You never forget your first.
I still remember my very first phone interview with laser-vivid clarity. I was sitting at my parents’ kitchen table, fingers twirling through an actual phone cord (how retro!), trying to persuade a woman I’d never met that I was The One To Hire.
The gig was a paid internship at a prestigious public broadcasting company and—even though I’d never worked in radio before—I knew I had the goods. Well, mostly.
As I responded to each question she threw my way, my heart was beating like a caffeinated hummingbird. The frightened animal portion of my brain was looping three words: “Please-hire-me-please-hire-me-please-hire-me.”
Meanwhile, another portion of my brain was looping 11 different words: “I’m really awesome. I think. No, I am. Wait, am I?”
Somehow, despite my hummingbird heartbeat, I was able to convey that I had a “body of work” to bring to the table—English tutor! Student journalist! Published humor columnist! Able to recite Garrison Keillor quotations on command!
I got the job—and it kick-started my entire career as a writer.
That first interview—and all of the please-hire-me conversations since then—have taught me a thing or two about how to build up your reputation (not to mention personal confidence) when you’re “just starting out,” either in your career, or in a new industry or position.
If you’re feeling anxious about an upcoming interview or conversation with a client and you’re doubting that you’ve got what it takes, here are three points to hold in your heart.
1. Unless You Were (Literally) Born Yesterday, You Are Not “Just Starting Out”
Nobody is “just starting out.” Not really. Even if you’re transitioning into a completely new industry, you already have what artists and writers call a “body of work”—your job history, and just as importantly, your off-the-record hobbies.
Want to work in marketing? All those flyers and newsletters you created for your improv comedy theater troupe count as experience.
Want to be the fundraising director at a nonprofit? Gathering signatures door-to-door for local governmental petitions helped give you the persuasive communication chops you need.
Want to arrange artful store displays and work in retail merchandising? All that “unofficial” interior design you’ve done for friends and family—while obsessively recapping every room on Instagram? That counts, too.
Just because you weren’t on a company’s payroll while building your body of work doesn’t make it any less real, impressive, or important. So, the next time you doubt yourself, practice saying the following sentence:
“Even though I’ve never been paid to do ________________ before, I already know that I rock at it, because I’ve successfully done ________________ in the past.”
2. Don’t Worry About Being a “Master.” Just Prove That You’re Curious and Studious
Jobs are like people—they’re dynamic. They grow and evolve.
As such, most employers don’t expect you to know absolutely everything about your industry. What they do expect—and seek out—is a willingness to keep learning and growing as your industry changes.
If you feel like there’s a gap in your training or skills, make up for it with gumption and drive. Show potential employers that you’re masterful learner—even if you’re not a “master of your craft.”
In your next interview, give this sentence a shot:
“I’m certainly not the world’s foremost expert on ________________ (yet!), but I’m constantly growing and refining my craft.
Just recently, I did ________________ , which helped me get so much better at ________________ .
And next? I’m going to be trying ________________ . There’s always more to learn!”
3. It’s OK to Be Honest About Not Knowing “What You Want to Be When You Grow Up”
In life, and especially in interviews, we feel a lot of pressure to not “not know” anything.
But if you’re beginning your first career—or making a transition—you might be in a place where you have more questions than answers.
So, if you’re not exactly sure what you’re looking for—or, you’re making a brave leap into a brand-new field—then say so. Just give your lack-of-total-clarity an uplifting twist.
“To be perfectly honest? I know that I’m amazing at ________________ .
And I’ve learned from experience that I don’t want ________________ .
Beyond that, I don’t know exactly what the future holds for me—but I do know that this position will point me in the direction that I want to go.”
Now, go forth with confidence. You are awesome. And you’ve got this.