Fear Going to an Interview? Part 1: Preparation

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It's funny but many public sector workers spend most of daily life interviewing people or in interview situations. It might be talking to a patient, trying to find out what's wrong, interviewing a suspect or asking a victim what happened. Maybe you have a report to write for court and you need to explore with the defendant what led them to this point. Perhaps it is a child who is at risk within the home or a teenager who is struggling to fit in at school. Or maybe you are one that is being asked to explain your decision-making process within a formal setting. All these types of interviews, and more, are second nature to you and given you have developed both your interviewing and active listening skills through years of practice, on the whole, they come with ease. Why is it then, when it comes to thinking about changing careers or we have applied and have been given an interview for either an internal role or a job externally, we panic. We become filled with fear because in many cases, it could have been 10, 20, 30 years since we last attended a formal job interview.

In today's blog I'll give you some tips to put into place in preparation for the interview so that you can quieten the fear and take control for you to show up at your best during the interview.

  1. Personal highlights: Spend some time thinking of several different examples that you can use to demonstrate your skills and what you bring to the role and the hiring company. Rehearse these, because I can guarantee you when you are in an interview there will be times when they ask for an example and your mind goes blank, often because you have 100s if not 1000s of examples but in that moment, you can't think of one. You want to get to a stage where they come to you automatically, you don't want to have to think of one in that moment. Use the STAR Model to help you formulate and describe your examples, it allows you to be clear and concise, leaving the interviewer in no doubt.

    S - Situation: Describe the challenge or situation.

    T - Task: Highlight what your goals were.

    A - Action: Explain what you did.

    R - Result: What was the positive result, what did you learn then and going forward.

  2. Personal strengths: Inevitably, you will be asked the question what are your strengths and weaknesses? Focus on the strengths first, take a blank piece of A4 paper and write down every word that comes to mind that reflects a personal strength. Spend about 20 minutes doing this then leave it for a day or two, come back to it and spend another 20 minutes thinking of some more strengths. Ask other people who know you, what they would say your strengths are, add these to the list. Then from everything you have on the paper pick out at least 10 that would fit with the role and the company you are having the interview with.
  3. Personal weaknesses: Do the same exercise as you did for the strengths, you will have a fraction of the content. From the list you have generated, pick out 2-3 weaknesses that are irrelevant to the role you are going for. They are characteristics you are aware of, but they are a work in progress and something which you learn from.
  4. Prepared responses: Think about what questions you might be asked. There might be some you can't prepare for but unless you are going for a job at Google, most interviewers ask similar questions. In addition to what are your strengths/weakness, it will be questions like, why do you want this job/role? Why do you want to leave your existing job? What can you bring to this role/organisation? What motivates you? What are your future goals/aims? Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time? Prepare responses to these types of questions.
  5. Research the company: You can never know too much about the company you want to work for and even if you don't use all of the knowledge in the interview, it will be clear in how you present, the questions you ask that you are serious about wanting the role. Research their aims, ambitions, vision and values, paying particular attention to where the company values align with yours. Understand how they have got where they are today from where they were in the beginning and what the future looks like for them. You want to really get to know the company.

    If it's an internal role you are going for, you still need to do your research because whilst you will know the organisation, you might not know the role and everything that entails. Speaking to others who do the role, spending some time shadowing will give you insight into specific details you might not know about, give you a different perspective on what questions you might want to ask and what you can specifically bring to the role. A fresh pair of eyes into a role might see something which could improve an aspect that seasoned staff don't.

  6. Devise your questions: Now you have done your company research, devise several questions to ask during and at the end of the interview. Many will get answered during the process but if you think of quite a few, you should have some left be able to ask.
  7. Supporting Material: Gather any supporting material you might need. This could be additional copies of your CV or any references you might have already.
  8. Plan and check out your route: Take the time to go and check out the venue where the interview is at. The last thing you want is to get lost on the way, even if you are using a map on your phone, don't just rely on technology. Trust me, you don't want any complications that could have been avoided on the morning of the interview. If it's in an area you are unfamiliar with, also check out Google Street View on the day as a reminder of what you'll pass on route. I know it's obvious but if you are driving, set off well before your interview time; even if you are in the vicinity really early, you'll be at the location you need to be, giving you some time to relax and focus on the task ahead, as opposed to being stuck in a traffic jam because everyone has decided to come out in their car that morning.
  9. Practice, practice, practice: This speaks for itself. Anything that you don't do on a regular basis needs practice. You want everything to just trip off the tongue, not in a scripted way, but if you know your stuff, it will come to you without much thought and naturally. This will make you feel more relaxed and the more the real you will come through during the interview.

Putting in the preparation work helps you take control of some of the fear you might experience at the thought of an interview. Having the knowledge gives you the control, you know your stuff and you won't need to search for an answer during the interview. There'll be no long pauses where you have an out of body experience as time stands still. Your responses will be confident, concise and answer the questions fully.

In Part II, we'll focus on how to show up at your best within the interview rather than letting nerves get the better of you. 

What's the Worst That Can Happen?

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Sometimes, when it comes to making a change, to take a chance, we hold back. Many people are risk averse, fearing failure, rejection, sometimes fearing success because of that might bring. In some instances, we don't enjoy or celebrate our successes because we expect something bad will follow.

We are hard wired to see negatives. From an evolutionary perspective our brains have not evolved in line with the shifting landscape. The brain's perception of risk goes back to the dawn of time when man was not the top predator and there were tigers and other beasties hiding in the bushes. Danger lurked around every corner and the dangers were life threatening. Now those dangers aren't present, but the brain doesn't know that. It reacts to situations which it perceives to be risky as there is an immediate threat.

