They say you don’t really know someone until you’ve seen them with their guard down. The best way to test someone’s reflexes and get a taste of their instincts—including their ability to think quickly—is to surprise them.

Surprises are fun in the right context (think cakes, diamonds, plane tickets), but everyone dreads the job interview questions that they truly don’t see coming. When it reveals a lack of preparation on your own part, that’s the worst. But if it simply leaves you with no option but to go with your first thought, it can be rather freeing and bolsters the interview process for everyone involved.

Having left long-term job stability for the freelance life, I have a lot of catching up to do. More than half of the interviews I’ve had in my entire life have been within the last six months. The bizarreness of the process is a lot to adjust to at first. Once you get used to the variability of it all, though, it’s easier to detach from nervousness. Really, we’re being approved and rejected all the time in our interactions. It’s just that we don’t typically send and receive emails about it.

What’s more, it’s never black and white. You can have plenty of positive interview experiences that don’t work out. It’s tempting to feel perplexed, and to doubt your own assessment. “I really thought they liked me,” you might think. And hey, they more than likely did. When you’re choosing from among several qualified candidates, however, it’s not easy. It shouldn’t be about finally finding the only candidate in town you think is really promising. You want the luxury of selecting which of many that you may not even like the most, but that you think would be the best overall fit based on a series of circumstances, keywords, and probably pheromones and whatever other conscious and subconscious triggers you may have. A panel interview is even more complex, as you become the subject of foggily conducted compromises. It is, to say the least, an inexact science.

So, there’s only so much you can do. Lying will not get you very far. You can research and practice all you want (and at least some degree of this is definitely a good idea), but eventually you’ll have to answer something that takes you off your script. This is where things simplify, if you let them. There’s not much time to debate in your own head. You can’t take your contact out for coffee to get perspective. You just have to be honest and do your best, and there’s not much you can do to study for that. You already inhabit a lifetime of self-study through your own experiences. It’s easy.

Regardless of whether any particular circumstance works out, the more you think about it that way, the harder it is to get stressed out. Polishing your resume and getting out there on the search for matches is not the same thing as starting from the ground up. The work that really matters—the strange concoction of complicated living that leads us along our individual journeys—has already been done.

It’s less about reinvention than self-reflection. In any transition, it’s hard not to think about where you’ve been, where you want to go, and what you think you’ve learned is the best course. If you’re honest with yourself in that thinking, and you’re exploring a range of realistic perspectives on each point of doubt those answers that already live inside of you will at least be considered, even if they turn out not to be “right.” Ultimately, remember to be kind and honest with yourself.

The ecosystem of variables in this game is too complex to get hung up on. On a regular basis, talk to yourself about yourself and you’ll find it’s much easier to talk about yourself to others. There is no one way to making any sort of human connection. Just do the work of being you and trying to be positive, and the rest will do itself.

There’s only one real way to truly do you, and the most important thing is that you’re the only one who can do it. If you’re still looking for a little help, check out our free Interview Guide for some peace of mind.


Marjorie is a Creative Circle candidate based in Portland with a longing for work-related travel. She is a writer/editor and stylist/producer with an emphasis in the design world. If you are interested in working with Marjorie, please contact Creative Circle Portland.