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Know Yourself
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When the interviewer asks you where you see yourself in five years, what will you say? How about describing your ideal working environment? What are your strengths? And what are your weaknesses? How do you take criticism? How do you deal with conflict situations? What motivates you? What is your management style?

Yikes. If you are not prepared for these kinds of probing questions, they will undermine your interview. Pondering Socrates or Freud is not necessary preparation for your job interview. Still, taking time to do some soul searching is helpful when it comes to presenting yourself in an attractive way.

Each question posed by your interviewer requires that you sift through a repertoire of professional and personal experiences, gazing at your life in an instant and conjuring up an answer to the basic question: who are you? Doing that on the fly is bound to be confusing. You should know yourself before you shake the interviewer's hand and flash your first friendly smile. The prospect can daunt even for those of us who are in touch with our inner child.

To make substantial headway in self-reflection, spend some time on the following exercises. When considering your responses, think beyond your professional life and current circumstances. Include instances as far back as your youth.

  • Make a list of five accomplishments that you enjoyed.
  • Make a list of five things you have done that make you proud.
  • Describe three scenarios in which you felt highly motivated to accomplish something.
  • Describe three scenarios in which you lacked motivation.
  • Think of three scenarios in which you felt appreciated by other people. How did they communicate that appreciation for you?
  • Make a list of how your colleagues, staff, and supervisors describe you. Include the positive and negative feedback.
  • Make a list of how friends and family describe you.
  • Make a list of ten of your best personal qualities.
  • Think of two small and large decisions that you have made. Describe how you went about making those decisions.
  • Describe two situations that seemed risky to you. What did you do?
  • Describe a conflict situation between you and someone else that was resolved to your satisfaction. How was it resolved?
  • Describe a conflict situation between you and someone else that was not resolved to your satisfaction. What happened?
  • Complete this sentence: When I am responsible for leading or supervising other people, I prefer to. . .
  • Complete this sentence: When I want to show appreciation for other people, I usually. . .
  • Complete this sentence: I work because. . .
  • Complete this sentence: From a job I want. . .

After you spend an evening or afternoon reflecting on your life, you might wish to have others explore your responses with you. Look for themes and trends in your responses, finding information that overlaps. Focus on what energizes you and what saps your spirit. Notice your preferences. Consider for example what we can discover about Suzanne's professional aspirations and tendencies from her responses.

Five accomplishments that I enjoyed include:

  • Launching an anti-drunk driving campaign in high school.
  • Training an intern in critical thinking.
  • Negotiating with diverse teams to get creative projects completed.
  • Finding the overlap between different company's interests so that they can establish mutually beneficial relationships.
  • Seeing my college students think in new ways.

Five things that make me proud include:

  • Going to France by myself to learn French.
  • Setting a high performance goal for myself and meeting it.
  • Having vision for what needs to be done in different situations.
  • Being in shape.
  • Listening to the concerns of my friends and honoring them.

Three times that I felt highly motivated to accomplish something include:

  • When I had tons of work to do to meet a product launch deadline and had to stay extremely organized and focused in order to complete the work.
  • When I came up with an idea for panel discussions at my church, which led to much improved communication and many new friendships.
  • When I worked on projects with colleagues and had to complete my work so that we could discuss things and move to the next stage.

Three scenarios in which I lacked motivation to accomplish something include:

  • When I worked all by myself after my boss died and my new supervisors were not accessible.
  • When I had to process details all day, day after day-entering data, completing forms, and other rote tasks that only challenged my patience but did not engage my mind.
  • When I felt like my employer was making decisions that sacrificed his employees.

I felt appreciated by people when:

  • I got a significant raise after having my value to the company reconsidered.
  • My supervisor and colleagues verbally praise my efforts and thank me for my way of working.
  • My supervisor expressed confidence in my abilities and did not micromanage me, but spent time helping me when I needed support or ran into problems.

By analyzing even these first five questions, we get a sense of what kind of job would fit Suzanne well. For example, we see that Suzanne enjoys influencing people; each of the accomplishments that she enjoyed includes affecting the way that other people think or act. She also feels gratified when she is able to bring people together for a common purpose they might have overlooked. The things that make Suzanne proud are a bit more diverse. Some include a sense of meeting difficult challenges-like learning French through immersion and raising the bar of performance or being in shape. Having vision means that she has something to offer that affects common purpose. Acting ethically toward people also seems important to her.

It already begins to make sense, then, that she would feel motivated to accomplish things when she initiates them, when she is accountable to other people, or when she needs to meet a specific goal. Deadlines appear to affect her in positive ways by helping her to focus when she might not otherwise. Contrarily, her energy and drive are sapped when she works in isolation without gaining feedback, when the tasks are rote and do not require creativity or initiative, and when she perceives that people are treated badly. She feels appreciated by her employer when her supervisor recognizes her vision, drive, and ability to focus and gives her the space she needs to excel while still staying connected with her. She feels appreciated when her company gives her a raise for good work, but also when others verbally praise her. And, even though she likes to work without tight supervision, she feels appreciated when her supervisor has time for her.

Intriguing as these discoveries might be for Suzanne, she cannot unload her personal psyche on the interviewer. She still has to formulate professional responses to specific questions. Knowledge about the company provides guidance for how to craft these materials. Self-knowledge provides the raw materials for devising compelling responses.


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