Many of us find ourselves interviewing for jobs these days, and I don’t need to tell you that interviewing isn’t high on most people’s list of favorite things to do. This series of posts will be about successful interviewing from an “inner” perspective—addressing the thoughts and emotions you bring to a job interview, and how you can work with them to make the process less stressful and difficult. I’ll offer you six strategies you can use to stay calm, centered and focused during an interview.
1. Remember that the interviewer is a human being. We tend to think of a job interview as a rigidly structured exchange of information—one standard model, for example, is “(1) interviewer runs through your resume; (2) interviewer asks about your skills; (3) you ask memorized questions you don’t really care about; (4) end of interview.” When we perceive and treat an interview as if it’s about going through these motions, it’s no surprise if it feels dull and robotic to us. And if it feels that way to us, it probably feels the same to the interviewer.
One suggestion for breaking this mold is to tap into your natural curiosity about the interviewer. What do you really want to know about them? For example, do you want to know what they enjoy about their job, what they do for fun, how they decided to do what they’re doing, or something else?
If you ask questions that come from a place of real curiosity, you may actually end up having an interesting conversation, and move beyond the rote, boring exchange of information typical of interviews. Although they’re interviewing you for a job, they’re still another human being, and as such they probably like it when others express interest in and genuinely listen to them. If you do this, you’ll almost certainly stand out among the candidates for the job.
One way to access your genuine curiosity in an interview is to try assuming, for the moment, that it’s impossible to lie. Assume, in other words, that if you ask a question you aren’t really interested in, or say something that shades the truth, the other person will know immediately.
This mindset will help you avoid asking questions like “what is the company’s strategy for expanding into Southeast Asian markets?” that aren’t authentically important to you. By the way, I think this is closer to the truth than many people believe—when someone asks a question or adopts an attitude that isn’t genuine for them, most of us are empathic enough to at least vaguely sense it.
Another wonderful thing about treating the interviewer as a human being is that it renders unnecessary many of the “tips and tricks” for interviewing we often hear about. These include techniques like building rapport by mirroring the interviewer’s body language; making strong eye contact to look confident; and keeping your answers under two minutes to avoid looking self-indulgent. These strategies are supposed to make you look interested in the job, confident, personable, and so on, even if you aren’t.
If you access your natural curiosity about the interviewer and the position, and generally treat the interview as an interaction between two human beings, you don’t need to make a special effort to convince the interviewer you’re interested or personable—that aspect of you naturally shines through. You can also avoid all the awkwardness and distraction that come with trying to move your body in certain ways or recite memorized lines.
2. Remember that you are a human being. One reason many of us get nervous and uptight during interviews is that, in our minds, our value as human beings is riding on whether we get the job. Consciously or not, we believe that, if this interviewer rejects us, we’ll be worthless or inadequate. When we think this way, it’s no surprise we tend to get anxious while we’re being interviewed. And as human beings and therefore empathic creatures, interviewers can sense it when we aren’t comfortable with ourselves.
One exercise I recommend to people going into job interviews is to take a few moments, and make a list of five to ten things they love and appreciate about themselves and their lives. The list doesn’t need to be about your job-related skills—you can put down how great you are at hang gliding or pottery, or how much you appreciate your kindness, for instance, if that’s what comes to mind. Review that list a few times, until you feel an inner warmth and a sense that the list is ingrained into your unconscious mind.
The purpose of this is to help you remember during the interview that you are a human being, and thus you’re entitled to as much consideration and respect as everybody else. No matter what happens in the interview, it can’t destroy your dignity or value. Again, if you remember this as you’re interviewing, you won’t need to use rehearsed lines and moves to come across as confident and composed—because you’ll actually have those qualities, there will be no need to pretend.
Some people, when they hear me recommend this exercise, find themselves reacting angrily or cynically. “What airy-fairy, unrealistic nonsense,” they say. “‘Loving myself’ has nothing to do with whether I get a job.” If you find yourself responding this way, consider the possibility that you’re bringing this attitude into your job interviews and other areas of your life, and others can feel that anger and cynicism. On the plus side, if you’re willing to do some work to get more comfortable with yourself, others (including interviewers) will sense and appreciate that as well.
3. Put (perceived) criticism in perspective. Many people dread interviews because they tend to feel personally criticized or attacked by interviewers’ questions.
For example, when an interviewer looks at our resume and asks a question like “why did you leave that job?”, or “what can you bring to this position?”, many of us feel like the interviewer is implying we’re lazy, incompetent, stupid or something equally unflattering. Our bodies tense up, we feel angry or ashamed, and our minds start frantically searching for ways to “spin” our skills and credentials to salvage our image. It’s as if our very survival is at stake in that moment, and we must defend ourselves or die.
One technique we can use to put these moments in perspective is to ask ourselves “what did this really take away from me?” That is, ask yourself what you lost, or how you were hurt, by what the interviewer said to you. Did the interviewer’s words damage some part of your body? Did they make you less of a person?
When you take a serious look at these questions, I suspect you’ll see that the answer is “no” on all counts. The worst a seemingly hostile question or comment can do is create momentary tension in your body—it can’t kill or seriously hurt you. Keeping this in mind can help you stay relaxed and focused.
Another important approach you can use in moments where you feel attacked is to bring your attention to your breathing and the sensations you’re experiencing. Notice the rise and fall of your chest as you breathe, and the pressure of your feet on the ground and your pelvis in the chair. Connecting with your body this way is a great way to remind yourself, on a visceral level, that you’re still alive and intact, and a string of words from another person—no matter how harsh they may seem—can’t do you any real harm.
