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How Not to Be a Complete Nerve Wreck in an Interview

How Not to Be a Complete Nerve Wreck in an Interview

Talking about yourself is something that should be easy, yet it’s not. How do you respond to this question in an interview.

So, tell me about yourself?

Do you find you are a nervous wreck when responding? If so, fear not, because you are not alone.

Interviews are such a pain.

People struggle during job interviews. For some reasons, we treat the interview as if something our life has to depend on. We fear failure, yet if we just relaxed, we might find that the interview could actually be conducted as if it were a normal conversation.

During a stressful time, a leader I respect once asked me, “Did anyone die?” He was able to immediately put things in perspective. This simple, yet powerful advice assisted me in a recent job interview with a Fortune 500 company.

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Along with putting things into proper perspective, there are certain things we can do to ensure we are able to answer this seemingly simple (yet enormously difficult) question; a question typically asked right at the beginning of the interview.

So, how to answer tell me about yourself?

Most interviewees don’t understand the real questions behind “tell me about yourself”.

Jane Copland provides fantastic practical tips for success in landing your dream job. She remarks that in order to avoid the trap of freezing or rambling, we should study common interview questions and prepare our response to them. She encourages us not to memorize our answers, simply practice the key points. If we do this, we will find that we feel more confident and bring out our best. [1]

By following Jane’s advice, this interview question can be broken down into three subordinate questions:

  • What is the underlying meaning to this question? Here they are really looking for the qualities you possess; for which you could immediately use.
  • Why are they asking this question? They are wanting to know how you fit into their organization. This is where you need to demonstrate that you know what is important to them, not you.
  • What response are they secretly looking for? Are you a “change agent”? Meaning, can you bring value to their organization and foster change. Can you hit the ground running and improve their bottom line? That’s what they really want to know.

Once we understand the real questions, we can then develop a strategy to ensure we don’t blow the interview with the first question.

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Here is a quick list of things you should do… and those things you should never do.

Follow this process and find the perfect response.

I used this powerful 4-Step Method in a recent interview with a Fortune 500 company. By simply following these 4 steps, I was able to walk in the room with an unwavering high level of confidence. The following sections will break down each step, with tools and practical examples.

1. Spend more time on research.

The first thing you should do prior to the interview is to thoroughly research the company. To be able to answer the “Tell me about yourself question”, you must be able to customize yourself to the type of person they are looking for. Use these tools and demonstrate that you can improve their bottom line immediately:

  • 80/20 Rule. Find the 20% of the items that bring in 80% of the company revenue. Make sure you are familiar with their critical 20%. This shows you understand the company.
  • Know the financial health of the company and look for “opportunity areas” to attack. Do this by looking at their financial statements or quarterly reports. This will allow you to back up your assertion that you can make them money, because you can demonstrate how.
  • The best way to prepare for a job interview is to read a book that is popular in your profession. Better yet, read a book penned by the CEO of the organization you are interviewing with. You will be amazed at how little people read, especially books in their own field. This simple act will put you ahead in your profession. I personally re-read The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt before a job interview in the process improvement world. I am able to grasp the books core principles. Typically, they think they are my creation.
  • Read blogs from the professionals. I find myself reading the tips provided at Thepensters.com. This site offers phenomenal practical advice; which is what you are in need of right now.

2. Practice everywhere.

If you fail to attempt this step, then you might as well start scheduling your next interview because you don’t have a chance at this one.

