After experiencing my first root canal last week, I can still safely say that looking for a job is my least favourite thing to do. In fact one of my dearest hopes is to never have to apply for a job again. I don’t like writing applications, but even worse, I hate job interviews, but of course I’m not the only one.
In my work as a therapist I’ve encountered many people who get repeatedly traumatised by the process of interviewing for jobs, and not because the interviewers are nasty or manipulative, but because the inherent nature of a job interview makes it incredibly prone to triggering traumatic responses.
In my working life before becoming a therapist I’ve also been involved in recruiting and interviewing many people, so combining this experience and with my therapist hat on, here’s 5 Tips and 4 Tools to empower and take care of yourself through the trials of job interviews.
TIP #1: KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DEALING WITH
The central reason job interviews suck is the power imbalance. As much as you tell yourself that you’re also there to interview the organisation, you tend to need the job more than the job needs you. And typically most roles have more than one applicant so you’re in competition with others for the role and will be compared and judged against other applicants. Eugh!
Power most simply, is how much choice and control you have over your life.
Added to this, the people interviewing you are usually further up the organisational chain than the job you’re applying for and so they have this additional rank (ranks are characteristics that give us more or less power than others in particular contexts).
It is a huge disparity in what’s called Socio-Structural Power.
This kind of power comes from things like education levels, career, job types, financial situation, employment level etc. So obviously you usually walk into job interviews with much less Socio-Structural Rank than the interviewers, which contributes to the crappy feelings.
Thankfully, you have other powers!
Social Ranks (including the structural ranks I just mentioned, and physical ranks like skin colour, gender, ability, age, size etc) are luckily not the only ranks that matter (some would argue they actually matter the least).
This is the central key to surviving job interviews.
You are more than your social rank. You have another kind of rank that is not connected to any of the social ranks; these are your personal ranks, the things that give you personal power. Personal power comes from a sense of inherent self-worth; the skills and capacities you build from working through tough times; your capacity to connect and relate with others; your resilience and self awareness; having a sense of purpose in your life etc.
Download this Power One-Pager and get familiar with different kinds of rank and power (or for even more info about power, sign up to receive the more comprehensive Little Book of Power).
These are all powers that you can take with you where ever you go, and that can comfort you in situations when you feel in low social rank, like job interviews. But you have to work out what they are first, and then learn to love them, before they can become a comfort.
Download this Celebrating Privileges exercise and befriend your own powers.
BONUS TIP: Working with a therapist on past experiences of shame and low rank situations can make you more comfortable with low rank situations, and reduce their potential to be traumatising. The goal with power is to become fluid between high rank and low rank situations, not to avoid low rank situations completely.
TIP #2: SET INTERNAL BOUNDARIES ABOUT WHAT’S BEING JUDGED
When you go for a job interview the first thing you say to the interviewers is NOT usually “I give you permission to judge me as a person and my worthiness in this world”, but it’s often what you unconsciously do.
A job interview is a place of judgement.
You are being judged, but only your suitability for the role (which you roughly already know anyway) relative to other applicants (that’s the bit you don’t know).
Whether you are a good person, likable, trustworthy or worth the air you breathe is not being assessed, so don’t project the power to judge your whole self onto the job interview.
Job interviews assess your capacity to do the job and fit in with the culture of the organisation, not your worth as a person!
However, the role of the judge is not just occupied by the interviewers, we also have internal figures who judge us, and these are actually more dangerous to our wellbeing than the interviewers.
This internal judge takes the context of specific assessments (the job interview) and broadens the scope of the assessment to include all of who you are, not just your fit for the job. If you don’t get the job, instead of thinking that someone more suited must have applied, you can feel like all of you has been rejected and deemed not worthy. Some boundaries are essential here.
Download this Assessment Contract and make a list of the things you give the interview permission to assess you on, and the things the interview is not allowed to assess you on. This is a contract with yourself, a setting of internal boundaries about what you can and can’t judge yourself on.
TIP #3: SET YOURSELF UP FOR SUCCESS
Job interviews can constellate a whole host of insecurities which can make you unconsciously sabotage your chances of getting the job. This can often manifest as procrastination and not being well prepared, all of which can make you feel in even lower rank in the interview.
It’s often a self-protective response in case you don’t get the job: “I didn’t get the job because I didn’t give it my best” seems easier to live with than “I gave it my best and still didn’t get the job”. It might be easier in the short-term, but it the long term it will eat away at your self-worth.
The issue is partly about how you’re measuring success.
When your measure of success is getting the job, success is not in your control (because you can’t control who else applies for the job). But if your measure of success is that you try your best, then success is completely in your control.
This is a more realistic measure of success as well. You can’t control who else applies for the position, or that there might be an internal candidate who is almost guaranteed the role etc. What you can control is the effort and integrity you put into your application and preparation, so let that be how you measure success.
Download this checklist of things you can do to set yourself up to succeed.
TIP #4: BE YOURSELF, PROFESSIONALLY
I remember one interview I went to, when I met the first interviewer and they said “Hi, how are you?”, I replied, “Oh pretty nervous actually, but that’s OK, to be expected.” I was probably supposed to say “Great, thanks for the interview.”
Now I don’t necessarily recommend this response (I did get the job though), but my honest response probably made me stand out from the crowd.
Too many people go to interviews thinking they need to pretend to be someone they’re not.
This is problematic in two ways. Firstly it makes it hard for the interviewers to work out if you’ll be a good fit in the organisation.
View the job interview as a collaboration between yourself and the interviewers and that you both have a shared goal. They want an appropriately skilled person who will fit in with the workplace culture, and you want a job that suits your skills in an organisation you feel comfortable in – you’re both trying to work out if this is the right fit – so let the interviewers help you work this out by being yourself.
The second issue is that pretending to be someone you’re not is a self-betrayal.
It’s basically telling yourself that you are not worthy as you are, and that to be successful you have to pretend to be someone else. Ouch!!
Of course you still need to put your best professional foot forward, just make sure it’s your foot you are putting forward.
TIP #5: CELEBRATE
No matter how well you feel the interview went, you must celebrate afterwards (this is part of the planning checklist in Tool #4).
Decide ahead of time how you’ll celebrate and what you’re celebrating. The celebration is not about how the interview went, how well you spoke etc, it is simply about having the courage to throw your hat in the ring and turn up.
It might sound a little trite, but if you’re up against serious inner criticism and low rank feelings (which most of us are when it comes to applying for jobs) then you need to combat them with awareness and action, and pre-planned rituals of celebration are powerful tools to do this.
The right type of celebration is the one that feels right for you. Here’s some ideas to get you thinking:
- take yourself to the movies or watch a DVD at home with some popcorn
- buy the ingredients for a special meal/go out for dinner
- write yourself a congratulatory letter acknowledging the challenges you overcame and the efforts you made
- go for a coffee and cake to a nice café (sit outside if the weather’s good)
- hang out with a friend and celebrate your bravery together
- spend time in a favourite nature spot
- put on your favourite music and have a dance
- have a nap
- go for a bike ride
- buy yourself some flowers
- hang out with a dog
- visit a gallery or museum
- go play Frisbee
Remember, job interviews are tough; just getting yourself along to one takes a lot of courage. Acknowledging that you’re not alone (pretty much everyone hates job interviews) and that some self care is needed is a great place to start.
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