Last year, a big company flew me out to Los Angeles to interview for a summer internship.
I’m still not sure why.
This was a major, multinational bank. I’m not messing with you, you’ve definitely heard of it.
And here’s the weird thing: it was pretty clear that I was not an ideal candidate.
I’m not just being self-deprecating.
The industry was well out of my field of study (I majored in history because it’s awesome). I firmly believe that degree does not equal destiny, but, in retrospect, I didn’t have much going for me as a candidate regardless of my preferred subject.
I’d initially applied to the job because my mum had emailed me a link to the application page. I’d scoured the “position description” again and again, until I felt my cover letter reflected exactly what I thought the company was looking for.
My trip to the City of Angels followed in the wake of two awkward and tongue tied phone interviews, in which I felt I had already demonstrated my lack of both relevant experience and knowledge of the field. I’d reached out to members of my network for advice on how to snag the internship, but I hadn’t done the more important research. Namely, figure out what the heck I was interviewing for, exactly.
What skills could I bring to the table for the company? What sort of opportunities would this internship open up? What sort of person succeeded in this internship? These were all good questions that I was not asking.
The day of my interview, I found myself sitting in a room filled with bright, alarming artwork. Despite my previous nerves, I actually wasn’t too scared.
I should have been.
The interview turned out to be a ghastly marathon operation. Different sets of interviewers would arrive, paired up like detectives in the world’s most boring buddy cop movie.
I bombed with the first few duos. I’m got choked up, I stared blankly, I answered questions with rambling, high-pitched non sequiturs. One time, the talk was actually going well until the interviewer asked me to tell him a joke. Any joke. I couldn’t think of anything so I sat in silence.
Yeah, you’d definitely want to work with that person.
I think the big takeaway here is twofold: do the right kind of research and don’t visibly doubt yourself.
I had researched the role, but not in a meaningful way. I was so surprised that I’d made it so far in the interview process, I was focusing more on how to get the job than on considering my own qualifications and how they aligned with the position and the company’s goals.
I don’t necessarily think that self-doubt is all bad. I doubt I could make an effective astronaut. You need to know your limitations.
The key is not to demonstrate self-doubt so early in the job-seeking process. Especially during an interview. Fake it till you make it and all that. It really works, if you prepare properly. That’s not really bombshell news. But it’s still important advice for people — especially young people just entering the job market — to keep in mind.
In my case, I’d let my surprise at making it that far in the process overwhelm me too much.
The trip wasn’t completely disastrous. It was actually quite fun. I stayed at this inn that looked like the setting for some 1930s noirish murder mystery. Following the advice of one of my interviewers, I took my first Uber ride (it was an UberPool, which I shared with a self-described aspiring documentary maker… yeah). I went to the Santa Monica Pier and stared at the pink and purple sunset (so deep).
The internship would have definitely been a great opportunity. I’d actually gotten along well with one of the last interviewer pairs. After our talk, they took me into a conference room to see a view of the city. We talked about all the cool things I could do in the city over the summer, as if I was going to get the position. I knew better than that.
Despite my failed interview, I did end up indirectly receiving an internship from my experience in LA. Some of the people who I had reached out to for advice ended up being instrumental connections for the internship I did get that summer.
And, to paraphrase Gladys Knight and the Pips, LA probably would have been too much for me anyway.
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