Are Hidden Fears Hurting You in Interviews
We've all been in the midst of a sentence and suddenly forgotten what we were saying. Embarrassing and a little funny, right? Not when it happens during a job interview.
Many candidates who suffer mental blocks and then flub their responses during interviews tend to beat themselves up afterwards. "What's wrong with me? Why couldn't I just answer the question?"
But job applicants often don't realize that subconscious mental and emotional issues make them relate poorly to interviewers. These obstacles can cause even verbose candidates to freeze up during important meetings.
Consider the sales professional who was eager to land a job at Tropicana Dole Products in Bradenton, Fla. During the interview, he "lost" his train of thought because he wanted the position so badly. When he realized that he wasn't making sense, he became flustered and then apologized to the interviewer. "I know you want me to discuss my work experience in chronological order, but I can't think in a logical sequence right now," he said.
A Florida ad agency's creative director wanted to make a career change to graphic arts and was pleased when she was invited to interview for this type of position at Chris Craft Boats in Sarasota, Fla. But while trying to explain why she wanted to leave advertising, she felt she was losing her potential boss's attention. She, too, had gotten "lost" because of her strong desire for the job.
Even though these candidates became disconnected from the interviewer and mired in their inner thought processes, nothing was "wrong" with them. "These individuals are in what we call an 'ungrounded state,' " says Dr. Holly Fiddelke, a clinical psychologist in private practice in Sarasota. "The person has lost solid contact with who they are and who the other person is."
Ungrounding can happen in any situation, says Dr. Fiddelke. We're most susceptible to it, however, when we have a "high level of emotional attachment to an event or its outcome," she says.
It's no wonder that some candidates become confused. Could any interaction be more highly charged than a job interview?
"The job interview clearly represents a double-edged sword," says Dr. Fiddelke. "Combine the exciting possibility of getting a job you really want with the fear of not getting it, and you have the perfect setting for ungrounding to occur."
A job interview can create multiple fears--of being rejected, making a poor impression, being in a subordinate position and out of control and being asked questions that you can't answer satisfactorily. For some people, just being in the spotlight is frightening. They want to impress the interviewer so much that they create the situation they fear most--making a poor presentation.
Rooted in the Past
Becoming overwhelmed with feelings during job interviews makes communicating with hiring managers difficult. But being swamped by present thoughts, concerns and emotions isn't the only problem, says Dr. Fiddelke.
"The interview experience can trigger old thoughts, emotions and behavioral patterns that will totally disrupt the interaction," she says. "While we mentally meander through past associations, we may lose eye contact with the interviewer, [not hear] what's being said, stumble in mid sentence or lose the drift of the whole conversation."
When Suzanne Gregory was being evaluated for a promotion at a large financial services company in New York, she was required to take a battery of tests, including analyzing a financial portfolio. Before the session, Ms. Gregory met with a female interviewer who had the same color hair and wore it in the same style as her mother. As a little girl, Ms. Gregory always became distracted when her mother told her to do something because she knew that pleasing her mother was nearly impossible.
When Ms. Gregory heard the interviewer giving her instructions about the test, she became disoriented, unconsciously responding to the woman as if she were her mother. Because she didn't pay attention to what she was told about the financial portfolio, she forgot salient points and couldn't assess it. When she realized what was happening, it was too late and she scored too poorly to earn the promotion.
"The interviewer can remind us consciously or unconsciously of someone from our past who [didn't] accept and frightened us," Dr. Fiddelke says. "When this happens, we'll immediately respond to the interviewer as if he or she was this person."
Feelings of fear stirred up by situations which occurred decades ago can lead you to act in ways that alienate an interviewer. Consider a candidate for a sales position who was interviewed by Griff Garrison, owner of Thermal Conversion Technology Inc., a Sarasota-based manufacturer of solar water heaters. Mr. Garrison's gravelly voice reminded the candidate of her father, who had been extremely critical of her.
As a child, she felt she couldn't please her father, no matter what she did. She carried this feeling of defeat into the interview and responded to Mr. Garrison as if he were her parent. She sat stiffly in the chair, holding her head high and crossing her arms and legs, and answered his questions defensively. Her body language signaled a cold and unfriendly attitude, hiding her real openness and warmth toward others. Needless to say, she wasn't offered the job.
"Our history or background will become our foreground, and we'll relate to the interviewer as we did to the person or unresolved situation from our past," says Dr. Fiddelke. "We'll behave as we did as a child many years ago. Our behavior will perplex the interviewer and potentially ruin all chances of being made an offer."
Besides an interviewer's voice or hairstyle, other characteristics can remind you of a past experience and remove you from the present--for instance, facial features, such as a birthmark or dimple, items of clothing, scent, posture, style of speaking or mannerisms can all trigger memories. An object, such as a painting or clock, or a color scheme also can result in old memories surfacing. You're instantly reminded of another time and transported from reality by your subconscious thoughts and emotions.
How to Remain Grounded
When you become ungrounded, you can't relate as a mature, rational adult to the interviewer. You may not even realize this phenomenon until the interview is over or, worse, after it occurs several times. Regardless of what's causing the situation, the way to correct it is the same: You must stay in touch with the reality of the interview situation.
None of us can escape becoming disconnected at certain times. However, by focusing on the present, you'll make it a habit to automatically "reground." The following techniques will help you remain focused during interviews:
1. Concentrate on your breathing.
Breathe slowly and deeply. Keep your feet planted on the floor and feel the chair supporting you. This will calm you and lessen your fear. You can draw several deep breaths without distracting the interviewer. To gain time, ask a question that requires a lengthy response.
2. Look at the interviewer.
Scan the person's face and decide which feature you like the most. Then, without staring, mentally focus on that characteristic. This technique will help you to feel more positive about the interviewer and lower your anxiety.
3. Connect with your present surroundings.
Mentally label items within your field of vision. For example, you might see and think to yourself, "red dress, brown desk, gold picture frame..." This activates the area of the brain that strengthens logical, linear thinking, enabling you to focus on the interviewer and be present in the conversation.
4. Think about what's happening.
If you become extremely frightened or anxious, see in your mind's eye a replica of what's happening at the moment. Duplicating in your mind what you're looking at will tell your unconscious, "Be here now!" For example, if the interviewer is wearing an orange dress and sitting behind a desk, think: "I see a woman in an orange dress sitting behind her desk. A chair is to the left of the desk and a table is to the right." If you select only one grounding technique, it should be this one, since it's the strongest and includes elements of each of the others.
By practicing these techniques before interviews, you'll learn to use them automatically and effortlessly. You won't have to apologize for losing track of your thoughts or otherwise interrupt the meeting. The interviewer won't know what you're doing, and eventually, it will become second nature to you.
Being grounded during interviews will help you to present yourself in the best possible light and assess whether a job and company are right for you. But don't limit these techniques only to interviews. You can now prevent yourself from becoming ungrounded anywhere you go--at work, a social setting, community event, church or other place of worship. Your life will be easier and more satisfying as a result.