What to Do If You Are Walking into a Job Interview at a (Perceived) Disadvantage

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Ryan Kay Star

Ryan Kay

ryank@refer.io

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Nov 23, 2021

 

Trust me, we are all self-conscious of something. How to deal with that when it comes to job interviewing.

 

Do you remember that scene from the movie The Pursuit of Happiness where Will Smith’s character Christ Gardner shows up for an interview in yesterday’s grubby clothes covered in paint?

 

What he must have felt like trying to explain why he looked that way--and not have them think he’s totally incompetent! 

 

I know that you are smart enough to show up to an interview dressed like you mean business. But maybe internally you suffer from imposter syndrome, or worse, you know you would do stellar at the job--but you are unsure if they would even be willing to give you a chance because of…

 

  • A lack of experience
  • No college degree
  • A previous misdemeanor or felony on your record
  • A disability 
  • Your gender, race, or sexual orientation
  • You just aren’t the best interviewer


That list could go on and on!


If you haven’t seen that movie recently, above is the link to the scene I’m talking about. Go and watch it! Take notes on the way he speaks about and carries himself. Also pay special attention to what he says he would do if he didn’t know the answer to a question his boss asked him.


Words are Powerful


The words we speak to others (and ourselves) about ourselves are powerful. They can be used to frame and paint a picture in a million different ways.

 

I once saw an online exhibit of photography where several different photographers were introduced to the same man.

 

That man was instructed to give each different photographer a completely different story about his background. After he did, the artist then took his picture.  Check out this video to see what the photographers came up with.

 

Here’s the thing I find most interesting about this social experiment: the words HE used to tell his story completely altered the mental picture the receiver designed of who he is and “what light” to “paint” (or in this case, photograph) him in. 

 

Light is what creates shadows. Light is what defines and softens lines.

 

What light do you paint yourself in? 

 

Will Smith’s character Chris Gardner was lucky in that one of his interviewers had already interacted with him enough to vouch for the fact that his dress and appearance was out of character for him, but I love how Chris Gardner wasn’t shy about addressing the elephant in the room!

 

There is actually a tool that is much more powerful than words: it is called presence.

 

Body language--the way you carry yourself, and your non-verbal communication. 

 

I was taught in a class years ago that 60-90% of our communication is non-verbal. That means that the messages you try to convey, your answers to job interview questions--are less about what you say and more about HOW you say them.

 

Non-verbal communication includes many things: voice intonation, inflection, tone, and volume as you speak; eye contact, posture, and body language, facial expressions, hand gestures, proxemics (the space you take up and put between yourself and others), and your general appearance.

 

Let’s take a minute and dissect some of Chris Gardner’s (Will Smith’s character) presence.

 

  1. He didn’t let his insecurities prevent him from presenting his best self--he walks into the interview like he would any interview--shakes hands, introduces himself.
  2. He takes ownership and addresses the elephant in the room.
  3. His posture is good--sitting up nice and tall, leaning in a bit to show he is present and engaged with the interviewers. He doesn’t shrink his body down by folding his arms (a temptation when feeling insecure or defensive).
  4. He makes good eye contact with all of his interviewers without staring.
  5. He keeps his hands visible, laced together on the table, and gestures with hands when appropriate (all of this helps others feel trust towards him).
  6. He wasn’t shy about sharing his value and work ethic--his willingness to go the extra mile to be a problem-solver.
  7. He was humbly confident. He didn’t let a lack of formal education in the industry hold him back. He showed his willingness to learn on his own.

Presence: How to Fake It Till You Make It 

 

Or as Dr. Amy Cuddy says, “Fake it till you become it.”

 

If you’ve never seen Amy Cuddy’s (Harvard Business School Social Psychologist and researcher) Ted Talk about the power of body language, today is the day!

Dr. Cuddy teaches that body language doesn’t only communicate to others, the way we posture and hold our own bodies actually changes our own brain chemistry--increasing our own confidence and reducing our stress hormones.

She teaches a few different (what she calls) Power Poses that you can use before stressful situations that will help you bring your best self to the table.

I want to take it one step further... I had a friend teach me something even more powerful--that if you do it EVERYDAY (getting really conscious about it)--you will naturally increase your self-confidence--I’m serious!!! 

Try this: set a reminder to go off at lunchtime every day. I want this reminder to say three words: posture and support. 

 

How conscious are you about your posture every day? What about hour to hour? 

