I was helping a client prepare for an interview recently. Her biggest worry was that she gets so nervous during interviews that she has problems engaging employers. Sometimes her nerves are so bad that they hurt her ability to understand and answer questions. This client has great experience and education. None of that helped her.
I asked what she was thinking about that made her so nervous. She said, “I just want the job so badly, and I’m afraid that they won’t hire me.” At that point, I showed her a different way to play the interview game. Start with your strengths. If you know what makes you a valuable employee, you will have something positive to tell the employer, a way to sell what the employer needs. Most importantly, I practiced interviewing with my client so she understood that she has power in the interview process. She now knows how to ask questions, negotiate salary, and turn down a bad offer.
Interviewing for a new job, especially one that you want, will always bring some feelings of nervousness and anxiety. The challenge is to control them. The best way to do that is to know your strengths and demonstrate how they will help a prospective employer. You feel better during interviews, and you’ll be more likely to get the offer.
I recently met someone who spent ten years managing a small organization. He had to leave the position after suffering a stroke. Now, after two years of rehab, he's ready to go back to work full time. During his recovery, he was able to work part time as a consultant. The gap in his resume is short, not significant. Still, his first question to me was, "How do I deal with my deficit, my health condition?"
My advice was to flip the coin: Demonstrate your strengths. I definitely think we all need to be able to answer questions about our weaknesses, but we should spend twice or three times as much time thinking about our strengths. I told the man who was worried about his health issues to start with these two questions:
1. Why are you good at what you do?
2. How will you bring value to the employer who is interviewing you?
No one will ever be hired because of their deficits. We need to be able to put potential employers at ease about them, but it's more important to know and promote your assets. Practice interviewing by focusing on your assets and strengths, not your deficits and weaknesses.
Clients often come to me to help with interview preparation. In almost every case, they express anxiety about the process. This is true of young people starting their career and senior level professionals. What’s behind this concern? Practice. We do our jobs every day and are confident we can do them. Depending on how long we have been with an employer and how long it takes to find a job, a person could go on just a few interviews over span of years or decades. Confident professionals are often terrified to go on job interviews.
Interviewing is a skill, and, like any skill, it takes practice. Imagine if you played golf or pool or bowling (individual sports). If you played that sport on a regular basis, you would know your level of skill. We are anxious when we interview because we do it so infrequently. If you were a good golfer, but hadn’t picked up your clubs for ten years, you would approach the first tee with anxiety. The same principle holds true in interviewing.
What can you do to be calmer? First, practice your skills. Focus on building a dialogue with the interviewer and demonstrating your strengths. Another cause of anxiety at job interviews is the mistaken belief that a job interview is like a test. Applicants are so worried about how they word an answer and giving the “best” answer that qualified people make themselves sound like they can’t do the job. Listen to what the interviewer is saying, and engage in a conversation. That will help calm things down. The most important thing you can do to be calm at an interview is to know your strengths and present them in a way that makes the employer want to hire you.
Interviewing is never easy. But, if you practice the right way, it can be less stressful.
Every job posting asks for a combination of experience, knowledge, skill, and education. Another way to think about this is "weight." The employer wants to know that you can carry the load of a given job. For example, an entry level job will ask for less weight than one that looks for 3-5 years experience or a background supervising or training employees. In writing your resume or presenting yourself at an interview, you need to be able to show how and why you are qualified to do the job. Look carefully at job posts for positions you are seeking and identify the kind of weight the employer is seeking. Show that you can carry the load.
I frequently help clients prepare for interviews. Almost everyone begins with a worry about gaps in work history, lack of experience, or weak computer skills. What’s wrong with this kind of thinking? It ignores a very important fact: The employer likes something about the client that she will invest time on an interview. That means they see strengths that should be emphasized during the interview.
I’m not saying that we should not worry about preparing for any possible obstacle before an interview. Be ready to speak to any possible weaknesses. However, you should spend twice as much time thinking about your strengths and how to present them. Start with the job post. What do you have that the employer is looking for? Then go to the website and other sources to learn about the company. Again, think about how you can make a contribution. Practice telling stories about your achievements. The employer needs to see why you’re the best candidate for the job. You won’t be at your best if you’re only working about weak points. Play your strongest hand. Show why you’re the best.
We are all nervous during job interviews. Some of my clients have tried to come up with scripts to give themselves more confidence. The problem with this approach is that the interview usually does not follow their scripts. Rather than scripting, I urge clients to put an emphasis on listening. Nervousness will not disappear through active listening, but it will be more controlled and your interaction during the interview will be more relaxed and natural. You cannot control an interview with a script. The best we can do is to engage the interviewer through listening.
This is the only question that matters when you’re writing a resume or interviewing for a job.
Too often, job seekers talk about what they did on their last job. They use the language of that company and discuss their duties in specific details that only apply to that job/company. Prospective employers do not care about all of this information. It is not relevant to their business problem. Your challenge is to show how your previous experience and education will be a benefit to your next employer, not the last one.
I recommend that you start your job search by studying job posts for the positions that interest you most. Review 5-10 job posts. Identify common requirements and repeated “key” words. If you build your resume and prepare for interviews by focusing on what employers need, you will find that you have more interviews and faster job offers. It’s not about what you did in the past. It’s all about what you have to offer you next employer.
A client told me that she wanted he potential employer to know about work she did early in her career when she was a teacher. She is especially proud of having been named Teacher of the Year in 1999. The problem is that she changed careers and moved to sales in 2003. Her new employer needs to see what makes her a good sales professional, not that she was once named the best teacher in the state. What we want to tell employers is not as important as what they want to know. Let that be your first question in writing a resume and preparing for an interview: What does the employer want to know?
These are the words that launch many interviews. It’s the most hated interview question. However, the statement is not a question, and it’s a bad grammatical construction. That said, it freezes many job seekers. Their answer is often a rambling biographical mish-mash that has nothing to with convincing an employer that he should hire the person in front of him.
Here’s an alternative way to treat this situation: Think of it as an opportunity. Tell the employer why your background meets her needs. Fit your history to what you would be doing for your new employer. Show some passion for what you will be doing: “I’ve always enjoyed selling. When I was a Girl Scout, I loved selling cookies. Over the past five years, I’ve sold medical equipment to hospitals. That experience has prepared me to engage your customers in the health care industry.”
Don’t be afraid when an employer lets you introduce yourself in your own words. Welcome the opportunity and show why you will be an asset to the company.