Take a lyre player: he’s relaxed when he performs alone, but put him in front of an audience, and it’s a different story, no matter how beautiful his voice or how well he plays the instrument. Why? Because he not only wants to perform well, he wants to be well received – and the latter lies outside his control. Epictetus, Discourses
When someone is not getting the outcome he wants in his job search, he looks for something to blame. A jobseeker I’ll call Charles asked for a meeting in early November to help him overcome what he perceived as obstacles to his success. “I’m hearing that a candidate over 50 years old is not likely to be considered,” he told me. “I’m too old, I’m overqualified, and I can’t seem to get any traction.”
As we discussed his career and current search, it was obvious to me that Charles was going in to each interview expecting the worst. He’d talked himself into failure before he ever entered the room. We spent some time talking about how a long and disappointing job search can wear down your optimism and your ability to see things clearly. In short, Charles was stuck on how he felt, rather than what the interviewer and company needed.
He’d tried everything, according to Charles. He’d tried being what “they” said worked; he’d tried to dumb down his resume and experience. He’d tried everything but being himself. Since you’ve tried everything else, I suggested, why not try just being you for a while?
I wasn’t sure how much I’d been able to influence or help Charles, but within a month, I received a phone message and a thank you email from a Charles who seemed like a different man. He’d just received an offer from a solid company, and he was thrilled.
“Thank you again for all your help! I would not have gotten this position without you,” he wrote. I remembered you mentioning that I needed to look at things from the employer’s point of view – relating my skills to enhancing the businesses success when I was asked questions. Instead of answering with what I was looking for, I thought about answering in a way that showed this potential employer how I could contribute to both the current and future success of this organization.”
Charles had managed to stop worrying about the outcome of an interview – that was out of his control. There’s just no way to know whether you’re the best qualified candidate or likely to be chosen for an offer. You can’t control the outcome; you can only focus on your effort. Run your best race, and you’ll be proud of what you’ve done whether you win or not.
But sometimes, focusing on your effort does net the win. “I was more relaxed when interviewing,” says Charles. I will admit that I sometimes over think things, but I just decided to relax and be myself. And I felt better when each interview ended.” Charles had a long interview process with this company: three phone interviews before two in-person interviews. He decided to take notes from each phone interview to improve his performance and consistency should he make it to an in-person interview. (Focusing on the process and understanding that he always had room to improve.)
“I’m glad I took notes during the phone interviews because I was asked some of the same questions several different ways,” he wrote. You taught me how to play the new game in a changing job market, and it was great to feel better prepared. I also went into these interviews without any real expectations; I just told myself that if this position was meant for me, it would happen. If it was not, at least I would have learned something and would be able to move on.”
He was also able to get out of his own head and get into the employer’s mindset. “My whole outlook on interviews has now changed, and I found myself more relaxed. I was just being myself, which got a better response from the interviewer. As a result, the interviewers also opened up to me more – which in turn made me feel more comfortable. I decided to not worry about how the interview went – that eliminated some of my stress. By taking this new approach, I can really say I enjoyed all the interviews I had.”
Charles deserves the success he’s had. He showed the courage to look inward at what he could control and improve instead of blaming outside forces for his lack of success. He listened with an open mind and an open heart, and that opened him up to new outcomes.
Epictetus again: “The more we value things outside our control, the less control we have. Don’t hope that events will turn out the way you want, welcome events in whichever way they happen: this is the path to peace.”
Best of luck, Charles, in your new position and your newfound confidence.