Interview confidence

Man on Wire by image munkey (Alan)

Getting the balance right can be tricky

A couple of months back someone asked a very interesting question on Careers Debate about how one expresses and demonstrates confidence in one’s area of expertise at an interview whilst avoiding self-aggrandisement.

Is it just a question of body language and non-verbal communication, or are there other clues that you can give in the way that you talk abut your experiences?

I gave a couple of quick responses at the time, but I thought it would be interesting to add a little more flesh to the bones here.

The first tip is not so much about displaying confidence as actually increasing confidence. This is a switch in thinking about interviews that I often use in workshops.

Goalkeeper or striker?

Most people approach interviews in the role of goalkeeper. They see their role in the interview as waiting attentively for the interviewer to fire something at them and they do their best to respond and make a save. Interviews from this perspective are very much about not making a slip up and avoiding mistakes or traps set by the interviewer. Unfortunately, operating out of an avoidance or prevention orientation like this tends to activate negative feelings which  may limit your creativity and problem solving (Friedman & Förster, 2005).

Taking an approach orientation to interviews involves visualising yourself in the role of striker rather than goalkeeper. Instead of trying to save yourself from failure, your job is to score goals. Your purpose during the interview is to ensure that you convey certain relevant facts and evidence about your achievements and potential to the recruiters.

Taking an approach rather than avoidance attitude to interviews means that you perceive some traditionally tricky questions very differently. Take the classic ‘Tell me about yourself‘. In avoidance mode this is just one big trap. There are infinite possibilities for saying the wrong thing. However, in approach mode, this is an open goal. The interviewer is giving you complete freedom to tell them what you want them to know about you that is relevant to the job. Result!

How or why?

Conventional advice for competency based interviews encourages you to provide concrete examples of your achievements in order to demonstrate your abilities. This is good advice because more concrete language tends to promote evaluations of truthfulness (Hansen & Wänke, 2010).

However, Action Identification Theory (Vallacher, Wegner & Frederick, 1987) explores the extent to which individuals describe their actions in terms of ‘lower-level identities’ (focusing on concrete processes — how you did it) or ‘higher-level identities’ (focusing on meanings and implications — why you did it). The authors found that the more success or experience someone has with a particular activity, the more likely they are to use higher-level action-identification when describing it.

So, if you want to portray experience and success, don’t just describe what you did, talk about the reasons for and implications of your actions. (This is why I favour BARER over STAR as a structure for interview answers.)

Interestingly, there is a connection between approach orientation and higher (global) level construing (see Förster & Higgins, 2005). So, if you take on the role of striker, you are more likely to talk about meaning.

Self-praise or self-criticism

More conventional interview advice advocates that you should focus on presenting positive information about yourself and should avoid volunteering potentially negative information.

Revealing potentially self-critical details alongside compensatory positive arguments can be an effective technique in persuading people (O’Keefe, 1999). This process of ‘stealing thunder’ may work because it presents an image of honesty and authenticity in the speaker (Williams & Dolnik, 2001).

At the same time, it demonstrates that you are open to alternative perspectives on your performance and willing to engage in reflective self-critique. This is something that people with low or fragile self-esteem find harder to do, so doing it voluntarily speaks of a fairly secure professional identity. A clue that this impresses employers is the increasing use of negative competency questions, where the interviewer asks for examples of failure or error.

  • How else would you demonstrate confidence in your expertise during an interview?
  • Would the methods above convince you of someone’s self-efficacy?

Further reading

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  1. #1 by Verticalthoughts on 5 October 2012 - 17:01

    Love the goalkeeper or striker analogy! I often talk to people about taking a more proactive approach with interviews. I.e. going in with a plan of the things you want to say, achievements, ideas, things that you have enjoyed. That way you can show the interviewer that you are active in your role, enjoy your role, and that you are creative in your solutions to problems. I’m going to have to steal that analogy and use it with clients! Nice work!

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