, but I fear the first impression she makes in an interview is likely holding her back in such a tough job market. How do I broach this topic with her?


Kid Gloves

Dear Kid Gloves,

You want the best for your friend. You love her, you care about her, and you want her to succeed. And you want the best for your friendship, but it sounds like you’re not sure how much longer you’ll be able to tolerate your friend’s toxic stress. So, as a caring friend, you’re well within your friendship rights to suggest to your friend — let’s call her Francine — that something might be amiss in her approach to job-hunting.

I’d lead with the fact that you care about her and want her to find a job she loves and will succeed in, because you know how much her current state of un/der employment has been weighing on her. (Maybe leave out the part about how her stress is driving her significant other and all of her friends batty, for now). Then, be straightforward without being insulting. Say something like, “Francine, you know what I read online just yesterday? That the number one reason people end up not getting a job in this economy is because of some tiny mistake made in the interview.” (It’s okay to lie here.) Emphasize that interview skills are a thing that lots of people have to work on, not just her — maybe say something like, “I know when I started interviewing, I had no idea what I was doing, and then I got some great feedback from a colleague about [x], [y], and [z]” — and suggest that she speak to someone in the industry she wants to break into about what’s expected in an interview, and what makes a potential candidate stand out. At the very least, she can google “common interview mistakes.” Maybe point her toward this article, or this one, which highlight some mistakes that she might be making unwittingly, like bringing a drink into the interview, or failing to do proper research on the company with which she’s interviewing.

Hint: don't wear a bad wig and an old fashioned flight attendant's uniform to your interview
Hint: don’t wear a bad wig and an old-fashioned flight attendant’s uniform to your interview

Another possibility is that Francine’s resume might not be as sterling as you think. Does she have unexplained gaps in employment? Maybe the last two years of fruitlessly searching for a job are the reason she’s not succeeding. If so, she should consider some of these tips for how to fill in gaps on one’s resume, and how to address periods of unemployment in an interview.

The bottom line is that you don’t really know why Francine’s not succeeding. But letting her know that you care and are willing to help — either by running a mock interview with her, or directing her to someone who can, or reviewing her resume — is an important gesture. If she gets defensive, give her time to cool down — she’s probably a bit embarrassed. It’s tough not having a job at a time in life when most of your friends have careers. Hopefully she’ll give the whole thing some thought and take your advice to brush up on her interview skills. If not, then it’s out of your hands: she’s a grown-up. But I hope for her sake, and for your friendship’s sake, she works on her skills and lands her dream job. Good luck!




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