One of my Facebook friends posted a cartoon from the Harvard Business Review on his FB page. The cartoon showed a guy interviewing for a job. In the cartoon, the job-seeker guy is saying “What I lack in experience I make up for in wildly unrealistic self-confidence!” It is a funny cartoon, and it’s endearing. We all know that job-seeker, whose whole brand seems to be “Look how confident I am!”
I’m old enough that the wildly unrealistically self-confident guy in the cartoon brings out a motherly instinct in me. “There, there, pumpkin,” I want to say to all the job-seekers who charge in the job-interview door pumped with bravado serum (or tiger blood). “That’s okay, darling. You’re fine. You don’t need to put on all that puffery.” When I see job-seeker bravado and bluster, I get tender feelings rather than critical ones. I think we’ve all been there, in one way or another.
Part of the problem is that the whole forced, artificial job-interview paradigm pushes us in the direction of putting up a hard shell in a job interview, rather than a soft one. We believe that we have to Sell Ourselves, Putting Our Best Foot Forward. We think that our job at a job interview is to show only polished hard edges, accomplishments and trophies, with little to no human fuzziness or struggle or imperfection in the story, no sirree!
The standard job interview script only reinforces the artificial, robotic and inhuman feeling that the larger job-interview frame sets up. People tell me all the time “It’s like I’m playing a weird part in a play, when I’m at a job interview.” There is no good business reason for a job interview to feel so judge-y and foreign to regular existence on Earth, but that interview frame is nearly ubiquitous.
Where else in adult society do grownups pose questions to other grownups, in the form “I will ask a question and you will answer it?” Not many places — only police interrogation rooms, oral exams for graduate students and citizenship tests, as far as I know. It’s a very odd setup. Why do we accept it so readily?
No one benefits when we conduct job interviews in such a formal and stilted way, but it’s very scary for the more dyed-in-the-wool members of the Talent Management Community to take a step out of the time-honored How to Interview box. Sadly, there are still out-of-touch employers who sit in a room with a complex, human, interesting job-seeker in front of them and ask him or her scripted questions from a list, as though there couldn’t be anything more relevant or interesting to talk about.
We can sympathize with the wildly overconfident job seeker because most of us never know exactly where that line between self-promotion and humility is painted. Are we expected to be humble on a job interview, and possibly to be overlooked? Do we need to hit interviewers between the eyes with our accomplishments? The rule book isn’t clear. On the one hand we’re told not to brag, but on the other hand we hear that employers want people with gusto and verve and a healthy self-image. How are we supposed to navigate that treacherous terrain?
Here’s my suggestion: relax. Don’t push, and don’t stress. Stay in yourself — that is the most important thing. Don’t let your critical mind climb out of your body during a job interview, take up a perch across the room and start critiquing your performance in real time. (You know you’ve been there.) “You’re talking too fast! You already told that story, it’s boring! Smile more! Geez Louise, look him in the eye!” It’s your mom or your old football coach or whomever you’ve appointed to harangue you in the moments when you should be most in yourself, like right now in this job interview, who is talking to you. Look the critical Mom-tape or coach-tape square in the virtual eye and say “Enough.” Get back into your body and stay there.
You are powerful when you’re in yourself. It’s impossible to say “I am awesome, and you should hire me” when you’re in your body. You don’t need to say it then. You convey everything important staying in your power.
The thing that resonates with employers (the human, smart, switched-on managers, I mean — the only kind that deserve you) is human energy, whether you call it confidence, swerve, passion or mojo. That’s what they read in a job interview, if they have mojo themselves. Have a conversation, and don’t listen to yourself and judge yourself. You are perfect already. There’s no need to be overconfident or self-praise-y on a job interview, because overconfidence and self-praise are things that fearful people engage in, and you’re not the least bit fearful. Who holds any power over you to make you fearful? Not these guys! This is just a job interview. It’s a conversation, it’s nothing. You’re always glad to meet new people, so here’s a chance to do that. Something good will come out of it for you, no matter what form that good thing takes.
You are showing up. That is the key. As long as you took the time to show up, show up all the way! No judging, no bluster, just you in a chair saying the things your body (not your critical mind) bids you to say. It’s easy. Leave the interview, and forget about it. Don’t second-guess. That’s critical mind stuff again.
You are whole and ridiculously qualified for the right job with people who get what you bring them. If they don’t get it, we can wish them a good life and move on. People who don’t get you don’t deserve you, but you knew that already, I am sure.