Job Interview Just As Ella Fitzgerald Improvised

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The following is a guest post by Mark Anthony Dyson.

Image Credit: Wikimedia

Ella Fitzgerald is called the “queen of jazz vocals.” In a recorded concert in 1960, she was to sing “Mack the Knife,” a pop and jazz standard that everyone in the audience knew. Listen carefully to the recording. You can hear her voice her doubts about knowing the complete song. A job interview is a performance, and the interview success is a result of a great performance. A savvy job candidate is well aware of this.

One job interview is as stressful as a concert performance. No matter the diligence of preparation, there are moments that can result in making mistakes. Mistakes do not have to be costly. Any error can be corrected in a way that is unnoticeable. Ella’s performance clearly suggests the same effort will help you deliver expectations the audience desires.

Preparation, preparation, preparation

Ella attempted to learn the lyrics on the way to the concert on a flight from Stockholm to Berlin. There wasn’t time for a lot of preparation. As stated before, she voiced doubts that she was not confident about the lyrics. We know the downside of the lack of preparation for a job interview, but even the job candidate who is well prepared can forget details or be thrown off by an unexpected question or response. Keep in mind that most interviewers are looking for a misstep and disqualifying behavior. It is better to prepare thoroughly than half-heartedly, which you can apply to your job search as a whole.

Practice, practice, practice

Ella did not practice “Mack the Knife” much. Perhaps she was overconfident in her natural abilities, although you would have thought the song needed sufficient practice because:

1. Everyone in the audience knew every word of the song

2. It’s a lengthy song

Most people do not practice the question and answer portion of the job interview when that part needs it the most. Even those employed should interview a couple of times a year to remain job search ready. Want to ensure interview success? Be intentional about practice and receiving quality feedback.

Practicing will help you prepare for the unexpected question. This will challenge you to rely on the preparation efforts and may exploit weaknesses, if any, by not preparing enough. This could be a strength, or a weakness, but will strengthen your efforts later.

Make a mistake? Keep going!

It was apparent by the sixth verse of “Mack the Knife” that Ella forgot the words. If you listen to the recording, she not only continues, but also she was just as enthusiastic in delivering the performance as ever. When you are at a job interview and you make an error, it is not the end of the interview. In fact, you can circle around later and ask to clarify your answer by stating, “I would like to clarify an earlier answer to a question you asked earlier.”

Ella’s strength, her voice

By the middle of the song, it was clear Ella completely forgot the words, yet the performance was stellar. Practice has another positive element if done regularly. You learn different ways to express your best attributes and answers. Yes, interviewers care about the “right” answer but await to hear a unique perspective. That is your voice, like Ella’s improvisation, never heard before as a memorable performance. Your voice is a powerful one when you ask for any opportunity. The quality is not based on how loud and clear, but how direct and clear. The job interview is the best place to showcase your voice, the integral part of your brand.

Ella, Ella, Ella ended strong

Let’s say Ella felt humiliated by forgetting the words to the most popular song in the world at that time. People still cheered, the critics still raved, and Ella won a Grammy for best vocal performance. People will forget how you began when you finish confidently. Thank you notes (handwritten and email) are strong finishers to any meeting, such as one-on-one networking meetings with someone you met online, someone who went out of his or her way to meet a need as a result of an event, or a panel of interviewers (or an HR person screening you).

Your job search must include a strong job interview strategy to ensure interview success. Practice will challenge you to research and develop a keen awareness of your strengths. Once you do that, interviewing will come naturally and frequently. It is difficult to prepare for that one unexpected question or line of questioning.

If you are unsure, then hope you can tap into your inner Ella, and improvise like she did.

What challenges have you faced with preparing for interviews? Tell us about it in the comments below.

About the Author:

Mark Anthony Dyson (@MarkADyson) is the founder of the award-winning blog, He is a career consultant, and writer, coach. In September, he will be publishing “The Voice of Job Seekers” podcast to further give job seekers more tools to use for his or her job search. 

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