Interview, Job search

Interviewing When You Aren’t Happy

Lately I have written several articles about interview skills, and one common denominator I mention in all of them is demonstrating happiness.  Sometimes you have to interview when you aren’t happy.  Perhaps you are depressed, grieving, overwhelmed caring for a family member who is ill, going through a divorce, or you are unhappy about how your last job ended. There are strategies you can use, because happiness can be demonstrated in several ways.

What kind of happy am I today?

Want a quick check of how you are showing happiness with friends and family today?  Check your “frequently used” emojis.  They are the first ones that come up on your smart phone, and if you look very, very closely, it says “frequently used” up at the top.  When I reviewed my top 30, there were several different kinds of smiles, several laughing faces, a few pictures and four different versions of hearts.  How do you find “your” happy?  Here are some trends I have observed in my texts:

Emoji category Varieties and interpretation
Faces Smiles vary from simple and shy, to so large that the eyes are closed.  Laughing smiles of several kinds, and emojis that are making faces that are meant to be ironic (or at least can be ironic), such as rolling eyes, or a hand to the chin contemplating.  On the ironic emojis, you should think back to how you were feeling when you were using them, because they can be used when happy, or they can be used when irritated.
Love Many kinds of hearts of all colors, blowing kisses, hearts for eyes
Hands For those of you who talk with your hands, there are celebrating hands, acknowledgement hands, and some with some…let’s say…ironic gestures.  This, of course, depends on your intent in using them.
Pictures Perhaps you express yourself in images, and like to have the perfect image to express your emotions.  You probably love using memes too, love buying greeting cards and prefer technology that allows you to be creative.

Take a moment to see which emojis are most common for you.  Don’t use emojis?  Consider the memes you have sent most recently.  What messages were they conveying?  Likewise, you can look at the items you have forwarded on Facebook or other social media.  Go take a look at your page and check the prevailing emotion you are conveying.  If most of your non-verbal communication is angry or sad, you may want to consider talking with someone who can help you with these feelings.  They can be hard to shoulder alone.

Harnessing your “happy” in your interview

When I write about being happy in an interview, some may equate that with “perky.” If you aren’t feeling happy right now, you may visualize the unattainable happy, which plays out with an enthusiastic, bubbly persona.  Keep in mind that is only one kind of happiness; and in fact, if not harnessed properly can actually be distracting in an interview.  Here are some other kinds of happy, along with ways to use these in your interviews.  For personalized suggestions, please refer back to your most common emojis as a guide as you review the points below.


  • Shy smiles: Happiness can be a quiet thing, like the small, shy smiles.  It can be soft-spoken.  Remember to smile periodically during your interview, even if it’s a small smile.  Maintaining eye contact as you smile shows you mean it, that it wasn’t just a fleeting feeling, or even some kind of irony.
  • Ironic faces: Maybe you have healed enough to begin to see irony, and you are trying to laugh more.  Keep in mind that this kind of humor can be easily misunderstood, and can make you appear angry.  You can avoid this by having humor point to only you, and only in stories where things turned out well for you and you learned something helpful.  Ironic stories about other people lack the necessary context for the listener, and can reflect badly on you.
  • One last note about smiling. It’s important to smile in appropriate places during your interview.  Sometimes we must discuss something painful, like being fired.  As we heal and try to gain perspective, sometimes it feels natural to smile about things we are adjusting to, but that can be confusing for an interviewer, not knowing what your smile means.  Practice these comments in advance and make them brief and factual, making eye contact.  Video yourself to ensure that you aren’t smiling at times when it would not make sense to smile, or practice with a friend or family member.


  • If love is showing up a lot even when you aren’t feeling good, then you are showing that you are hopeful, and that you care deeply. Happiness can be demonstrated through intensity about life, that you care deeply about things.  Harness this as you discuss the results associated with each question you answer.  Let your pride shine through as you explain how your work made a difference.  Even if you can’t muster a big smile, be sure to have eye contact especially when you discuss results.  Train yourself to always look up and have eye contact when you are speaking about something that gives you pride.


  • Do you have happy hands? Maybe you aren’t smiling all the time, but your emoji hands are clapping, doing the “ok” sign or just waving in the air.  Super!  Keep those happy hands working during your interview, doing what your face, or your heart, cannot.  I don’t mean to move constantly during your interview, but find places to use hand gestures.  They can be as expressive as your face.  Practice this at home if you aren’t doing it already.  If your hands are trying to lead your heart to a happy place, don’t hinder them in your interview!


  • You love a good picture to express your passion, so bring that into the interview. Bring some work samples.  Even if you don’t hand them out or need to use them, just knowing you have them can lift your spirits, but it’s awesome if you can find a time to pull them out and share them.  Even better if you can leave a copy of it in case your interviewer asks to keep it.  Does your work not lend itself to pretty pictures?  If you’re using picture emojis it’s because you like to be vivid in your descriptions.  Pick your top 3 work examples you use most often, and find some colorful descriptive terms you can add into your answer.  Keep it succinct, but make your language as interesting as possible so you can have the listener right in the moment with you.

The many faces of happiness

I remember being at an event with my son where a very young child made a comment and the audience laughed.  It was clearly not a comment intended to be funny, so my son asked me why people laughed.  I told him that it wasn’t funny like a joke.  I explained that sometimes joy can escape through laughter.  It was joy he was hearing.  In my daughter’s senior year of high school, I found myself tearful several times, principally at all the “last” things she was doing.  She asked why I was so sad about all of it, and I explained that I wasn’t, that was just some love leaking out of my eyes.

A favorite colleague from the past rarely smiled broadly, in fact rarely smiled at all.  He had a quiet intensity to everything he did. When he was engrossed in something, it was as if he had a little light turn on in his eyes, as though he had a special effects person who turned on the glint.  You could almost hear the tiny sound of a bell when he did it.  His eyes crinkled and you found that you leaned forward into whatever he was discussing.  When I picture him, he isn’t smiling, and yet I knew he loved what he did, and enjoyed the camaraderie of working with me.

You don’t have to feel happy with your life as a whole to demonstrate happiness in an interview, or more specifically, happiness about the work you do every day.  Use the cues of how you are currently representing yourself to others to find what works best for you, then practice incorporating these habits into your interview.





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