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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 16, 2018

You’ll Only Live Your Best Life Once You Step Out

You’ll Only Live Your Best Life Once You Step Out

Fear is a valuable thing. It keeps people safe and encourages caution when caution is due. But Fear can also be a limiting factor because not everything you’re afraid of should really be feared.

Have you ever been faced with a situation where you were afraid of making a decision, making a change or taking a risk?

Did you end up taking that risk or making that decision? Or, did you just stay put and left things as they were? If you did, are you happy with how things have turned out?

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It’s in our nature to like feeling safe–to be in comfort and away from danger. This has always been the case since the beginning of time, when the first humans only knew how to prioritize survival. Even today, many still choose to play it safe and avoid taking risks or taking leaps of faith when it comes to their choices in life.

The Realist and the Dreamer

To put it simply, there are two kinds of people: the realists and the dreamers. The realists are the logical and cautious type of individuals who always think and weigh out the pros and cons before making any decisions–especially the big, life changing ones. Whether it was deciding on what to major in at University, what career path to take, whether or not to purchase that house or car, to go on that holiday, or to splurge on that new watch, the realist thinks long and hard before making a decision, if they even decide. Realists stick to the “what’s next?” plan for the future and may not abstractly consider different possibilities for where life can lead. This is usually because of the confidence they have already devoted to an accepted plan.

Realists have dreams too, but these are more so rooted in ambition, drive and determination. They are goals that have been enumerated for some time. Realists understand that progress requires more than ambition and drive, but also, connections. They feel that life is never worry-free because of survival, responsibility and…paying a rent or a mortgage. As a result, they tend to make safe choices and stick to their comfort of knowing what’s best for themselves.

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Now let’s look at the dreamers. The dreamers are well, dreamers. They have big lofty ambitions, are risk takers, sometimes over impulsive, but they often always challenge the norms of society and dare to think outside the box. This is not to say that they do not have plans or a path that they want to follow. But they are more likely to change the course of their journey through time, experience and by following their heart.

Dreamers derive their inspiration from within. No one else’s perspectives weigh in greatly enough to shift a dreamer’s drive. Dreamers don’t allow their fears to consume them. They may fail from time to time, but they never give up on life or love.

Embrace Fear

So which of the two do you think you are? And is one better than the other? In life, balance is always key. I’m sure you would have heard the saying: “everything in moderation”. Likewise, being a realist isn’t any better than being a dreamer. Both come with their challenges. But what I do know, is that no matter where you are in life, fear should always be seen as a way of pushing you towards becoming a better you.

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Stepping outside of your comfort zone is a type of fear that should be embraced. If you see yourself as a dreamer, then great! Chances are, stepping out of your comfort zone isn’t new to you. Whether it’s deciding to drop out of University to start your own business, moving to a new country on your own, taking that step to ask someone out on a date despite thinking they’re way out of your league, or deciding to quit your high paying job of 10 years to become a DJ. You chose to do that because you knew that you would most likely regret the ‘what ifs’ more than the mistakes (if any) of those decisions.

But if you’ve always been more of a cautious individual (nearing towards being a realist), then I hope you’ll give more thought to embracing the act of stepping out more! Of course, that doesn’t mean you have to start making hasty or bold decisions such as the ones mentioned. It just means opening your mind to the acceptance that stepping out of your comfort zone isn’t a bad thing, it’s not something to be hesitant or afraid of.

Managing Fear

In times of stress or discomfort, remember that some of the best things happen when you’re afraid or put in an uncomfortable situation. These experiences can both challenge you and help you grow. Commit to giving the situation a try with your best effort, and keep expectations low to reduce additional pressure. Living outside of one’s comfort zone is by definition uncomfortable. Therefore, the best habit you can foster within yourself is the practice of becoming familiar with discomfort.

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You may be at a crossroad in life and feeling undecided about something, or you may feel like you’re not happy with where you’re at right now. It could be a job that you’re not happy with, a relationship you’re not happy in, or even just knowing that you’re too comfortable with where you’re at that you don’t feel challenged. All of this uncertainty can be traced back to your intentions. What is it that you want? What is it that you’re looking for?

So, What Are You Looking For?

If you feel like you’re stuck in a rut or know that you need some sort of change, but you’re just not sure how to take that step towards the change, why not subscribe to our newsletter? Our daily inspiration will help you embark on a journey, and will allow you to find that light at the end of the tunnel you’re searching for.

At Lifehack, we’re dedicated to helping you find the ideal solutions to your problems, and with over 15 years of experience in coaching, we have condensed our knowledge and practices into a highly effective transformational model that you can use to not only help you out of your rut, but to also help you find new and bigger meaning to your life.

Stepping out of your comfort zone isn’t always the easiest, but we’re here to make it easier for you to realize your true potential. The time to act is now!

Featured photo credit: Maher El Aridi via unsplash.com

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