Are you insecure at times? Of course you are, because this is how we keep checks and balances over our daily behavior. As a practicing career coach, I see this personality trait every day. And because about 70% of my clients are in transition, I see it more than others do. I remember that when I was in transition—unfortunately for a very extended time—my personality changed significantly. All of my personal insecurities became dominant over my interactions with others, which is natural because insecurities serve as mechanisms to protect ourselves. It’s too bad that’s the case, though, because in a job interview, one needs to show confidence and not blatant weakness. By the way, a common interview question is, What are your weaknesses? By far it’s one of candidates’ most-hated questions, but we’ll get back to that later.
Overcoming Unfounded Fear
For the lion’s share of my professional career, I managed people—lots of people. And for more than three decades, I succeeded in hiding one of my own biggest secrets. I feared talking to large crowds or having to do formal public speaking. But because I was in a leadership position, the duty was unavoidable. I dreaded and feared the moment to an extreme but had to face the music. I’m sure you may have had like experiences. And here comes the punchline: Today, having had close to 300 public speaking engagements under my belt. I can say unequivocally that stage fright and the fear of public speaking can be overcome. So, what happened in my case? I asked myself. What is the logical answer to such a 180-degree reversal in personality? My only reasonable answer is that in the past, I feared that my colleagues, bosses, and subordinates would find fault with either me, what I said, or what I delivered in my speech and that that would crush the credibility I’d attempted to build with them for a long time. I feared that any faux pas would hold me back from promotions or that I’d be ridiculed and possibly—at the extreme—even lose my job. This is the furthest from the truth. So, what changed?
When I make a public presentation, I prepare for it carefully. Sometimes I test the content and my delivery with a small group. Presidential candidates do that before their own speeches or debates. In fact, they have entire teams of experts to practice with. That same method gives me confidence because practice makes perfect, as they say. And at the same time, I don’t focus so much on the content—because I’ve prepared for that carefully—as on the delivery. I focus on my body language, facial expressions, and relentless eye contact with the crowd. I constantly say to myself that I know people in the crowd are critiquing me and some of them might be upsetting, but at the end of the day, I am the expert on the topic and that’s why I was invited to present. Those thoughts give me the confidence to be myself, smile, at times even crack a joke, or be humorous. It might not always work as expected, but so what? I’m able to overcome their critiques and my fears.
Overcoming Perceived Liabilities
In a job interview situation, a common question is to ask about the candidate’s weaknesses. Most candidates dread the question—mainly because they don’t understand what’s behind it: the interviewer simply wants to find out whether the candidate is honest with an answer, is fundamentally even aware of a weakness, and can articulate it—and, best, whether the candidate can give an example of going about correcting it.
Do you think you have perceived liabilities when facing an interviewer? Most likely you think you do. Everybody could have potential perceived liabilities in the eye of the interviewer. So, what’s the best way to deal with it? For example, how about when the interviewer looks over your résumé and surprisingly says, “Oh, you don’t have an MBA.” Most people would react to that comment in a defensive way. “I don’t have an MBA, but…” and go on to try to justify it. That’s not what the interviewer wants to hear. A better answer is an acknowledgment of the fact and a welcoming of the question: “I’m glad, Mr. Johnson, that you surfaced this issue. It gives us the opportunity to talk about it.” That way, your reaction is not defensive. Next, make an assumption that ends with a question. “I assume you’re looking for someone with an MBA for the analytic skills they’d have, right?” To that question, the interviewer can answer, Yes, that’s what I had in mind” or “No, what I had in mind is teamwork, for example.” So now you know where the interviewer’s focus is. And your response to that could be something like, “Mr. Johnson, I’d like to give you an example from my professional past that clarifies my extensive involvement with many and diverse teams.” And here you give an example. Simple, right? Of course—if you know how to do it. It’s all about fear control, and when you know how to control and deal with such fear, everything comes out better, firmer, stronger.
by Alex Freund