Objective Confidence – The Key to Thriving in an Interview
The other day I read an article that debated the merits of so-called “Stress Interviews”. (Find it here.) It’s a technique that’s sometimes found in certain high stress job fields, such as the tech industry and marketing. Simply put, the interviewer doesn’t just ask a candidate how they’d handle a stressful situation but attempts to create a stressful situation in the interview by asking odd, off-putting or provocative questions. The author explains who might use these techniques, why they use them and then cites several expert opinions about them.
As someone who is constantly helping clients prepare for every aspect of a job search I try to keep up with current trends and practices in job hiring. In my opinion the use of intimidation or stress-inducing techniques is deplorable and tells you far more about the toxic work culture of an organization than it does the suitability of a person for a job. If you find yourself being intentionally intimidated, badgered or stressed by an interviewer then you probably don’t want to work there.
I think objective self-confidence is the greatest asset you can take into an interview, regardless of how the interview will be conducted. Now I’m not talking about the kind of self-security that comes by anticipating possible questions an interviewer might ask based on the position description or details of your work history. Nor is it the product of a neurotically obsessive attention to every possible question an interviewer might ask. Over the years I’ve had dozens of clients who’ve wanted me to help them prepare responses for this possibility, but it’s an unrealistic goal that’s usually driven by self-doubt, insecurity, fear or desperation – the foremost enemies of an effective job search.
The kind of self-confidence I’m talking about comes from an objective and realistic assessment of who you are, what you do well and what you simply aren’t gifted to do. Given this definition, a person who is self-confident can speak simply and directly about their work-related strengths and skills, and speak with authority about what they can bring to a job or organization - their value-added, if you will. They can also speak with authority about those things that are better left to someone else. Self-confidence requires looking beyond (or maybe beneath) what you have and haven’t been able to do effectively in your work to why that’s so.
For example, if a client informs me that she was able to change her sales territory from one with diminishing sales to one with high growth then my first question would be “how were you able to do that?” I want to prompt her into thoroughly thinking about the gifts and skills she used to change that situation, so she can speak fluently and with confidence about what makes her an exceptional sales person. In this hypothetical scenario it may be her ability to organize her sales contacts to maximize her personal interactions with customers to build and maintain great, trust-filled relationships with them. Her objective “talking points” that she can be confident about include: organizational skills, relationship-building (including listening skills and empathy for the customer’s challenges), problem-solving using logical analysis and a thorough knowledge of her company’s products. The irony here is that, unless she’s stopped to ask what makes her good at these tasks, she’s probably unaware of all she’s doing or simply taking for granted that everyone can do what she does.
One useful way to apply this idea is to look at the responsibilities or highlights you’ve noted in your own résumé and break them down into the actions, tasks, techniques or strategies you used to achieve those successes. [Keep in mind that not everyone can do this kind of objective analysis and you may need help from a friend or a Career Coach, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that you have unique gifts and abilities that enable you to do what you do well.] Listing these and committing them to memory as your “unique gifts, strengths and skills”, along with the understanding that no one can do it exactly like you, gives you a virtual “carpenter’s toolbox” or “painter’s palette” you can use to give an interviewer a fuller understanding of what you can bring his or her company.
Ironically, one of the places I’ve most often seen this technique yield its greatest benefits is when I’m helping former stay-at-home mothers who are wanting to return to the workplace. Stay-at-home mothers almost always minimize the many skills they have to master and use in order to maintain a household, as evidenced by the number who’ve responded to the universal question “What do you do” with the response “I’m just a mom”. The truth is exactly opposite as mothers, with or without jobs, have to master diverse tasks like financial management, food and clothing procurement, food preparation, household maintenance and the logistics of getting children to their activities. No one is “just a mom”, they simply haven’t taken the time to write a detailed list of everything you have to do well to raise healthy children and manage a functioning household.
I hope some of you can identify with that stay-at-home mother analogy – if only because you’ve never stopped to take stock of what you do well, or even exceptionally well, but would be well-served by taking the time to do it.
We live in strange times. It’s socially acceptable to declare that someone’s life matters (a statement of their inherent value and dignity) but often viewed as arrogant or elitist to state factually that you’re good at something (a statement of your applied value). Yet, a healthy perspective requires us to know where we are of use (our strengths) and where we’d better let someone who’s differently gifted than us take on a task where we will perform poorly or muck it up. This type of confidence allows us to say, “I can do these things well, but you better get someone else to do that” based on factual evidence. This type of confidence allows a person to remain calm in the face of stressful interview questions and scenarios because she or he understands their respective value to an organization or company isn’t based on faulty attempts of trying to be someone they aren’t but on being excellent at who they truly are.