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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

More by this author

Dr. Jamie Schwandt

Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt & Red Team Critical Thinker

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Last Updated on October 20, 2020

How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators

How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators

You have a deadline looming. However, instead of doing your work, you are fiddling with miscellaneous things like checking email, social media, watching videos, surfing blogs and forums. You know you should be working, but you just don’t feel like doing anything.

We are all familiar with the procrastination phenomenon. When we procrastinate, we squander away our free time and put off important tasks we should be doing them till it’s too late. And when it is indeed too late, we panic and wish we got started earlier.

The chronic procrastinators I know have spent years of their life looped in this cycle. Delaying, putting off things, slacking, hiding from work, facing work only when it’s unavoidable, then repeating this loop all over again. It’s a bad habit that eats us away and prevents us from achieving greater results in life.

Don’t let procrastination take over your life. Here, I will share my personal steps on how to stop procrastinating. These 11 steps will definitely apply to you too:

1. Break Your Work into Little Steps

Part of the reason why we procrastinate is because subconsciously, we find the work too overwhelming for us. Break it down into little parts, then focus on one part at the time. If you still procrastinate on the task after breaking it down, then break it down even further. Soon, your task will be so simple that you will be thinking “gee, this is so simple that I might as well just do it now!”.

For example, I’m currently writing a new book (on How to achieve anything in life). Book writing at its full scale is an enormous project and can be overwhelming. However, when I break it down into phases such as –

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  • (1) Research
  • (2) Deciding the topic
  • (3) Creating the outline
  • (4) Drafting the content
  • (5) Writing Chapters #1 to #10,
  • (6) Revision
  • (7) etc.

Suddenly it seems very manageable. What I do then is to focus on the immediate phase and get it done to my best ability, without thinking about the other phases. When it’s done, I move on to the next.

2. Change Your Environment

Different environments have different impact on our productivity. Look at your work desk and your room. Do they make you want to work or do they make you want to snuggle and sleep? If it’s the latter, you should look into changing your workspace.

One thing to note is that an environment that makes us feel inspired before may lose its effect after a period of time. If that’s the case, then it’s time to change things around. Refer to Steps #2 and #3 of 13 Strategies To Jumpstart Your Productivity, which talks about revamping your environment and workspace.

3. Create a Detailed Timeline with Specific Deadlines

Having just 1 deadline for your work is like an invitation to procrastinate. That’s because we get the impression that we have time and keep pushing everything back, until it’s too late.

Break down your project (see tip #1), then create an overall timeline with specific deadlines for each small task. This way, you know you have to finish each task by a certain date. Your timelines must be robust, too – i.e. if you don’t finish this by today, it’s going to jeopardize everything else you have planned after that. This way it creates the urgency to act.

My goals are broken down into monthly, weekly, right down to the daily task lists, and the list is a call to action that I must accomplish this by the specified date, else my goals will be put off.

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Here’re more tips on setting deadlines: 22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

4. Eliminate Your Procrastination Pit-Stops

If you are procrastinating a little too much, maybe that’s because you make it easy to procrastinate.

Identify your browser bookmarks that take up a lot of your time and shift them into a separate folder that is less accessible. Disable the automatic notification option in your email client. Get rid of the distractions around you.

I know some people will out of the way and delete or deactivate their facebook accounts. I think it’s a little drastic and extreme as addressing procrastination is more about being conscious of our actions than counteracting via self-binding methods, but if you feel that’s what’s needed, go for it.

5. Hang out with People Who Inspire You to Take Action

I’m pretty sure if you spend just 10 minutes talking to Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, you’ll be more inspired to act than if you spent the 10 minutes doing nothing. The people we are with influence our behaviors. Of course spending time with Steve Jobs or Bill Gates every day is probably not a feasible method, but the principle applies — The Hidden Power of Every Single Person Around You

Identify the people, friends or colleagues who trigger you – most likely the go-getters and hard workers – and hang out with them more often. Soon you will inculcate their drive and spirit too.

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As a personal development blogger, I “hang out” with inspiring personal development experts by reading their blogs and corresponding with them regularly via email and social media. It’s communication via new media and it works all the same.

6. Get a Buddy

Having a companion makes the whole process much more fun. Ideally, your buddy should be someone who has his/her own set of goals. Both of you will hold each other accountable to your goals and plans. While it’s not necessary for both of you to have the same goals, it’ll be even better if that’s the case, so you can learn from each other.

I have a good friend whom I talk to regularly, and we always ask each other about our goals and progress in achieving those goals. Needless to say, it spurs us to keep taking action.

7. Tell Others About Your Goals

This serves the same function as #6, on a larger scale. Tell all your friends, colleagues, acquaintances and family about your projects. Now whenever you see them, they are bound to ask you about your status on those projects.

For example, sometimes I announce my projects on The Personal Excellence Blog, Twitter and Facebook, and my readers will ask me about them on an ongoing basis. It’s a great way to keep myself accountable to my plans.

8. Seek out Someone Who Has Already Achieved the Outcome

What is it you want to accomplish here, and who are the people who have accomplished this already? Go seek them out and connect with them. Seeing living proof that your goals are very well achievable if you take action is one of the best triggers for action.

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9. Re-Clarify Your Goals

If you have been procrastinating for an extended period of time, it might reflect a misalignment between what you want and what you are currently doing. Often times, we outgrow our goals as we discover more about ourselves, but we don’t change our goals to reflect that.

Get away from your work (a short vacation will be good, else just a weekend break or staycation will do too) and take some time to regroup yourself. What exactly do you want to achieve? What should you do to get there? What are the steps to take? Does your current work align with that? If not, what can you do about it?

10. Stop Over-Complicating Things

Are you waiting for a perfect time to do this? That maybe now is not the best time because of X, Y, Z reasons? Ditch that thought because there’s never a perfect time. If you keep waiting for one, you are never going to accomplish anything.

Perfectionism is one of the biggest reasons for procrastination. Read more about why perfectionist tendencies can be a bane than a boon: Why Being A Perfectionist May Not Be So Perfect.

11. Get a Grip and Just Do It

At the end, it boils down to taking action. You can do all the strategizing, planning and hypothesizing, but if you don’t take action, nothing’s going to happen. Occasionally, I get readers and clients who keep complaining about their situations but they still refuse to take action at the end of the day.

Reality check:

I have never heard anyone procrastinate their way to success before and I doubt it’s going to change in the near future. Whatever it is you are procrastinating on, if you want to get it done, you need to get a grip on yourself and do it.

Bonus: Think Like a Rhino

More Tips for Procrastinators to Start Taking Action

Featured photo credit: Malvestida Magazine via unsplash.com

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