In my work as an HR Consultant, I often discuss the hidden dangers of self-promotion when I’m advising hiring managers and business owners. There’s often a misconception that the people who “perform” best during their job interview will perform best on the job. For hiring managers, it comes down to helping them distinguish between job candidates who sound like they’ll make great employees versus job candidates who will actually make great employees. I’ve written about my approach to evaluating job applicants in another blog post on advice for Better Hiring. For now, I’ll focus on how talented, experienced, and humble people can do a better job of presenting themselves during the all-important job interview. Rather than a step by step explanation, I’ll tell a story about a nervous job interview candidate based on something that happened fairly recently.
A while back, I received a phone call from a woman who had a job interview coming up and she wanted to know if I could help her prepare. I’ll call her Samantha. Since I spend up to half of my working hours as a Career Coach (I spend the remainder of my time as an HR Consultant) I’m definitely comfortable creating realistic mock interview questions and offering concrete feedback based on a client’s answers. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll clarify that I have a doctorate in Industrial / Organizational (I/O) Psychology that I use as the basis for my Career Coaching and HR services. Since I/O Psychology doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, I use the terms coaching and HR instead. Now, I’ll get back to the story.
All the Right Stuff — But Nervous About the Interview
So, when Samantha called for help with preparing for her upcoming job interview she explained that she had well over 10 years of relevant work experience, an undergraduate and a Master’s degree in her field, and a well-written CV. In other words, she had the full package. She had all the right stuff. Unfortunately, despite her obvious talents, her career had stalled over the past few years because she became quite nervous during job interviews. Her job interview related anxiety was really holding her back and limiting her career progression.
Since I have prepared countless screening processes, screening tests, interview questions, job simulations, and assessment centers for hiring managers and business owners, I have intimate knowledge of the types of things that employers are looking for while they are conducting interviews. Armed with this knowledge, I used her CV and the job posting to which she had applied to create a set of realistic practice interview questions.
I’ve taken several undergraduate and graduate courses in psychology so I understand the basics of performance anxiety. I knew that Samantha’s preparation needed to include helping her become less sensitive to the interview context, effectively managing her nerves, and helping her to tell her story effectively while answering the questions.
In the days leading up to our first meeting, Samantha used some of the mindfulness meditation techniques that I suggested as a tool to help her conquer her nerves. [Please note that for some people, their anxiety is best managed with a combination of medication and some behavioural strategies. Good resources could include your family physician or a psychiatrist for any prescription medication, and possibly a clinical psychologist for behavioural strategies that are more comprehensive than what I can offer.]
So, Tell Me About a Time When You …
My goal for Samantha was to ensure that she become used to talking about her past accomplishments, her past experience, her academic training, and her career aspirations in a way that inspired the confidence of her interview board members. As I mentioned, her credentials, work experience, and resume are all impeccable. She simply needed to convey this information verbally during her interview – convincingly but not necessarily eloquently.
I reminded her that she was not being hired as a lecturer/presenter or TV announcer. As long as she could explain the essential information clearly and credibly to her interviewer(s), she’d be golden. I started by helping her to articulate her strengths and weaknesses in a way that was genuine, accurate, and in some respects downright endearing. I suggested that she own the fact that she’s soft-spoken and humble and that she sometimes gets nervous during interviews. Sensible interviewers realize that sometimes even talented people can get nervous. More importantly, depending on the position that the interview is for – those nerves make very little difference. The interviewers simply want to get an idea of who they are interviewing and if the person can reliably perform the work well.
Once Samantha had internalized the fact that she might feel a bit nervous – and it might show – but that need not be a deal-breaker, it was a matter of helping her structure her answers in ways that highlighted and elaborated upon what was already recorded in black and white in her CV. In the end, it may take a shy, nervous, or humble person a longer time to prepare carefully for a job interview but with adequate lead time to practice talking about the work-related aspects of themselves, they stand a great chance. Especially if they get accurate, concrete feedback on their answers – and make the appropriate adjustments.
It’s my sincere hope that this story encourages the nervous but competent interviewees. I also hope that this story causes some employers to re-think their approach to hiring.
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