Have you ever played a game, puzzle, or even taken a test that instructs you to “find what doesn’t fit?” Another way to look at it is, ‘find what’s wrong’ with the person, situation, event, or scene. It’s our human nature to look for what’s wrong; what doesn’t fit – in ourselves, events, situations, and the people we interact with.
During one initial consultation with a prospective coaching client, Ellen revealed a great deal about herself, including a bad marriage, adult children with major addictions, and most recently termination from a job. She was a nervous wreck about an upcoming interview with one of the most highly regarded companies headquartered in Austin, and she didn’t want to blow it.
Ellen was on out-loud thinker. When she told a story, she went down multiple rabbit holes of unnecessary detail before eventually getting to the good parts. As a result, she sometimes failed to get to the punch line before the person in front of her stopped listening.
In fact, if I hadn’t stopped her on several occasions to ask her specific questions and get a better idea of what her needs were, we could have easily spent a few hours on the phone with her spinning quite the web of stories about all her past issues. This communication behavior was a clear indicator of how she probably conducted herself during interviews, too.
Ellen’s out-loud thinking revealed her deep sense of fear about the interview process. She related many undesirable results and outcomes in her life and business. I noticed she was blending them all together, telling herself a story that she’s incompetent, unprofessional, and unable to perform the leadership position she was targeted for at a multi-million-dollar global organization.
Read that again: she was TARGETED by the company – they wanted her. In fact, she was the only external candidate being interviewed for the position out of a pool of eight, and she was hand-picked by the GM of one of the six locations in Austin.
When we met for our first interview coaching session, Ellen expressed feeling overwhelmed at the thought of being interviewed the following week. On the coaching intake questionnaire Ellen completed prior to our first session, she stated,
“The greatest liability to my career success is my lack of self-confidence, my short work history due to raising my children, and an unclear career path.”
During our session I uncovered that for nearly 20 years Ellen was the owner/operator of one of the largest mid-size music retailers in the country during that industry’s boom. Following this smashing success, she went on to build and operate the first successful waterpark along the Canadian border.
Those two endeavors were so successful, she and her husband purchased a 39-foot sailboat that she Captained up and down the Atlantic, from Salem, MA to the British Virgin Islands with her children for a year.
Upon their return to Austin, her creative and entrepreneurial eye discovered a prime commercial retail property for sale. She and her husband purchased the property and turned it into a highly successful specialty retail shop that she ran until selling her interest during their contentious divorce several years later.
And yet, despite her impressive list of accomplishments, she told me with tears in her eyes that she lacked self-confidence, had a short work history, and was scared about the upcoming interviews.
Ellen was looking for all the things that didn’t fit, but didn’t fit according to whom? From nearly anyone else’s perspective, everything she’d done career-wise screamed self-confidence, a very defined work history of startup success, and true entrepreneurial grit.
As our conversation unfolded, we discovered that what she was really questioning was whether she would fit into a corporate structure. The GM who selected her for the role wasn’t questioning her fit, Ellen was questioning her fit. She was projecting self-doubt and questioned whether she would fit the corporate culture by saying she had a short work history and no clear career path.
If you find yourself doing what Ellen did as you prepare for interviews; focusing on all the things that don’t fit, lacking self-confidence about your experience, or otherwise feeling uncomfortable about your interviewing capability, here are 4 tips to help you shake off those fears and sell yourself better.
How to Sell Yourself in Interviews
- Focus on what went right. Find all the ways you fit in the organization you’re interviewing with, and all the things that worked and went right in your career. Then…
- Own your achievements. Once you’ve achieved clarity about what went right in your career, and how you fit in the organization, next create a comprehensive list of those items as talking points during interviews. Include things you’re proud of, accomplishments, awards, formal and informal recognition you’ve received, and either records you’ve set or new endeavors you introduced for the first time in your company.
- Less is More. Interviewing is nerve-wracking. A nervous person tends to ramble and say way too much because she usually starts talking as soon as she starts thinking. This is called thinking out loud. Instead, take two or three seconds to think about the most logical place to start your answer before you open your mouth.
- Tell a story. Most people approach addressing interview questions in a direct manner with a general answer. The better approach is telling a story that demonstrates mastery and proficiency of a specific skill that’s relevant to the role. Crafting a story with a beginning, middle, and end reduces the tendency to ramble and include unnecessary and confusing details. The most important part of the story is the result of your actions, so make sure you actually get all the way to the end and emphasize the result.
Employing these tips, Ellen had a breakthrough in the way she thought about her background and experience and how to express it in a more powerful context during interviews. She discovered how she fit, re-associated with her accomplishments, and told compelling, yet concise stories that illuminated her competency. She conveyed confidence and got the job!