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Lesson 5: Why not simply enjoy the ride?

About half-way through my seven-year career in management consulting, I decided it might be a good idea to learn some golf. Not being the sporty type, I thought the calm and relaxed nature of golf might agree with me. Moreover, given the high number of business deals allegedly being made every minute on some golf course on this planet … well, it also seemed like a clever career move.

I quickly discovered during my two-week introduction into the sport that golf is not nearly as easy or “lazy” as it may seem. OK, it may not be the equivalent of a marathon, but it does require quite some endurance, patience and skill. And since I was lacking most of those qualities at that time, I wasn’t very good at golf. About the only thing I could manage was the initial swing, driving the ball as long a distance as possible. However, my golf teacher informed me: “The drive’s for the show, the putt’s for the money.” A game of golf is not won with the most spectacular drive at the beginning – it’s the final performance on the green, the putting, which makes you win the game.

Photo: Robin Brass / www.youthphotos.eu
Self-induced fear

Several parallels can be drawn from this interesting observation: the most important step towards achievement isn’t necessarily the most visible or impressive. Just think of one of the basic truths in job hunting: “Impressive CVs get you interviews, but only excellent interviews get you jobs.” You may have a spectacular CV, written in the most brilliant and convincing style. However, if you cannot back it up in the actual job interview, it’s likely that someone else will get the job you applied for. I know this from my own experience as an interviewer: a surprisingly high number of applicants appeared to invest all their preparations into brushing up their CVs, and too little time was spent preparing the actual interview. Which is one contributing factor to them appearing (and probably being) so nervous and insecure in the interviewing process. So, in order to side-step this avoidable, content-related reason for getting all worked up before or in an interview: prepare, prepare, prepare! You can rehearse the interview with friends, record yourself in these rehearsals on video (and have a good laugh afterwards), you can read all sorts of information on your intended employer, and: you have to prepare convincing and illustrative stories backing up the claims in your CV. “So, Ms Miller, you claim to be a good team player - how have you demonstrated this?”

There is another cause for nervousness, of course, which is not content-related and, admittedly, less easy to avoid through preparation. The entire interview situation itself is high-stress – though this stress is mostly self-induced (!). You find yourself in an unknown environment, speaking to people you don’t know, being confronted with all sorts of questions and tasks. And - in the end - your career appears to be on the line. These are all perceived threats, and your body reacts with a high dose of adrenalin, preparing for “fight or flight” and, at high adrenaline levels, switching off the most rational parts of your brain. Not ideal in a job interview. So, what can you do against this?

There are several approaches to dealing with nervousness - and the most successful are the ones which don’t involve fighting nervousness, but instead confront it and in a way admit to it. I strongly advise against taking any (prescription) drugs to fight normal nervousness, since a) they may have serious side-effects, and b) they also muddle your higher brain functions - and you don’t want to come across as some sort of tranquillised gorilla in your job interview, do you?

Again, rehearsing the interview situation under “combat conditions” is a way to start. Why not start your interview rounds at some firms you’re not really interested in? That way, you can get a feeling for what it’s like to be in the “hot seat” and get used to it.

Then, there is another way of dealing with nervousness: visualisation. Instead of letting nervousness taking control of you, you reverse the roles. You realise you’re becoming nervous - and you take control. You acknowledge the feeling, say “Hello” to it, and imagine your excitement is a little, trembling, nail-biting troll (whatever works for you) standing next to you. The troll may follow you around, it may always be there, but that way, you keep your distance from nervousness. This Zen-like approach takes some practice, but it works quite well.

"You acknowledge the feeling, say “Hello” to it, and imagine your excitement is a little, trembling, nail-biting troll"

If all fails and you do find yourself getting increasingly nervous in the interview, why not take a deep breath and admit: “Wow, I do feel a bit nervous right now. Could I have a second to gather my thoughts?” That’s a very honest and mature way to deal with it – and that’s not the worst impression to give in a job interview, is it?

<table class="profileBox_right" style="width: 276px; height: 216px;" border="0" align="right"> <tbody> <tr> <td> <img src="UserFiles/Image/jor/jan onno reiners_small_square.jpg" alt="jan onno" width="120" height="120" /> <h2>jan onno reiners, PHD</h2> <p>Jan Onno Reiners works as executive coach, trainer and keynote speaker in Berlin. His background includes a PhD in biotechnology, seven years of strategic management consulting and improvisation theatre. Find out more about him and his work on <a href="http://www.jorhd.com">www.jorhd.com</a>.</p> </td> </tr> </tbody> </table>

And finally, a way to deal with nervousness in a more pro-active way is to realise that as stressful as the interview may be, in the end of the day, it is just that: a job interview. Not open-heart surgery, not Russian roulette, not nuclear disarmament talks. And maybe, just maybe, the company you are talking to right now may not the right company for you. Fortunately, there often are many viable alternatives out there on the job market, and given future demographic shifts, young, educated and motivated professionals are increasingly becoming sought-after gems.

At the end of those two weeks of golf training, I decided that the game wasn’t really for me. The learning curve was a bit too steep for my tastes, and I couldn’t quite convince myself to schlep a dozen of heavy clubs around just to get a tiny golf ball into an only slightly bigger hole, hundreds of yards away. Alas, what I did enjoy was the time on the golf course - my training area was right next to the sea, with some spectacular views of the countryside. So the initial goal (learn golf) took a step back and I simply enjoyed the landscape on the way. Not too bad an attitude in a job interview either, is it?

Have a nice day!

Recommended reading

“Job Interviews” (John Lees)

“What Color is Your Parachute” (Richard Nelson Bolles)

Also visit your local Careers Centre - they may offer job interview training.

PS: I want this column to continue to be relevant to you, my readers, and therefore I would welcome your input: What questions would you like to see addressed in future instalments?

Cover Photo: Robin Brass / www.youthphotos.eu

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