Bad answers: How interviews go astray

Recently I interviewed for a job. I haven't interviewed for the last three years, since my first son was born. I felt that awkward feeling that people describe when they break up with their long-term significant other and have to date again.

It was a writing job. Most writing jobs don't require an interview. You just send some writing, and if they like it, you get the job. But this was a big writing job, so I had to interview. However, no one seemed to care what I was like in person since they'd probably never have to see me. So everything was riding on a phone interview.

I tried to do all the things you're supposed to do. I dressed in business clothes because you sound different when you are in your pajamas and when you're in a suit. Even on the phone. I stood up while I talked to sound energetic. I smiled because I read that a smile changes your voice to sound upbeat.

I thought things were going well. I liked the interviewer, and all the questions were easy. When I got off the phone, I started think about my greatness: Name in lights, bank account brimming.

By bedtime, I was a wreck. I thought of questions I answered poorly. For example, "Where do you want to be in 10 years? Would you go back to executive management?" (The obvious answer should have been, "No. I want to write forever.")

Instead, I decided to discuss the fact that my income as a writer is about 20 percent of my former, executive income. And, like that wasn't enough, I started talking about my childcare arrangements.

For those of you who struggle with similar problems, do not talk about them in an interview. Such talk makes you look confused, on the fence, overwhelmed by kids. All of which were true for me. But I could have hidden my problems for a 20-minute interview. I hadn't rehearsed. I talked off the top of my head.

Later that night, when I was lying in bed, my heart was racing. So then I did something I learned in sixth grade. I made a list of things I did well. And I felt better... momentarily.

There are no re-dos in interviews. But we can all learn from my mistakes:

1. Rehearse. Very few questions are unpredictable. There are plenty of books to buy that give you the questions and answers to memorize. Try, for starters, The Complete Q&A Job Interview Book, by Jeffrey Allen.

2. Make a list of off-limits topics. So you don't go there. An interviewer can lead you to a topic, but your answer can lead somewhere else. Have a plan in place to make this happen.

3. Make a list of reasons you are great. Use it in the interview.

But guess what? I got the job. So here's another lesson: Get some perspective.

 It was normal for me to not be sure what I want to do career-wise when I have two kids under four years old. I need to know what I want to do now, or how can I do it? But I don't need to know where I want to be in 10 years.

And it just might be an irrelevant question for today's workers, because in 10 years, most of us will be doing something completely different than what we're interviewing for. So why talk about it?