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Tag Archives: Confident Interviewing

interviewer, UXL, Margaret Smith, discussing weakness in interview

Photo Credit: SJSU University

It’s a common question. You know it’s coming. But that doesn’t stop you from waffling and fidgeting when you hear it: “What are your greatest weaknesses?” You know you have some, but you don’t want to reveal anything too terrible that will potentially cost you your interview. Then again, you don’t want to be dishonest or gloss over the answer with something like, “People say I work too much and am too dedicated to the company!” No interviewer is going to be impressed with an answer like that. It’s disingenuous and doesn’t tell them anything about you, except that you’re good at studying stock answers for interview questions. So how to approach this question?

First of all, be aware that sharing your challenges and flaws—the very things that make you human—can actually help you come off as a more authentic, relatable candidate. Joe Grimm of the Poynter Institute, an organization dedicated to integrity in journalism, suggests that interviewees faced with this question should always be honest and avoid mentioning character flaws because they seldom change. Instead, mention areas where you’re determined to improve. Consider saying something like, “I’m not as Excel-savvy as I’d like to be, but I’m currently improving my skills through internet tutorials.” Never mention strengths as weaknesses.

Don’t overthink your response to the point that you panic and don’t have one. As Washington Post journalist Lily Whiteman reminds us, “the worst responses are ‘I don’t know’ and the comical ‘I have no weaknesses.’”

You should also try to cater your response to the position and organization to which you are applying. Anticipate the motivation and interests of the interviewer when selecting your response and personal story. For example, if you are applying for a position as a financial adviser, you might talk about one of the specific areas in which you lack experience—say estate planning for people with over $1 Million in assets. And then (as mentioned earlier), demonstrate how you will familiarize yourself or how you are already working to improve in this area.

Remember: this question mainly exists because it reveals whether you, the applicant, possess key qualities such as self-awareness, authenticity, sincerity, adaptability, and foresightedness.  Reveal that yes, you have weaknesses, but you will not let them stop you from doing the best job you can do for their organization.

Happy interviewing! Please contact UXL today to find out how we can help you transform the future of your business or career through guided professional coaching.


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I learned early on that school just cannot teach you the “unspoken” rules of business conduct, such as how you present yourself, the words you use, and the manner in which you handle relationships and situations. All these things take time and real-world experience to truly gain mastery over.

Nowadays, I’m comfortable engaging others, speaking before large groups, and assuming roles of leadership because I can look to my past experiences for guidance and confidence.

For those of you who do not yet have this experience to draw confidence from, I recommend faking it until you make it, an often quoted phrase that may be a bit cheesy, but really works.

Case in point: social psychologist Amy Cuddy explains the science behind the power of strong body language.

To summarize, she says that there are two hormones at play here. Testosterone is a hormone that naturally occurs in animals that are dominant in their pack. Cortisol, known as the stress hormone, makes it harder for us to deal with stressful situations, and consequently when there are higher levels of cortisol in our system, we tend to be more timid.

Cuddy wondered, what if we tricked our bodies into thinking that we were “dominant” in situations where we really felt small and afraid?

She found that when you pose in a powerful stance, your body actually increases its testosterone levels. On the other hand, when you pose in a small, submissive way, your body increases cortisol levels.

Conclusion: faking it until you make it is backed by science!

As with anything, this takes practice and consistency. But the more you make a point to appear confident, the more you will feel confident.

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In the big, bustling world of business, it is absolutely crucial that you make a memorable impression (the good kind of memorable!) right away. This is as true for job seekers as it is for veteran business people hoping to make big waves in their career.

The key, I’ve found, is prompt and consistent follow-ups. Here are some principles that have given me success:

1. Hang on to the contact info of business prospects. Whatever works best for you. I know folks who keep a case for business cards. I like to write down the contact info in my planner on the same day that I met them. Either way, keeping track of who you meet and how you can get a hold of them is a sure-fire way of optimizing your chances of success.

2. Contact prospects sooner, not later. A rule of thumb is within the first couple days of meeting them. You want to keep their memory of you fresh in their minds as that ideal option for them to take advantage of.

3. Remember first names, and use them. People respond well when you use their first name. It shows you view them as a unique individual, not just another business lead. Do you best to get their name the first time. It can be tough, but think about how you’ve felt when someone has said to you, “I’m sorry, what was your name again?” That’s never good for business.

4. Never burn bridges. Many leads turn out to be dead ends, but don’t let this get you down. You never know when a prospect who has turned you down in the past may approach you in the future, but they certainly won’t do so if they had a negative experience interacting with you. Stay positive, hang on to their business card, and keep that door open.

Good luck!

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More than a few people have told me that they marvel at my ability to speak in front of large groups of people with ease. Different versions of “how do you do it?” are the most common questions I get, as they can’t seem to wrap their heads around how a person can remain so calm and composed with all eyes on them.

The truth is, there is rarely a time when I don’t feel anxious leading up to a speaking engagement. I too get the staple sweaty palms, shortness of breath and a heart rate going a mile a minute. Getting nervous before taking the stage is an almost universal experience.

