Interview Insanity? How to Regain Your Self-Confidence When Advancing Your Career

Okay everyone, say it with me…the definition of insanity is…”doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results”. We all know this to be true but somehow it’s hard to break out of the insanity when you’re looking for a job.

I bet you’ve heard it’s a numbers game, right? You probably flood the job boards with your resumes, shake hands while delivering your “elevator pitch” at countless networking sessions, write cover letters to people you want to work for, sit in lobbies in your power suit waiting to be called for our turn to interviewed and follow any other suggestions because you want (no, deserve) a brighter future. Argh!

The sad truth is, the job search world is completely insane. Here’s a little known fact, the job description was created by IBM in 1942. These job descriptions have guided our job search and interviewing techniques for over 80 years! But how has our world changed since 1942? Let’s see, we’ve seen Equal Rights evolve, wars come and go, the demise of the Iron Curtain, we’ve seen our world’s commercial borders diminish with the internet, just to name a few. Each one of these events has changed the course of human resource management strategies yet we’re still playing by the same fundamental ‘square hole’ game where the job description is the square hole and we’re trying to be the square peg that fits. Now that’s insanity! So many people feel powerless in this insane world which is the reason I’m passionate about helping people escape this craziness.

The good news is, it’s not you; it’s the system! Now that you know where the loonies are hidden, here’s how you can take this awareness to use it to your advantage.

Know Yourself For The Interview

Ian MacIntosh wrote a blog post here earlier last week, “Knowing Yourself Is Everything and How To Do It”. In it he said, “If your understanding of yourself is not strong, you are doomed to interact far less effectively with family, friends and colleagues.” Ahh…so true. We think we know ourselves but most of us are still identifying who we are professionally by our resumes and any accolades we’ve received along the way. When we’re in an interview or if we’re networking we tend to rave about what we’ve done and, if we’re lucky, how well we’ve done. This is accomplishment driven style must give way to our new economy’s requirement that we speak more about the contributions we’ve made.

We use the simple CAB exercise to help people reframe their accomplishments into contributions. First find 3 – 4 accomplishments you’ve had in your career that 1.) you’re proud of accomplishing and 2.) you thoroughly enjoyed the process. Then take each accomplishment and identify the following:

  1. Challenge: What was the company’s (or team’s) challenge or goal?
  2. Activities: What activities did you go through to meet the challenge or goal?
  3. Benefit: What was the benefit of the accomplishment to the organization?

A word of caution. Sometimes it’s difficult to know what activities you did that led to those contributions because you were in mastery; or as Mike Martel said in his recent post “Warning: You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know”, you were in unconscious competence. But think it through carefully because it’s important to be able to convey how you contribute to the organizations you’ve worked for.

Ignore the Job Description

Job descriptions tend to be loosely correlated to the exact needs of the hiring manager so take them with a grain of salt. Instead, go into the interview with an openness to learn more about the position. They will greatly appreciate your depth of interest to learn more about their needs and priorities. And you will surely shine above the other candidates who think they’re the hammer and every job interview is a nail.

In order to do this effectively you need to start asking questions earlier in an interview so you can direct your points of strength at the right target. Here’s what I mean. Let’s say the interview starts with the typical “Tell me about yourself” opener. I encourage people to give a very brief summary and then ask for more clarification about the role. Here’s how it looks:

“Well, I have a business degree in Marketing from University of Missouri and I’ve been very successful as an executive recruiter for several years But you have my resume of course so I don’t want to waste our time with things you already know so help me understand a little bit more about what you’re trying to accomplish with this role so I know which direction to take it.”

The more you know about the position the more you can control the conversation. One great add-on response to any answer they provide is “How so? Tell me more.”  This helps you get beyond those wasted one word answers which is where the important information lies. The key is to learn as much as you can about the true needs and priorities. This will get you out of interview kindergarten and move you to Interview 401 which is where you can regain your confidence.

Remember, This Isn’t All About You

Part of lack of self-confidence in an interview happens because people get completely wrapped around the axel worrying if they’re winning or losing the interview. I’ve seen people focus so much on selling themself that they lose their perspective. They forget that the job is open because the company has a problem.

Think about this. How would you react if a car salesman approached you on the lot acting like he knew exactly what you needed? You see, that’s the byproduct of the old school interview dynamics. It doesn’t work these days. Now it’s more important than ever to learn what’s important from the hiring manager’s personal viewpoint. Asking good questions can get to the heart of a manager’s priorities. An excellent question might be:

“If I could ask you to take a moment and think of 2 or 3 of the best people you’ve known in your career who’ve had this job <pause to allow them to bring those images to mind>, what do you feel are the traits they possess that made them successful?

This question allows you to veer off the sterile skills, qualifications and background topics. Building your self-confidence will come when you see the positive reaction in the eyes of the hiring manager when you tap into the question this way. This is about listening for the unsaid and intangible aspects of the ideal candidate which is the richest information.

Like I said, the insanity isn’t your fault. Hopefully now you some clarity on this situation to give you more of an edge than you had before. I believe transparency is vital when living in a seemingly insane world. To me knowing what’s really going on gives me more control and believe me, more control makes me much more confident. I hope it will help you, too.


Since 1995, Gail Palubiak has been Managing Partner of Lehman Gates Executive Search, a successful boutique executive search firm working closely with the leadership at 34 of the top investment firms in the US. She recently followed her passion as Founder of Interview Academy, a job search consulting firm designed to help people identify more job opportunities and get more high paying offers. She can be reached @nterviewacademy or at


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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