  • 80/20 Rule for preparation. Yes again, the 80/20 rule. You can also use this rule for preparation. You must have a Plan A and Plan B. Focus 80% of your effort on Plan A and 20% of your effort on Plan B. [2]
  • Practice the art of Visualization. Visualize the entire interview in your head. Visualize exactly how you want the interview to flow and how you will control the interview. You will be amazed at just how powerful this technique is. I use this for everything I do… interviews, speaking engagements, even important phone calls.
  • Practice with a friend or family member. Make sure you choose someone you trust and someone who will provide candid feedback.
  • Use an analogy when attempting to learn the technical information about the company… especially if you are not familiar with what they do. An analogy is simply a comparison between two concepts for the purpose of explanation. For example, if you are in the medical field and are trying to learn a new science, such as epigenetics, you may want to use something similar to, “Genetics is like the blue prints. Epigenetics are like post-it notes on those blueprints (usually telling you to ignore that part).” – Justin Ma
  • Use diagrams. Diagrams are a powerful technique and a great way to visualize difficult concepts. Don’t be afraid to use them.

3. Follow this powerful formula.

If you are looking for a powerful way to guide your interview and answer the question, “Tell me about yourself” then I highly recommend you use one of the following formulas (or a combination of them all):

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  • Present -> Past -> Future. You start with the present (where you are right now), then discuss the past (experiences you have had and skills you have gained), then finish with the future (why you are excited about this opportunity). For example, I might use: “I am currently a Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt, where I improve overall performance for our organization. Before that I commanded 170 people where I launched 15 improvement initiatives. While I enjoyed my time as a Soldier, I would really like the chance to develop a deeper understanding as a practitioner in process improvement. This is why I am extremely excited about this opportunity with you.” [3]
  • Rule of 3. Since we can only hold a small amount of information at one time, it is important to understand and use the Rule of 3.

4. Work on your plans beforehand.

Use Implementation Intentions. These are “If-Then statements.” They are preplanned responses to make sure you are directing your internal and external behaviors toward the overall goal – in this case landing the job and explaining “Who you are.”

For example, I use the following Implementation Intention during my interviews: If or when scenario x happens, then I will perform y. More specifically: If or when I am asked to prove a principle (i.e. I can improve their bottom line), then I will respond with a detailed roadmap on how I can improve their bottom line. This means that I must have plenty of detailed roadmaps handy.

If you are trying to understand the critical functions of a company and you come across something you do not understand, try chunking the new information or idea. Think of a puzzle, simply break the term down into components, then break those components into further sub-components.

5. End it well and make sure you look good.

Lastly, make sure to follow-up with the interview panel. I highly recommend you send a personal “Thank You” letter. If you do not receive the job, ask them what improvements they suggest.

Don’t forget, when you are preparing for your interview, make sure you are dressed to impress. Don’t look like a bum! Finally, remember this advice when you are preparing for your next interview.

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“If we all threw our problems into a pile and saw everyone else’s, we’d grab ours back.”

Hence, don’t forget to put things into perspective and remember that there will always be another interview.

Featured photo credit: Flaticon via flaticon.com

Reference

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Dr. Jamie Schwandt

Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt & Red Team Critical Thinker

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Last Updated on October 16, 2019

Invaluable Lessons You Can Learn From Your Mistakes

Invaluable Lessons You Can Learn From Your Mistakes

Do you like making mistakes?

I certainly don’t.

Making mistakes is inevitable. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could be at ease with them?

Perhaps there is a way to think of them differently and see their benefits.

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Why Mistakes Feel Dangerous

Mistakes often feel dangerous. Throughout human history, our errors have often been treated as dangerous for a variety of reasons:

  • Our vulnerability. We have limited and fragile support systems. When those systems fail, people often lose their lives.
  • Real dangers. Nature can be dangerous, and making mistakes can put us at the mercy of nature and its animal residents seeking a meal.
  • Ignorance. Many cultures scapegoats someone whenever there is a failure of some kind. Scapegoating can be serious and deadly.
  • Order. Many societies punish those who do not conform to the prevailing orthodoxy and treat difference and non-conformity as a mistake. Even our brains flash an error message whenever we go against prevailing social norms.

We have a history of handling mistakes and failure in an unpleasant way. Since each of us carries our human history with us, it can be a challenge to overcome the fear of making mistakes.

If we can embrace the reality of mistakes, we can free ourselves to be more creative in our lives and dig up some interesting insights.