Opera singers get taught that in order to fill an entire auditorium with their voice alone, they need to learn how to support their diaphragm correctly. Inside of your torso is a muscle called the transverse abdominis. When this muscle is engaged, you have proper posture--you are sitting up nice and tall, as you should be, and can take full and complete breaths.

When we get stressed, we tend to slouch over, disengage this muscle, and breathe shallowly. 

Try this for a month:

Every day, when the reminder goes off, mentally check in with yourself if you have been sitting and walking with good posture and supporting yourself (engaging that abdominal muscle) so that you can breathe fully. I can pretty much guarantee that you will experience a change in your confidence levels and the way you carry and present yourself.

Heck, you may even go and ask for a promotion after doing this! That is what happened with my friend that taught me about this. 

The woman who taught me this is a friend of mine who is also a trained vocalist. She got in a serious accident a couple of years ago and her physical therapist told her the only way she would heal was by retraining her brain to do these two things--engage the transverse abdominis muscle and correct her posture (cuz we all slouch!). Breathing fully is just a plus!

To give yourself a “leg up” advantage in the interview, do these two things:

1. Position Yourself as a Problem Solver

A lot (and I mean A LOT) of people walk into an interview with the idea that what they need to do is sell “themselves” to their interviewers. 

That is actually 100% the wrong approach!

Think about this logically--the company you are interviewing with is needing to hire someone new because there is a job or responsibility that in order for the company to function at its best, needs to be taken care of and done by someone.

They invited you there that day to find out if you are that someone.

Are you the person that is going to make it so that Joe down the hall can stop working overtime and just focus on doing one job instead of two? Are you someone who is capable of taking on the responsibility of the problems that need solving?

We, the potential employer, don’t really care if you were magna cum whatever if you can’t actually take instructions, think critically, and come to your own conclusions competently--without us having to hold your hand!

Look back at that job description: what problem(s) are they describing that need to be solved? How can you offer yourself as someone who will find the solution?

Research the problem their organization is trying to solve. Write a value proposition before you go into that interview. Practice saying it to yourself and others. 

This is your specific proposal of how YOU, specifically you, unique you, who sees the world, people, and needs through lenses that are specific to you—is not only capable of figuring out how to solve their problems, but that is exactly what you are going to do if given the chance to be offered and do this “job” and position.

2. Position Yourself as a Fit with the Culture and Values of the Company

 

Guess what, we live in kinda a weird world (especially the business world) where the person with the most qualifications, education, and accolades is not always the one who gets picked to do a job. Why is that?

Well...there are a lot of reasons, but one of the major ones has to do with “fit.”

It is in your best interest to pick companies that value the kinds of things you naturally value and whose culture would be pretty natural for you to transition into.

 

Brian Chesky of Airbnb says that when they interview potential employees, they put them through a cultural interview, testing for six core values. One of those values is whether or not this person is naturally “a host.” Are they passionate about giving an experience of hospitality? If it isn’t part of that person's “DNA” they don’t want them working for Airbnb, and logically, why would that person want to work for a giant hospitality company anyway?! [*]

Find out what the company values and stands for before an interview. Learn about what their employees are like--does everyone there knit or play lacrosse? If you want to position yourself as a fit--you either need to seriously consider taking up these kinds of hobbies or find a company where you already fit with their culture. You may think I’m joking, but I couldn’t be more serious right now!!!

According to Lauren Rivera, an expert on hiring, “Employers are often more focused on hiring someone they would like to hang out with than they are on finding the person who can best do the job.”

“In fact, more than half of the evaluators [in a study she helped conduct] ranked cultural fit -- the perceived similarity to a firm's existing employee base in leisure pursuits, background, and self-presentation -- as the most important criterion at the job interview stage.” [*]

I know this may seem odd, but it is crazy true!!!!!!!! Put research to use, and do what I am telling you!!!!

I’m going to be putting together another blog post on this topic. In it, I’m going to share with you some scripts or examples of ways to talk about some of the harder aspects of ourselves--whether that be our weaknesses, previous mistakes (which for some of us may feel minor and others of us may be larger, like a previous criminal record), a disability, or challenge. 

It is important to know and practice talking about these things without sounding like you are asking for sympathy--but for the purpose of being understood and not overlooked as a valuable potential job candidate.

There will be scripts that you can adapt to your circumstances. Obviously, they won’t be word for word what you should say, but I want to help the best that I can. 

As always, I’m here. Shoot me your questions or concerns if I can help!

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