Do you ever get nervous before a sales presentation or a job interview? If so, this experience may help you out.
As a young professional in 1994, I landed the job interview I had been waiting for. I found out about the interview while on a business trip to Boston. Because my would be boss was short-handed and overwhelmed with work, he wanted to fast-track the hiring processing, scheduling the interview as soon as possible.
I quickly altered my flight itinerary so I could do the interview right away. That led to a crazy patchwork schedule with flights that departed late one night and insanely early the next morning. For reasons I cannot remember, I had to fly to one city, spend the night and catch the first flight out the next day. As I booked the flights, I knew that at best it was going to be a blurry-eyed journey.
As I left Boston for my cross-continental trip, my stomach started to hurt. By the time we stopped for a layover in Chicago, I was feeling downright sick. As luck would have it, severe weather over the southern plains backed-up air traffic nationwide, delaying my departure from Chicago by several hours.
By the time I landed at the sleep-over destination, it was after midnight, several hours later than my scheduled arrival. Not only was I sicker than a dog, my flight the next morning was scheduled to leave at 4:50 a.m. Instead of sleeping, I spent most of the night throwing up.
Knowing what I know now, I simply would have rescheduled job interview, explaining that I was ill. But back then I thought I could do anything. No illness would slow me down!
I forced myself into the shower at 3 a.m., managed to get back to the terminal and got on that plane. By the time I landed, I was even worse off and fought dizziness and nausea as I drove to the interview site.
The Show Must Go On
Upon arriving, the director greeted me and took me into a conference room for an interview with an eight-person committee. As luck would have it, they seated me at the head of the table in front of a big window where the sun shone through, beating on my body like a radioactive beam of death.
At the very beginning of the interview, adrenaline allowed me to forget how sick I was. Unfortunately, I was soon reminded. It was so hot in there that drops of sweat started forming on my forehead and dripped down my face. After a few minutes, sweat was soaking through my shirt.
Then the nausea came back. As I was answering questions for this committee, I was physically forcing myself not to get sick. Committee members were looking at me with strange expressions – that mixture of pity and concern. At one point, I was debating in my head whether it would be worse to suddenly jump out of my seat and sprint to the bathroom or just throw up all over the conference table.
Somehow, I made it through the committee interview without getting sick. The director then told me another three or four people were scheduled to interview with me over lunch.
We walked to an exclusive restaurant, one of those clubs where you must have a membership to be admitted. Problems continued at the lunch meeting. To reduce the risk of a very embarrassing situation, I made sure not to let any food actually enter my stomach. To make it seem less obvious, I played around with my food while I talked and answered questions.
Now, when I talk, I have a tendency to gesture quite a bit with my hands. I don’t know how exactly it happened, but apparently the tines of my fork were under the rice pilaf while the handle was hanging off my plate. Somehow, my hand hit the edge of the fork, converting it to a food catapult.
Rice pilaf flew up into the air like a fountain, covering everyone at the table. People were literally picking rice and bits of chopped veggies out of their hair and brushing it off their clothing. At the end of lunch, as we all stood up, rice pilaf fell from everyone’s laps. It was an unmitigated disaster. As he walked me out of the club, the would-be boss, told me, “We’ll be in touch.”
I left the interview, knowing I wouldn’t get the job.
The Day After
Sitting in my office a couple days later, my phone rang. It was the director who had interviewed me. “Jeff, we offered the job to someone else,” he said. “The committee just didn’t feel comfortable with you.”
I wanted to tell him that I didn’t feel too comfortable around them either!
Obviously, I was disappointed, but I didn’t stay depressed for long. A different job interview opportunity popped up later that week. In a delicious twist of irony, one of the interviewers embarrassed himself during that interview. As the vice president took a bite out of his sandwich, the turkey, lettuce and tomato squirted out onto the table. I couldn’t help but smile, thinking “Thank God it was somebody else this time!”
Okay, do you feel better now? No matter how nervous you may get before a job interview, a meeting with a client or a presentation to your investors, just think about me, the guy who showered people with rice pilaf and smile. Chances are minuscule that you’ll ever screw up as badly as I did.