When at first you don’t succeed… stop and evaluate what in hell you might be doing wrong. Then try again; because if you don’t stop and first figure out what it is you are doing wrong, then you are likely repeating the same mistake over and expecting different results, right? And we all know what that is the definition of.

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What comes first, anxiety or over-thinking? Over-thinking or anxiety?

So a few weeks ago I had a job interview with a company I would really like to work for, and it didn’t go very well because while at first I didn’t feel that anxious, shortly after it started, my anxiety shot through the roof and I suddenly couldn’t stop talking; right over the interviewers. I was totally horrified and knew I blew it before I even left the room.

I have not yet received the usual “thank you, but we decided to go with someone else” note or phone call, yet, but I saw a fresh advertisement a few hours ago on Indeed and now I am expecting to get the notice sometime next week. Why go through the expense of paying to advertise a position unless the present candidates have not worked out?

A friend of mine said “apply again“, and she is likely right but first, I need to pick some brains. The problem isn’t just general interviews, or at least I don’t think it is. I think it is the style of interview called a behavioral interview. The recruitment gurus say “you can’t fail a behavioral interview because there are no right or wrong answers“.

Yes you can. You can draw a complete blank on how to answer questions that some of the recruitment experts say are designed to test a candidate’s creativity in problem-solving, and then the recruitment experts are telling job interviewers, the questions are designed to weed out candidates because they might be “bad hires“.

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Which could most definitely explain why workplaces are often the biggest cause of stress in people’s lives.

Much of the literature aimed at job candidates focuses on “not being too honest”, and encourages well-rehearsed, polished responses. But not too polished, because you aren’t supposed to be obvious in that you have been previously coached in this sort of thing. You should not give the impression you practiced for days, and memorized your lines.

Because that sort of thing is fake; it’s not genuine; and therefore, it will strike a job interviewer as phony and  therefore suspicious. And that alone is enough to make anybody feel so anxious they will be afraid they might toss-up their lunch on an interviewer’s shoes. Too honest is a liability in a job interview, so is dishonesty.

And there is nobody on this planet who has never made a mistake on a job. Some mistakes may be worse than others, and especially over time, mistakes are made less and less as you become experienced. Little problems on the job that were quickly and creatively resolved, because that is your job; get forgotten. You don’t think about them.

Because it was your job to find ways to deal with problems, get them solved and moved on. Nobody stops to write down every problem they encounter on a job and how they resolved it. If people did that, very little would ever get done in many jobs. So when you go to a job interview and the interviewer asks a behavioral interview question…

For instance, “tell me about a time when you encountered a problem in your job; how did you resolve it“. It’s an interesting question and one that totally requires preparation; and coaching, and rehearsal until you have a memorized answer; why? Because first, we forgot the gazillion times we successfully encountered and solved a job problem.

What we remember, is the 3-4 times we encountered a job problem and totally choked. Maybe we were new; maybe we had supervisors that were always impatient, short with us, not the kind we felt like we could just ask “hey, how is my job performance, are we good or is there something I need to know?” Maybe it took a while to sort that out.

Yeah, that is what we are going to remember; and we are going to remember the worst times the best, because that’s how our brains are wired. We always remember scariest things events longest and with the most clarity because those are the memories that get stored in Anxiety Central, otherwise known as the amygdala part of the brain.

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Especially considering my majors 😉

This is why most people have difficulties with behavioral interviews. And then there is me; I have the added bonus of working in a job industry that is difficult to quantify in terms of success or failure. This is even more true at my level; I am a front line security officer. I’m a glorified babysitter; a grown up version of the fifth grader Safety Patrol.

When you have no demonstrable job skills and no education, it’s the kind of job you do so you don’t have to try to subsist on minimum wage at the local McDonald’s. It is an industry with no real future unless you have a background in the Criminal Justice field; law enforcement, the military or at least a college degree IN Criminal Justice.

The work is not difficult most of the time. You get training to go along with it, but really, it’s a no brainer. If your house catches fire, if someone in your home develops a sudden need for an ambulance, if you see a prowler, you know what to do; it’s pretty much the same thing in front line security. First you be a visible deterrent. If that fails…911.

In security your job is mainly to not get hurt or  dead. and you try to keep other people from getting hurt or dead. You stay alert; operate a radio or phone. Then write a report. Or call for a report form. Sometimes that requires a bit of multi-tasking, especially the not getting hurt or dead and operating a radio or a phone part.