Perceived risks in the modern world are telling someone you love them for the first time and waiting for their response. Handing your notice in after 25 years of working in the same industry and going off to travel the world before it’s too late. Attending your first trade show to sell the products you have made from your hobby, going beyond just selling them to family and friends. Doing your first ever Facebook Live, opening yourself up to criticism and judgement whilst also connecting with your tribe and potential future customers. Finishing off the book you have been writing, letting others read it and sending it off to a publisher.

Moments like these can generate fear and anxiety that our brain is trying to protect us from. But, if we're wanting something to change then we must overcome these fears, we must get the primitive part of the brain to calm down and focus on reality. We need to ask ourselves, what's the worst that's going to happen? It's time to get your thinking, rational brain into gear.

What IS the worst that can happen? If you change careers, you might not like it? There are other jobs to apply for. Set up your own business and you make a loss? You're not going to be a success straight away and if it doesn't work out, you close it down knowing that at least you tried. Ask someone out on a date and they say no? Not every connection you make is going to end the way you want. Yes, it might hurt but when you find the next person you like, this moment will be forgotten.

If you're held back by fear of what might happen, keep asking yourself, what's the worst that can happen? You won't be able to come up with many things that you don't have the skills or strength to be able to deal with. That's the thing, we don't have to believe all the negative things. It is easy to lose sight that we are more than capable and adaptable to deal with what life throws at us. If something doesn't work out how we want, the sky won't fall in, it's not the end of the world. You have the ability and the skills to create a new path. Be flexible and keep at it. When you were a child learning to walk, you didn't give up the first time you fell, or the second, third... Why would you do it now as an adult? Even if aiming high, pushing yourself out of your comfort zone is scary, do it anyway. If you don’t try, what will it cost you in the long run?

We no longer live in an era where there are life threatening risks everywhere. Whilst life choices can be uncomfortable at times, you're not in immediate danger with the decisions you make. You choose what to or not to believe so pick something which will serve you and move you forward in life. Don't choose to believe something which isn't real, and which will hold you back. Take the risk of living the life you want and enjoy it.

I Know What it Feels Like When You're Stuck in a Rut

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Does this sound familiar...When you wake up on a morning you don't look forward to the day ahead. At work, every day is a routine and drags by. You look around and know you deserve more, and want more, but don't have the time or energy to do something about it. You've been doing the same job for several years and you no longer love what you do. You have become the master list maker, creating to do lists but never getting anything done, or if you do, more things are added so your list is never-ending. You lose track of time because every day feels the same and you feel like you're the hamster trapped in a wheel, forever running but never getting anywhere. The sound track of your life rather than being something upbeat and exciting, has now become the sound of your voice constantly complaining about how unfair life is, that you're bored and you don't have a purpose. And now, you realise you're going through the motions and you're on autopilot in your life.

If this connects with what you are thinking and feeling right at this moment, then it's highly likely you're stuck in a rut and languishing in a comfort zone you have created in your life. When you are in our comfort zone, you don't have to think about the choices you make and what you are doing. What you do is easy because you know how to do it, what's expected and generally what the outcome will be. As you go through life in our little comfort zone, you're not happy, challenged or stretched and you are certainly not fulfilled; you’re just OK but not really in a good way. Life is ticking along, you've got a job, you're getting paid, you've a roof over your head, a great family and you can go away on holiday each year. And yet, you feel there is more to life than just going through the motions. You feel you have more to offer and you want to challenge yourself more and grow.

At one time or another, we all experience being stuck in a rut. So, here's what happens when we experience this. Here we are sat in our comfort zone, we're not asking for the earth, we just want to be happier, content, satisfied; we want to have more meaning and purpose to our days and life. We make the decision to do something about it. We come up with ideas, start to make changes, which to begin with seems OK but then as we get to a certain point the thought of stepping outside of the comfort zone becomes increasingly scary. Our fears, our limiting beliefs go into overdrive. We play the "What If" game; what if I move jobs and I can't do it, what if we move to renovate a house we have always dreamed of and it turns into a nightmare, what if I retrain and then can't find a job, what if I write a book and nobody likes it, and so on and so on. All these fears and beliefs become a barrier to us stretching ourselves and going beyond what we are comfortable with, so we just stay as we are. We can go through this process numerous times, something will motivate us to try again or it starts to create greater discomfort. Then when we're about to break through, we talk ourselves out of it again.

This is until one time, something forces us to break through that barrier. Either an external event, such as being made redundant or because staying as we are in our comfort zone has become too uncomfortable, it is causing us to hate the thing we used to love, it is causing us to feel stressed or depressed at the thought of continuing as we are. Suddenly, we find the motivation to move away from something we don't want becomes so great, it makes us act and pushes us out of our comfort zone. Once through this is where the magic happens. The negative emotions are gone; yes, it can be a little scary at times but in a good way, now it's exciting, we feel energised in a way we didn't before. We are doing something different, we're being stretched, growing and we are no longer going through the motions. Of course, after a while, we'll create another comfort zone, this time it will be bigger, there'll be more opportunities in there, more connections we'll have built up our skill set, our confidence will be higher, after all we've done it before so we can do it again. Maybe next time it won't take so many attempts to make the change.

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If you think now is the time you're ready to get out of that rut, here's what to do:

  1. Understand the comfort zone you're currently in and be honest with yourself as to why you stay there.
  2. Get out of your head. Simplify and gain clarity. Figure out what you want, what life you want to create for yourself, what's the magic beyond your comfort zone.
  3. Set your SMART goals; Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timebound.
  4. Focus on the future, don't be trapped in the past and your previous negative experiences.
  5. Act. If you do nothing, then how can you expect anything to be different?

Let me know what magic you create.