on wearing a chicken to a job interview

Blog post by HTS blogger Nick Tomlinson - http://hts.typepad.com/

Picture this. You've applied for a fabulous job and behold, the employer in question wants to interview you. There's just one catch. You'll be required to attend the interview with some sort of poulet-objet (a hat, a mask, an actual chicken - you choose) on your head, as per the hil-ARIOUS picture above.

Now, let's say you applied for this job through an agency; and after telling you about the chicken clause, the agent adds that upon hearing about the poultry stipulation, ninety percent of applicants so far have dropped out.

Do you attend the interview or not? In other words, do you think the chicken clause has worked in your favour, or not?

I ask the question because a comparable situation arises in real life with some frequency. It's this: a client asks an applicant to attend an interview - and give a presentation.

Faced with the prospect of having to prepare a presentation, many applicants simply drop out, like the aforementioned chickophobes.

Now, in the current market, I'd advise a little reflection...

First: if you're considering dropping out, then other people will have considered dropping out, and some will have actually dropped out. This means that in a market where there are 120 applicants for every position, you're facing reduced competition.

'But I hate giving presentations! They make me all sweaty.'

Yes, and everybody else hates them, too. So if nobody else turns up except you, you stand a pretty good chance of getting the job, even if your overhead projector explodes and you faint.

'But your analogy is faulty, because wearing a chicken hat is easy, and giving a presentation is hard.'

Au contraire, my spineless friend! The hard thing - the thing that causes people to blow interviews - is answering questions. True, it's stressful to stand up before a bunch of people; but talking about stuff that interests you is not intrinsically horrible. With a presentation, you get to say what you want to say, rather than responding to a bunch of questions you may or may not have prepared for.

Get over the stress of standing there, and you get rid of the stress of the presentation (provided you've done your research, which is another blog-post altogether).

It might help to remember that job interviews aren't really about you; they're about the job. In question-and-answer situations, the temptation is to talk about yourself, and leave out all of the stuff that the interviewers are interested in - namely, how your experience fits the job spec. With a presentation, all you have to do is talk about the demands of the role, and show how you can meet them. So even if you go on to fluff up the question-and-answer bit later, you've still managed to prove your technical understanding.

On trying to be moderately, but not superheroically, professional:

Personally, I've found that most of the stress of doing a presentation can be mitigated by taking yourself a little less seriously than you think you should.

I'm assuming you already know that you should dress smartly and not spend the interview sucking a boiled sweet. Some level of professionalism and taking yourself seriously is mandatory. But beyond that, it's the people who are hellbent on appearing professional at all costs who come most spectacularly unstuck.

If you're prone to this kind of self-sabotaging earnestness, it might help to prepare two or three self-deprecating fallback phrases. Lampooning yourself during a presentation is far better than letting your audience do it for you afterwards.

Example: you've found yourself misprouncing words and talking rubbish. If you're hell-bent on being seen as professional, you'll get flustered, like the wrecks you see hyperventilating on Dragons' Den because they've forgotten their lines. Soon you're weeping and dribbling - all because you wanted to look like you knew what you were doing. But if you allow yourself a little margin for error, you'll grin at your audience and say, 'Sorry - I'll just put my teeth back in' (don't actually act it out) and the tension in the room will drop, and you'll be fine, trust me.

Alternatively, you can reach into your bag, pull out a chicken, and put it on your head.

And if you do divebomb? At the very least, you've had some very useful interview experience. It'll serve you well the next time you attend an interview where a presentation is required, especially if nobody else turns up because they're all scaredy-cats.

Moral of the tale? The things that are scaring you about your forthcoming job interview will almost always work in your favour if you let them. Do your research, prepare, turn up, be charmingly self-deprecating if you fall on your face, and don't make any infantile word-play-based jokes.

Good cluck.

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