Want to succeed in your job search and interviews?

Want to succeed in your job search and interviews?

Watch out for these potential derailers!

by Caitlin Williams, Ph.D.

OK, so you've been working hard at covering all the bases: organizing your job search, networking, researching possible employers and preparing for your interviews. You probably think that you've done all you can to position yourself as a top candidate for that job you really want. And chances are good, you're right - up to a point. Your challenge now is to recognize that your work is not over. You still have some important work ahead of you - and that work is continuing to demonstrate that you are the top candidate for the job, regardless of the situations that you may face. Demonstrating that you are the top candidate means avoiding mistakes, or "derailers" that may take you off track and keep you from remaining the candidate of choice.

Derailers are mistakes that we make unconsciously or ones that seem to have very little to do with our abilities. How can derailers get in your way? While many people have the right credentials, education and even experience, some top candidates lose out in the end because they make a mistake that negates all their previous efforts and takes themselves out of the running for a position or a promotion that they truly want. The mistake may have been something they said (or didn't say), something they did (or didn't do) in their interview or in their follow up, or even in the process of networking to find their next opportunity.

Derailers are often more about attitude than anything else; and they can get in our way because they catch us off guard and keep us from showing off our finest career strengths. Whatever the blunder, the bottom line remains the same: without purposely trying to do so, jobseekers remove themselves from the list of possible candidates by getting caught by some common derailers.

Look through this list of potential derailers and make certain that none of them keep you from getting that next career opportunity.

Derailer #1: Making Age an Issue

If you believe you are too young - or too old - then that belief can become a derailer. Such a belief may come from a previous workplace environment that wasn't welcoming to you if you are over the age of fifty. Or perhaps a former supervisor didn't value your input because you appeared too young to him to be able offer any insights. Whether or not these instances were true, you need to be aware of your perception that you may not be the "right" age because your perception may show up as defensiveness, self doubt, wariness, or a need to appear to be younger or older than you truly are.

To succeed: Remember to focus on what is most important: the expertise, talent, experience or fresh perspective you can offer.

Derailer #2: Presenting a False Self

Actually, it's feeling the need to present a false sense that can get in your way. "False sense" doesn't mean false in terms of lying or misrepresenting oneself. False self, as it is used here, refers to the belief a person has that he or she must try to be someone they are not.

For instance, you may be someone who likes to pause and think through your responses to a question before answering. Or, you may be someone who appears more quiet and reflective in team meetings because you are processing the ideas that others bring up. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this preference. However, if you are interviewing for a position where all other staff members are high-energy and like to offer ideas in a rapid, "jump right in" atmosphere, you may not feel that your style is a good fit. And so you find yourself "pretending" to be comfortable expressing yourself in a style that isn't true to who you are. Or you may be the type of person who loves to collaborate with others frequently and you tend to take a "team approach" to solving problems and you notice that the style of the staff you are interviewing with is one that is much more focused on individual efforts. Again, you may feel the need to present yourself in a way that will appeal to the staff members interviewing you - even if it doesn't feel quite right to you.

To succeed: Watch for behaviors that show you how your potential new colleagues work together. Determine if their style is a good fit for you. Then determine how you want to respond to interview questions. And remember, you are much more likely to perform well if you are acting from your authentic self, rather than acting from some version you hope others will like.

Derailer #3: Feelings of Low Self-Efficacy

Self-efficacy is the belief that one is capable of performing a task competently in a given area. It's not the actual ability to perform the task or demonstrate the competency. It is the belief that a person has about his or her ability to perform or demonstrate a competency.

Remember the children's book, The Little Engine That Could? One of the key lines in the story was "I think I can, I think I can, I know I can." That's the essence of self-efficacy - believing you are capable.

Everyone approaches an interview or a work-related task with a different history. For some, the history is one that includes a sense of achievement and recognition of what they have done well in their lives. For others, especially those with low self-efficacy, the history may be different. People who have a sense of low self efficacy may never have had the experience of being told that they were capable - perhaps they were told the opposite instead.

To succeed: If you find yourself reluctant to speak up on your own behalf or if you struggle when asked about your past achievements, stop and consider this: Your work and your career up to this point contain several instances of your accomplishments. However, you may be overlooking them. You may consider them "just part of the job" or assume that "anybody" could do what you've done. But that is likely not the case. Take the time to recall instances in which you did something well in your work. Ask a friend, fellow student or co-worker to help you come up with a list. That way, you will be better prepared to discuss your strengths in your next interview.

