Interviewing requires poise even in ideal situations. When you face additional psychological obstacles due to difficult circumstances, staying poised requires perspective. Without suggesting that you look yourself in the mirror every morning and say, “you’re worth it,” there are useful tools for maintaining a clear and positive sense of direction and potential. These tools bolster your confidence as you search for a job. They also provide you a strategy for addressing vulnerable topics during interviews.
Laid off or fired:
Losing a job disrupts a worker’s sense of stability and career plans. For those people whose work is a source of personal pride and value, the sudden loss can be disorienting. When Jim was skimmed from his pharmaceutical company in order to reduce costs, he suddenly felt disoriented. Despite his understanding of the financial reasons for eliminating his position, it seemed to him as if his company had rejected him. Since he had managed multiple teams and thrived on the ability to influence others, he felt frustrated by his loss of power and the sense of significance that it had brought him. Jim knew that he was staving off a depression only through the encouragement of his family and friends. He did not feel that he exuded the confidence he needed to successfully pursue other jobs.
Then Jim refocused. After all, the layoff was not the culmination of his professional history or the exhaustive evaluation of his merit. Instead of dwelling on his loss, Jim made a list of his professional and personal accomplishments. For example, he had successfully launched a new drug, taking it from experimental testing through marketing. He had initiated and developed a new employee mentoring program in his company, effectively training other mentors to provide guidance to employees. As a result, the morale of the office and communication flows improved. After highlighting several other accomplishments, Jim made a list of the constructive feedback he received from his team, colleagues, and managers. Several people had noted his initiative and his organizational abilities, others had thanked him for his encouragement and accessibility. Still others saw him as an excellent negotiator. Two of his managers had commented on his attention to detail in quality standards. He could see on paper that his colleagues respected him.
As Jim considered his career at the pharmaceutical company, he began to gain an appreciation for his experience and contribution there. In addition to helping him feel better, the process refined his goals. Jim saw more clearly what kind of position enabled him to flourish. With a renewed sense of confidence in his objective achievements and value, Jim launched himself into the search.
Prolonged job search:
Jim searched for an extended period. His layoff had occurred during an economic downturn that dampened the entire industry, and now he found himself networking, searching job databases, and dragging himself to job fairs. Discouragement began to seep into his psyche, and his enthusiasm for his skills and achievements began to dissolve. Knowing that he had previously overcome sapped confidence, Jim pulled back from his immediate emotions to reflect on his overall situation.
Jim identified the facts: he had usable skills and qualities and had a proven history of adding value to his company. He wanted a job that would challenge and grow with him, enabling him to build his career. He knew himself well enough to realize that he thrived in large companies rather than small ones and in positions in which he was able to assume significant responsibility for outcomes and people. He also had specific salary goals and minimum requirements. He did not want to settle for any open position. His circumstances would have been discouraging for anyone, but he needed to find the right fit. His extended search did not reflect upon his worth as a viable candidate or person.
Eventually, an attractive company invited Jim for an interview. Since his resume indicated that he had stopped working at his previous company five months prior, he anticipated that the interviewers would question him about this gap in employment. He carefully prepared an answer, focusing on his desire to find a job that matches his specific abilities and goals. He could guarantee his skills, but he could not control the availability of positions.
Lack of experience:
Gwen had a formidable obstacle to overcome as well: she had little professional experience in her area of interest. A recent graduate from college, Gwen majored in English Literature and Political Science. Now she wanted to break into the marketing field. She was confident that she could learn the job quickly and contribute creative ideas. Her friends envied her ability to anticipate and ride trends. As a child, she used to make up commercials and present them to her family in the living room. She was sure that she had raw, untapped talent on which she could capitalize. Still, she would have to convince the Marketing Manager that her inexperience as compared with other candidates was trivial.
This task seemed impossible-Gwen did not have a portfolio to share or raw numbers to reveal her success. But she did have abilities, and she began to focus on describing these. Reflecting on the tangible things that Gwen could offer an employer, she realized that she could excel if given an opportunity. Still, competitors for positions probably had many of these skills and qualities as well. But what was she going to do, pretend to act out a commercial the way she had in her living room dozens of times? Perhaps the idea was not farfetched. During an interview, she could request an audition. The employer could test her and her competitors’ abilities by giving them an assignment to complete. Using this method, she could demonstrate her creative potential in a tangible way. Instead of dwelling on her history, Gwen strategically encouraged the employer to dwell on her future.