Why We Can’t Avoid Making Mistakes

Many people operate under the notion that making mistakes is an aberration, a mistake if you will. You can call it perfectionism but it is a more substantial problem. It is really a demand for order and continuity.

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When we think we can eliminate mistakes, we are often working from a perspective that sees the world as a fixed place. The world, however, is not so obliging. Like it or not, the world, and everything in it, is constantly changing.

Change is more constant and pervasive than we can see with our own eyes which is why we often miss it. Our bodies are constantly changing. The natural conditions of the earth change constantly as well. Everything, including economic and cultural systems have life cycles. Everything is in a constant state of flux.

We cannot see all of the changes going on around us since rates of change vary. Unfortunately, when we try to create a feeling of certainty and solidity in our lives or operate from the illusion of stability and order, we are fighting reality and our natural evolution which is built on adapting to change.

It is better to continually bend into this reality rather than fight every change we experience. Fighting it can cause us to make more mistakes. Finding the benefits in change can be useful and help us minimize unnecessary mistakes.

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Lessons Learned from Making Mistakes

Life has so many uncertainties and variables that mistakes are inevitable. Fortunately, there are many things you can learn from making mistakes.

Here is a list of ways to harness the mistakes you make for your benefit.

  1. Point us to something we did not know.
  2. Reveal a nuance we missed.
  3. Deepen our knowledge.
  4. Tell us something about our skill levels.
  5. Help us see what matters and what does not.
  6. Inform us more about our values.
  7. Teach us more about others.
  8. Let us recognize changing circumstances.
  9. Show us when someone else has changed.
  10. Keep us connected to what works and what doesn’t work.
  11. Remind us of our humanity.
  12. Spur us to want to better work which helps us all.
  13. Promote compassion for ourselves and others.
  14. Teach us to value forgiveness.
  15. Help us to pace ourselves better.
  16. Invite us to better choices.
  17. Can teach us how to experiment.
  18. Can reveal a new insight.
  19. Can suggest new options we had not considered.
  20. Can serve as a warning.
  21. Show us hidden fault lines in our lives which can lead us to more productive arrangements.
  22. Point out structural problems in our lives.
  23. Prompt us to learn more about ourselves.
  24. Remind us how we are like others.
  25. Make us more humble.
  26. Help us rectify injustices in our lives.
  27. Show us where to create more balance in our lives.
  28. Tell us when the time to move on has occurred.
  29. Reveal where our passion is and where it is not.
  30. Expose our true feelings.
  31. Bring out problems in a relationship.
  32. Can be a red flag for our misjudgments.
  33. Point us in a more creative direction.
  34. Show us when we are not listening.
  35. Wake us up to our authentic selves.
  36. Can create distance with someone else.
  37. Slow us down when we need to.
  38. Can hasten change.
  39. Reveal our blind spots.
  40. Are the invisible made visible.

Reframe Reality to Handle Mistakes More Easily

The secret to handling mistakes is to:

  • Expect them as part of the process of growth and development.
  • Have an experimental mindset.
  • Think in evolutional rather than fixed terms.

When we accept change as the natural structure of the world, our vulnerability and humanness lets us work with the ebb and flow of life.

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When we recognize the inevitability of mistakes as part of the ongoing experiment which life is, then we can relax more. In doing so we may make fewer of them.

It also helps to keep in mind that trial and error is an organic natural way of living. It is how we have evolved over time. It is better to be with our natural evolution than to fight it and make life harder.

When we adopt an evolutional mindset and see ourselves as part of the ongoing human experiment, we can appreciate that all that has been built up over time which includes the many mistakes our ancestors have made over thousands of years. Each one of us today is a part of that human tradition of learning and experimenting,

Mistakes are part of the trial and error, experimental nature of life. The more you adopt the experimental, evolutional frame, the easier it becomes to handle mistakes.

Handling mistakes well can help you relax and enjoy all aspects of life more.

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Featured photo credit: Sarah Kilian via unsplash.com

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