Alongside the application form and CV formatting, the job interview (and its preparation) ranks high among procrastination inducing tasks. The interview itself is an opportunity to shine but can also turn into a potent laxative. Yet, it is a necessary evil for those participating in the labour market.
A simple shift in perspective can help to reduce the discomfort associated with the interview process. The interview is a touch point in a continuous process of finding our place under the sun and, by no means, is it the determining factor. It’s a time when we can make ourselves most visible to those we wish to work with. It’s a platform to speak our talents and connect with those who value them.
However, the interview can also cause us significant discomfort, because it forces us to examine ourselves through the eyes of another - a level of exposure comparable to that of public speaking (the world’s number 1 fear).
We are being scrutinised by a tribe that we hope to belong to. We feel incredibly vulnerable. Rejection could mean death – or at least feel like it – as signalled to us by very primal instincts. Consequently, we may collapse under the weight of the ideal persona we feel we need to live up to or become paralysed by performance anxiety.
Three things to bear in mind to make the experience fun (or bearable at least):
1) Interview yourself: Of course, it is important to take stock of your assets (you are a company of one, after all) as we enter the labour market game. If you’ve been in a role for a while (about two years), it is likely that your market value has increased - a good reason to put effort into taking an objective (or even optimistic) inventory of your skills and experience and brand and package these as appropriate for your industry.
A multitude of resources exist to prepare for interviews including simple tools like the STAR system in performance-based recruitment (demonstrating capability by giving examples of work in terms of Situation, Task, Action, Result). This can be a useful framework when talking about your accomplishments.
Your “weaknesses” don’t need to be centre stage but can be turned into the stories of courage and overcoming that they really are if you’ve taken time to work through any difficult situation.
In my experience the basic questions that need to be answered for an interview are: Why do you want this job? Why should they hire you? Once these are crystal clear, any other questions are somewhat of an insurance policy for the employer: your natural talents can shine through while your potential employer gets further assurance that you are who you say you are. I’d go as far as saying that all questions lead back to the basic two above.
If you’re applying for a job you don’t really want, things are a little more layered and the fundamental question is “why are you applying for the job if you don’t really want it?” But you can still show up in integrity by finding passion and motivation in the deeper “why” of your applying for the job in question.
2) Be your own advocate: We’re not used to owning our strengths and talents and speaking about them persuasively. It’s not part of the culture, especially for women. This hurdle needs to be overcome with great gusto for two reasons: 1) time hiding in the fog of confusion is not time well spent; 2) the world needs your strengths (even if the person on the other side of the table seems to be intent on systematically deconstructing your confidence).
I found StrengthsFinder 2.0 an interesting alternative to Myers-Briggs. The more secure (and in integrity) we feel, the more we experience the probing questions from a critical interviewer as a legitimate enquiry from an uninformed party rather than an attack.
We all have insecurities but it is crucial to get as much of a handle on these as we can as part of a deeper learning process (which leads on to point 3 below). N.B. Maya Angelou has a powerful imaginative exercise involving conjuring up every single person that has been kind to or supportive of you, including the ancestors who made sacrifices so that you could live, and asking them (imaginatively) to come along with you to the interview.
3) Interview the interviewer: In an effort to protect us from tribal rejection, our inner-critic might become overactive. Indeed, our defence mechanisms are usually a protection from painful feelings rather than from a real outcome. Addressing these fears is the most important and enriching part of the interview preparation process.
As the inner-critic begins to lash out on how we are incompetent at X or Y, it is crucial to take a step back and interview the inner-critic itself. The inner-critic may manifest mentally as an inner-interview panel that may be much harsher than any interview panel ever could be. I talk about the inner-critic's impact in this week's video.
Our inner-critic constructs scenarios based on a projection of our deepest fears and beliefs about ourselves, others and the world. So it is important to be vigilant in spotting the inner-critic’s (unhelpful) interventions and disarming their negative effects before they spiral downwards.
For example, suspicious thoughts such as “I’ll never get the job because I’m no good at X” (usually women) or “I must get this job otherwise my entire identity will be in question” (usually men) need to be forensically scrutinised. Spiritual and philosophical traditions have tried to inculcate the importance of self-enquiry and/or ritual but secular society tends to leave us to our own, emotionally immature and spiritually destitute devices relying solely on habitual reasoning.
Byron Katie has a widely used process of self-enquiry to address this. For any suspicious thought ask:
- Is this true?
- Do I absolutely know that it is true?
- What happens/how to I react when I believe this thought?
- Who would I be without this thought?
The first question alone can defuse an onslaught of negativity and procrastination. Used as a ritual/habit, it can lead to greater calm and rationality. This process of self-enquiry that examines our thoughts (particularly habitual ones) is at the heart of age-old wisdom from Buddhism and Sufism to Descartes and the Enlightenment philosophers.
In summary, the discomfort of the interview process offers a doorway into self-enquiry and further personal growth that serves us in the long term as well as in getting the job.
Of course, if you find that you don’t really want this job, or that you wish to participate in the economy in a different way to what you had envisaged originally, would that be a bad thing?...
Two things to share this week:
THING 1: The RSA Coaching Network was successfully launched last Thursday! Its mission is emerging but will be aligned with values of 21st century enlightenment, fairness and progress of the RSA. Cutting edge coaching and improving access to it are two strong themes. Watch this space (or the RSA newsletter and blog) if you want to get involved. Here’s a video of the buzz as people arrived. Thank you to the wonderful Helen Wolstenholme of Cancer Research UK for the video.
THING 2: If you know anyone who is interested in mentoring/coaching with a strong, professional female coach who can get them to own their talents and derive fulfilment from their work, please, ask them to get in touch for a conversation or book through the website here.
I hope this helps. If you have any reflections, please, share them in the Wise Wednesdays Facebook group.
Until next week.
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You will be able to get clarity on your career direction, identify self-sabotaging patterns that might be holding you back and leave energised and inspired.
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