Thanks for reading. In the next post in this series, I’ll talk about ways we can access our genuine passion and motivation in an interview to make it a more fulfilling experience for both parties.
I have a friend who would like to start her own business as an interior designer, and leave her current 9-to-5 job as a computer programmer. She’s convinced that she has the skills, the startup capital, the contacts and so forth to make it happen. But she’s still too scared to make the change. Why? Because, she says, if she leaves her current job she’ll be “unemployed.”
At first glance, my friend’s belief seems strange. If she makes the transition she wants, she’ll be the owner and CEO of her own company, with total control over the operation of her business. She’s saved up enough money to pay her expenses while she builds up a client base. And she’ll have made a career out of doing what she loves. Why would she think of that situation as “unemployment”?
The answer is that my friend simply can’t accept the idea that it’s possible to have a career that doesn’t involve going into an office every weekday, remaining there between at least 9 and 5 o’clock, being gradually promoted through a large corporate hierarchy and drawing a steady salary. All the jobs she’s held during her working life have had those features. Anything else, to her, is “unemployment,” and her family and friends—having had the same type of work background—are likely to feel the same way.
When I told people in my life I was leaving the legal profession to be an author and success coach, I learned that some of them shared this attitude. “How’s unemployment treating you?” one asked. “So when do the unemployment checks start rolling in?” another teased. I explained to them that I was not “unemployed”—I was simply going into business for myself. They smiled and nodded, but it was clear what they were thinking—“yeah, make all the excuses you want—you’re still unemployed in my book.”
“Unemployment” has nasty connotations for most of us. We often associate it with being lazy, not being good enough to “make the cut” at work, being on the government “dole,” displeasing our families and friends, being unattractive to potential mates, and so on. Thus, for many of us, the fear that we will be perceived as “unemployed” is enough to keep us in conventional 9-to-5 jobs and prevent us from doing anything entrepreneurial, even if the latter is what we truly desire.
If you’re thinking of leaving your current job and starting your own business, I don’t want the fear of “unemployment” to stop you. If you’re struggling with this fear, take a look at the observations I make below and see if they do anything to change your perspective.
First off, if going into business for yourself makes you “unemployed,” the “unemployed” of this world are quite a distinguished bunch. The founders of Apple, Google and Microsoft—who, as most of us know, are now some of the wealthiest people in the world—were also “unemployed” by this definition during the startup phases of their companies. If they’d worked conventional 9-to-5 jobs instead of striking out on their own, their ultra-successful businesses wouldn’t be around today.
My larger point is that no conventional 9-to-5 jobs would even exist if no one had been willing to start a business in the first place. If no one had taken that initiative, there would be no companies to employ the massive legions of salaried office workers in our society. Someone’s got to take the financial risks associated with entrepreneurship for our economy to operate at all.
I think that, on some level, most people who fear entrepreneurship because they view it as equivalent to “unemployment” are aware of this. It’s not that they think going into business for oneself is inherently bad or impossible—they simply think it would be “arrogant” or “unrealistic” to believe they could do it successfully. They predict that, if they started a business, they would end up in the circumstances we typically associate with unemployment—i.e., broke, “on the dole,” having nothing in particular to do, and so on. “Bill Gates may have done it,” they think, “but I’m not Bill Gates.”
In other words, people who suggest that they’d be “unemployed” if they started a business are really just expressing feelings of inadequacy about themselves. And if someone says the same about your entrepreneurial aspirations, they’re probably motivated—at least in part—by envy or resentment. Because they don’t think they have what it takes to strike out on their own, they feel that you’re acting like you’re superior to them by doing what they couldn’t bring themselves to do.
But what if you recognize this feeling of inadequacy in yourself, and it’s preventing you from pursuing your business idea? I recommend that you start by contemplating what would happen if you started your own business venture and it failed. Suppose your company consistently failed to generate enough revenue to cover its costs. What would be true about you, and what would happen in your life, if that worst-case scenario came to pass?
I’ve asked this question in the past to clients who were considering career transitions. Interestingly, their fears surrounding failure don’t usually concern their survival or their financial circumstances. They’re not afraid that they’ll starve to death, be unable to support their children, lose their homes, and so forth. Whatever happens from a financial perspective, they’ll probably find ways to get by. Instead, they’re afraid of others labeling them in hurtful ways. They envision their loved ones, friends, acquaintances and others saying or thinking things like “I always knew he’d never amount to anything,” “see, she’s nothing but a bum,” “he’s like a daydreaming child with no common sense,” and so on.
However, people usually don’t examine why they are trying so hard—even to the point of stifling their career aspirations—to avoid the possibility of others’ disapproval. When I ask them what would happen if their business failed and someone else attacked or ridiculed them for it, they typically give one of two answers. Sometimes, they can’t quite pinpoint what bad things would happen if someone disapproved of them—they just have the gut feeling that they need everybody to like them. At other times, they find themselves coming up with an answer that is irrational or ridiculous on its face—for instance, that they’d die if someone else disliked them.
Either way, when people seriously consider this question, they usually start to doubt that their fears of “unemployment” are a sufficient reason to avoid going off on their own. Understanding what they’re truly afraid of gives them a feeling of freedom to explore career possibilities they hadn’t thought were open to them before.
I invite you to try this exercise. Ask yourself what you’re really afraid will happen if you start a business venture and it fails. I think you’ll find that your fears surrounding “unemployment” aren’t as reasonable or convincing as you’d thought.
(This article appeared in the Carnival of Success and Abundance Mindset, located at http://www.thehomebasedbusinesscenter.com/blog/success-and-abundance-mindset-042408.htm.)