Derailer #4: Surrendering to Faulty Beliefs

Faulty or troublesome beliefs can limit a person's advancement and act as a huge barrier that keeps a person from taking a career risk. Faulty beliefs are not outlandish beliefs, like thinking you can fly or travel to a parallel universe.

Faulty beliefs refer to troublesome beliefs like "I'm not smart enough to get hired for that position" or "I could never go back to school at my age". These beliefs aren't based on fact - they represent a pattern of negative self talk that some people engage in. If you find yourself getting anxious before an interview, beware that you may start talking to yourself in self-defeating ways.

To succeed: First, be aware of your tendency to "get negative" when you are anxious. If you are aware of these tendencies, you can replace your negative self-talk with more positive statements that will let you walk into a networking event or an interview in a much more optimistic frame of mind.

Derailer #5: Showing Burnout, Mistrust or Anger

This derailer sometimes pops up when a person has gone through a recent layoff. In today's labor market, many professionals have experienced a disheartening downsizing, or months on end of doing the job of two or even three people before being let go from a position. Or, they haven't yet resolved anger toward their former organization.

Even the best candidates can find themselves facing a whole range of difficult emotions when asked a certain interview question that triggers difficult memories. If you find that you are still experiencing resentment or burnout because of your last employment situation, find someone you can talk to about your situation. A friend, colleague, spouse or professional counselor can be extremely supportive when we face such challenges. And talking about your situation beforehand will keep you from feeling the need to talk about it in an interview (which is never a wise thing to do).

To succeed: Find people you can talk to and get support from them in dealing with any past difficult employment situation that has been hard to let go of. Be prepared for feelings that can surface during the interview and you'll have a much easier time refocusing your comments on what is most important: your future (not your past) and your potential contribution to your next employer.

Derailer #6: Carrying around Anxiety 24/7

The ongoing anxiety about how long it will take to find new work, the concern about being able to provide for one's family, and the lack of certainty regarding any job's longevity can all get in the way of demonstrating your strengths. When we are anxious, we generally don't perform as well as we could. Sometimes this anxiety comes across as nervousness in an interview. Other times, we may get distracted and fail to mention important points we really want our potential employer to know.

To succeed: prepare yourself mentally before you walk into any interview. Breathe, practice some relaxation techniques - do whatever you need to do so you can be fully engaged in the interview or networking process.

Derailer #7: Believing "the facts should speak for themselves."

Sometimes, because of frustration with the job search process, or because they had a stellar career in the past, some candidates mistakenly believe their past performance "should speak for itself". As a result, they have difficulty in committing to certain aspects of the job search process. They may find it demeaning to "sell" or promote themselves. They may be resentful because their high quality work (in the past) always demonstrated their value. Now, the idea of having to "prove" their value to others who don't them may be very hard to accept.

If you find that you sometimes experience similar resentment, recognize that this is the case. And know that you are not alone in your frustration with certain aspects of the job search process. However, it is also important to acknowledge that these feelings of resentment may be holding you back from your next opportunity. Attitudes of resentment or a reluctance to engage fully in your job search can come across as half-hearted attempts to find your next job. And that is the last thing you want to convey to possible new employers.

To succeed: Focus on your resilience instead. Recognize all the abilities that have gotten you to this point in your career and have helped you prepare for what is next. Get crystal clear on the value of your past experience and expertise. Realize that others cannot possibly know all that you've accomplished, so make it a point to demonstrate your talent during your interviews and networking opportunities.

Derailer #8: Minimizing the transition

Sometimes, people who have lost their job and are going through the job search process downplay the impact of moving from employed to unemployed status. It is very important to recognize that a job or career shift represents a significant change in our lives. It is equally important to be patient with ourselves as we go through the ups and downs of finding new work. Minimizing the situation does not help - and may actually hinder the move to new employment.

To succeed: Acknowledge that being between jobs can be challenging. Don't expect that you'll sail smoothly through the process. Talk with others who have gone through the process, themselves. Keep your career and life goals firmly in mind. And pause in your job search efforts to spend time with those you care about.

This list gives you important information about common derailers that could stand in the way of you getting the job you truly want. Derailers don't have to keep you from landing that next career opportunity, however. If you can acknowledge them when they show up and if you have a plan for managing them, you will be much more likely to succeed in your job search efforts.


Caitlin Williams, Ph.D. is a career development professional, coach, keynote speaker and workshop leader who helps organizations and individuals prepare for what's next in the workplace. She is also an assistant professor in the Department of Counselor Education at San Jose State University. Caitlin is a frequent contributor to ALA's career related initiatives.

Last rev. 6/21/10