As “American Idol” Season 13 winds down, the last of the disappointed candidates heads home. (Bye-bye oft-abused Jessica Meuse and too-quiet Alex Preston, you were lucky to survive so long.) The 10-month gauntlet that started in Salt Lake City has been an arduous, sometimes superficial, review process filled with mixed messages and false hopes. In other words, it’s resembled a real-life job search.
But take heart, dog! If in the words of “Idol” icon Randy Jackson, you’re “in it to win it!” you can overcome these five Idolesque pitfalls to emerge as the NEXT…
The Best Advice Is the Worst, Unless It Isn’t
"AI" contestants must continually navigate between admonitions to “make the song your own,” and “Don’t mess with great arrangements.” Jennifer Lopez dissed front-runner Jena Irene’s melody change on Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance.” Yet after hearing Irene’s distinctive take on Elvis’ “I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You,” Lopez walked up and kissed the contestant. What to do with such, er, consistent feedback? “Stay in your lane,” as EVERY “Idol” judge has counseled. Or make the song your own!
Jobseekers understand this cycle of confusion and contradiction. “Get creative with your resume,” some experts will tell you, even as many job application portals are keyword-based. Script your answers to potential questions ahead of time – except when job interviewers decide to test how you perform on the fly. Read enough advice, and every strategy is both a best practice and the fast track back to your sofa. Worst yet, what works with one interviewer may not impress another.
How you get around it? Do your homework. Learn about the company, its core business and its hiring process. Sites like Glassdoor can help. The better informed you are, the better prepared for questions you’ll be, and the more comfortable you’ll be answering.
You Can’t Just Think You’re Great
In 2013, an estimated 8,000 contestants showed up at the Detroit auditions alone. They all thought they had a shot at the crown. You know what those 8,000 had a better shot at? Being forgotten. Just two Detroit contestants made it to the top 13, and one of them already has been eliminated (sorry, Malaya).
Job applicants aren’t much different. You’re totally awesome. Look how awesome you are! Your resume is peppered with superlatives. You’d be a star for whoever hires you. That’s what most people think, anyway. But that’s also not really the case. A 2013 study by The Career Advisory Board reported that 72 percent of all jobseekers are convinced they know how to present themselves to potential employers, but the same study says “just 15 percent of hiring managers say nearly all or most jobseekers” have what they’re looking for.
How you get around it? Get over yourself and on top of your actuals. Show the interviewer how you can help the company, citing specific examples from your work history. Lean on your resume and experience, not your total awesomeness. Oh, and drop the empty adjectives from your resume. State your accomplishments and results plainly, and let the work, like a powerful song lyric, speak for itself.
When Looking Good is Better Than Being Good
On “Idol,” simply singing isn’t enough, and it may not even matter so much if you look like a superstar. Just ask Season 4’s Constantine Maroulis (he of the rock-god charisma), Season 5’s Ace Young (the movie star looks) or Season 13’s Sam Woolf (so boyishly cute), whose looks more than lungs got them well into the top 10. The same is true in job interviews. Your off-point answers are the interview equivalent of that pitchy “Idol” wannabe, but good news! Only 7 percent of hiring bosses place much emphasis on what you say, while 55 percent say the biggest impact is on what you’re wearing and how you carry yourself. That’s superficial, depressing and completely true.
How you get around it? Ask about attire before the interview, and dress one notch above that standard, but don’t sacrifice comfort. If you feel stiff or uncomfortable, you’ll come across that way. You should look and feel good before walking out the door.
All About the Judges (or Interviewers)
“Idol” has always been as much about the judges (sometimes more so) as the singers. See: Simon Cowell’s empty abuse to perpetuate a shtick; Jennifer Lopez’s lip-synced self-promotional mid-show performances; Harry Connick, Jr., feeding Lopez a giant gummy bear; instead of reviewing a performance. Judges use the show to push their own interests and ego, distracting from the matter at hand at the cost of legitimate critique. Like a desperate “Idol” contestant awaiting judgment, jobseekers may find themselves nervously twittering as hiring managers yammer on about their work, rather than the work you’re looking to do.
How you get around it? If you can’t get a word in edgewise, interrupt by not saying anything at all. Just lean in. Your body language should help get your point across. If the interviewer does decide to take a breath, take the opening with a graceful interjection, and point back to an aspect of your resume that aligns with the job description. Guide them to respond to what you’re saying, rather than what they’re saying.
The Jennifer Hudson Effect
Sometimes, being the best candidate simply doesn’t matter; they might not hire you anyway. This is the Jennifer Hudson Effect. In “Idol” Season 3, America gave Hudson the heave-ho on the “top 7” show. The folks who finished ahead of her included winner Fantasia Barrino and a bunch of other people you’ve forgotten. The loss hurt Hudson’s career so badly, she’s done nothing of note except earn an Academy Award, a Grammy and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In the corporate world, hiring managers make mistakes all the time. As a result, you could be Hudsoned. But! You could also be Hudsoned, and experience all the success in the world somewhere else.
How you get around it? Don’t let someone’s “no” discourage you. Keep putting yourself out there. That rejection might end up being the best thing that ever happened to you.