Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil

What you don’t know can hurt you

What you don’t know can hurt you – how to ask for negative feedback and how to use it

If a dentist told you your teeth would fall out unless you stopped eating sweets, what would you do? Would you ignore them and carry on until you had no teeth left? No, I imagine you would listen carefully and cut down on your sugar intake. How about if a doctor told you to stop smoking, or a personal trainer told you to exercise more, or if a therapist told you some new techniques to help with anxiety or mental health?

All of these are simply different forms of feedback, and what they all have in common is they are designed to help you improve yourself either physically, mentally or emotionally and to influence the way you do something in order to get a better result from it.

So let’s apply the same logic to job hunting and interview feedback. You’ve met a few companies so your CV is clearly strong enough to get you through the door, but you never quite get the offer. Whether you come a close second or just get rejected at the first stage, the result is always the same. The inconvenient truth may well be that you’re not coming across in person as well as you do on paper.

Digest that for a moment… the reality of you is performing worse than the idea of you.

It’s an uncomfortable and bitter pill to swallow isn’t it? But it’s better than ignoring the elephant in the room.

The good news is that it’s not difficult to change, it just requires the confidence to ask tough questions and the emotional intelligence to process and act on negative personal feedback. After all, you spend time researching each client and company you interview for, so why not invest equal time in researching yourself just as thoroughly?

Let’s start with a confidence boost shall we? You are clearly good enough to have worked previously and got the experience that enables you to be asked to interview for future jobs, so you’re not starting from scratch here. All you need to do is translate that experience and two dimensional CV confidence into a three dimensional interview scenario.

Here are some simple solutions to try that will help you uncover and overcome your own personal inconvenient truth;

  • Request personal feedback from previous interviews and recruiters

A lot of companies or recruiters shy away from giving negative personal feedback as they think they will be attacked – verbally or even legally – for it. So if you preface your conversation by saying you are trying to work on your style and really need some helpful feedback, then that should relax them enough to be more open with you.

  • Ask family and friends how you come across

Same as above, but this time it really is personal. With newer friends, ask them if they remember what their first impression of you was. With older friends, ask them if they think your personality has changed over the years, and if they know what situations seem to trigger these changes. Understanding those triggers and pressure situations and how you react to them is a very useful tool for learning how to control your deportment and style in a formal (and pressured) interview situation. Ask them what annoys them about you and what draws them to you. That should give you an idea – if you didn’t know already – of what you are passionate about, and passion always comes across better in an interview than neutrality.

  • Practice smiling/speaking/nodding/sitting still in front of a mirror or use your smart phone to video record yourself

How you come across visually is just as important – and often more insightful – than what you are actually saying. So, uncomfortable as it may seem, sit on a chair in front of a mirror or your video phone and interview yourself. Look at your face, your expression and your body language as you are speaking. If you are talking about being calm under pressure but your arms and eyes are swinging wildly in all directions as you speak and you are out of breath, then you are not visually representing what you are trying to convey. Align the physical with the verbal and you will give off a more consistent and impactful aura.

  • Now do the same mirror or video recording trick, but whilst listening rather than speaking

It’s also key to see what you look like when you are listening to someone, so put the radio on and pretend you are listening to the DJ like they are interviewing you. Observe your own body language – when you nod, what you do with your hands, if you can smile and maintain eye contact naturally etc. This is key for controlling nerves, breathing and any potential anxiety that you may get in an interview situation.

So now you have the info you need, and you’re not too battered and bruised from the experience, it’s time to put it into practice.

  • Review and replace your interview question responses

Write down all the examples you usually use when answering questions in an interview. Be hyper-critical of them. If you can’t easily identify the positive behavioural trait that each one reveals, then don’t use it. For instance, a good interview example would be one that shows off leadership, teamwork, resilience, passion, creativity, innovation, emotional intelligence or strategic thinking.

  • Do the mirror or video recording trick again, but this time practising small talk

By now you should be comfortable and confident with the examples to use in an interview and how you carry yourself as you are delivering them. So next you need to perfect how you handle the start and end of an interview. Those are usually the more informal bits of chat with your interviewer as you are in the lift, making a coffee or walking to and from reception. You can’t win the interview at the start with small talk, but you can certainly lose it with awkward chat and it will set the tone for the rest of the conversation. It’s the same at the end, you can’t close the deal with the last five minutes of freestyle conversation, but you can ruin all your good work over the last hour if you’re not careful.

  • Find a recruiter who you can trust, tell them what’s going wrong and ask for a mock interview with them

Any good recruiter will have experienced strong candidates on paper not performing in interviews, and they should also know the kind of personality and style that their regular clients gravitate towards when hiring. So ask to sit down with them and have a mock interview. Be honest and explain that you think your personal style is the reason you’re still looking for a job. A structured and insightful chat with them will not only help you to put some of the above techniques into practice, but it will also get the recruiter to better understand what your style is like and therefore which of their clients may be best suited to someone like you.

In conclusion

It’s not always easy to turn inwards and be objective about yourself, especially against the context of wanting/needing a new job. Factors such as money and self-esteem can rear their heads at any moment. But by really researching yourself and practising the techniques listed above, you can take steps to understand how you are perceived by others and how to adapt in the best possible way to future interview situations. You’re never going to be offered every single job you interview for, but if you can confront and eliminate the intangible and behavioural reasons why you have been turned down in the past, then your future interviews will show you in your best personal as well as professional light. Good luck!


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