Job interviewers need to know why they are asking behavioral interview questions and so they need examples of what qualifies as a good, solid, response from a job candidate. This makes sense; if you are going to ask questions designed to make a job candidate sweat, you need to know what kind of response is good, what kind is not.

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While over-thinking can tend to be a real problem when you have anxiety, it is also true that you can use this to your advantage if you work on looking at the problem from different angles. Reframing the context can help you change how you see the problem in a more positive way and thus, lessen the anxiety.

Well, job candidates look at the literature to get an idea of what to expect from job interviews in general, and behavioral interviews in particular. Job interviewers get trained and obviously some of them are getting that training off the internet too; they get example answers to look at, and everybody develops their own expectations.

Job interviewers often use something called the STAR Method which means Specific situation, Task(s), Action, and Results. They want candidates to be detailed and specific about the situation, they want to know what the task was, they want to hear action verbs that explain what you did to overcome a problem, they want to know the results.

Easy right? But then these are the examples of ideal answers that job interviewers are expecting.

  1. Specific situation: “The most difficult problem I’ve encountered at work so far occurred about three years ago when I had just been promoted to Sales Director with twelve people reporting to me. They were spread across ten states working remotely, and there was no sense of camaraderie or teamwork….
  2. Tasks: “Despite distance and unfamiliarity with one another, my responsibility was to build a cohesive productive sales team who excelled in open communication, cooperation, and trust, while meeting quota.”
  3.  Action: “I recommended that management approve funding for a quarterly in-person meeting with my team. When they were reluctant to do so, I produced a cost-benefit report showing the return on investment, which persuaded them to agree…
  4. Results: “After three quarterly meetings across nine months, every team member had already exceeded their quota for the year. They attributed their success to the regular face-to-face meetings which enabled them to get to know one another, earn mutual trust, share leads, learn best practices, and collaborate on deals. The company experienced a 30% boost in sales and management now realizes the importance of face time when it comes to building effective teams.”

Examples come from here: https://www.ziprecruiter.com/blog/how-to-prevent-bad-hires-with-behavioral-interviews/

The most difficult problems I’ve encountered at work so far are not the kind of problems you discuss with job interviewers and that can be for a number of reasons that don’t even involve being “too honest”. Some situations can’t be discussed because they involve medical situations and HIPAA compliance. Some involve client employee privacy.

Some situations involve conflict-of-interest; there is no good problem resolution for some of them other than to quietly walk away and keep your mouth shut. Others, you quietly report to your own employer and make arrangements to walk away from the situation and keep your mouth shut. Nowadays it’s technology malfunction; I make a phone call.

They sure as hell don’t involve quarterly meetings, team building across long-distances, collaboration on deals, cost-benefit analyses, and 30% sales boosts. The problem, for me,  is one of disconnection between a job interviewer’s expectations, and the reality of my job experience. I see those example responses and there is just no similarity.

The job interviewers who ask the behavioral questions work in industries where the above examples would be normative ideal responses. I have a work history in an industry that has reduced problem-solving to anticipated scenarios and training manuals, or decision-making hierarchies except for emergency situations.

There is only two measures of success in the security industry and they aren’t very quantifiable on the front line. One is to be such a good deterrence that nothing really problematic ever happens. The other is to be ready to act if something does happen; and if it does, short of making the front page of the local news, no one is ever going to know.

Something happens, we deal with it. We move on. We don’t write an autobiography about it. Nobody else does either.

There are also the unofficial measures of success in the security industry. You didn’t get hurt; nobody else got hurt. You didn’t die, and nobody else died; your site didn’t get pillaged, sacked, or otherwise burned to the ground, and everybody is happy to see you when you come back to work the next day. The last part is usually the biggest challenge.

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Me during the last interview.

So, my thought on this is, if you are job candidate and you are asked such a question during a behavioral interview, first, clarify that they understand that your response reflects on the industry you have work experience in. And then give them your best honest response. If you are not changing industries you won’t need to do this.

For others though, it might not hurt especially if it helps alleviate anxiety for you because you are over-thinking the question. For myself, I found talking to someone who works in the field of Human Resources rather than reading literature on job search sites is a big help. The advice is more down-to-earth and practical, less executive-level.

Cheers!