So how do I, or anyone else who does a lot of public speaking, appear composed even while anxious? As boring as it is, the answer is practice. I’ve done it over and over again, and I’ve paid attention to the mistakes I’ve made during past speaking events. Each talk becomes more manageable and less daunting, and usually once I get a couple minutes in, it’s off to the races.

But more generally, what we’re really talking about here is performance under pressure. Clearly, we all experience it and face it in our jobs and in other aspects of our lives, yet some of us seem more adept at handling and overcoming it, while others struggle with the tendency to “choke.”

To Choke Is No Joke

We’ve all seen a breakdown occur, whether it’s witnessing a public speaker fall apart once they hit the stage, sitting through a coworker stumble through a presentation, or simply watching an athlete buckle under the pressure in an overtime game on TV. Recently, the popular film director Michael Bay fell apart on stage at a Samsung press conference after an apparent teleprompter failure:

Case in point: these chokes are hard to watch. That’s because we can empathize with the dreaded feeling of drawing a blank at the exact moment we’re supposed to perform.

There Is Hope For The Choker

Buckling under pressure doesn’t mean you’re weak. It has nothing to do with your skills, talents, or your worth. What it does indicate is that you have the problem of over-thinking the situation at the moment it is happening. Chokers tend to over-worry and obsess over how they’re performing and appearing as they give a speech, a presentation or shoot a free throw. Clutch performers, on the other hand, are able to eliminate all the extra chatter in their heads and focus on the task.

Sports psychologists have found that those struggling with performing under pressure get help by focusing on other things while they perform the task in question. Golfers, for instance, might concentrate on their favorite song while they swing. This helps them find their flow, that point we hit our peak performance efficiency.

Quick takeaway:

1. Practice gives you the confidence to manage your nerves

2. Focusing on pleasant, calming thoughts can help minimize obsessive, distracting thoughts and increase “flow”

3. A little nerves serve as motivation! Take comfort in the fact that your nervousness is proof that you care

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Negotiating your starting salary can be intimidating. You don’t want to scare potential employers away with an out-of-this-world number, but you also shouldn’t sell yourself short. There are, however, a few general principles that go a long way in preparing you to confidently, successfully negotiate your pay.

1. Have a minimum and a target number in mind beforehand. These two numbers are, respectively, the absolute minimum amount you are willing to be paid, and your ideal salary. Go in with these at the front of your mind as the ranges within which you’ll be negotiating.

2. Never reveal your minimum number. While your target number should be verbalized, your minimum is for you and you alone to help keep your target salary (or something close to it) on the table. Revealing your minimum weakens your negotiating power.

3. Make a counter offer. For the new job seekers, this part can be scary. Employers expect you to counter their offer, because they want to see that you trust and value yourself enough to do a bit of bargaining. Keep in mind that employers are using a similar strategy: they’re starting low and expecting to have to make a compromise with a higher salary in the end. Knowing this helps take the pressure off as you make a counter offer.

4. Be okay with walking away from a bad offer. Now, this depends on how much experience you have and how many other opportunities are out there. If you’re an entry level job seeker, you may have to deal with pay that’s less than you hoped at first. But as you build career capital, you’ll be much better positioned to confidently walk away from sub-par salary offers, because you know other employers will pay more for your skills. However, the general idea is that you shouldn’t be afraid to turn down an offer that doesn’t meet your requirements.

5. Above all else, research, research, research. None of the points above mean anything unless you go in prepared. Know the average salary of the position you’re applying for. Familiarize yourself with the company you’re applying to. The more you know, the better equipped you’ll be to successfully negotiate your compensation.

Here’s a great resource for researching salaries:

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It happens to even the most accomplished among us: That nagging feeling that it’s only a matter of time before we’re found out to be frauds. Thoughts like “I don’t actually know what I’m doing here,” or, “I’ve done well…so far…but eventually they’ll realize they made a big mistake hiring me,” are token examples of someone experiencing this phenomenon. Which begs the question: Where does this intense self-doubt come from?

Known as the Impostor Phenomenon (IP), it is more prevalent than you might expect. (You can view a small test see if you have the IP traits here.) In her new book, The Empress Has No Clothes: Conquering Self-Doubt to Embrace Success, Joyce M. Roche, president of Girls Incorporated, both reveals why many of us have such thoughts, and lays out practical ways to combat them.

Roche writes that conquering self-doubt lies in “learning how to metabolize external validation to turn it into the core strength of internal validation.” In other words, instead of letting your negative thoughts define who you think you are, focus on concrete successes you can point to in your life and let those fuel your sense of self-worth.

A few more points on overcoming self-doubt:

1. Identify the specific parts of your life that make you feel like you’re an impostor, and talk to someone you trust about those specific things. The simple act of verbalizing your fears shines light on the faulty thinking you used to create them.

2. Focus on the external factors of your present circumstance instead of your internal thoughts. You’ll see your track record for what it really us: there will be both successes and failures, sure, but be sure to give yourself credit where credit is due.

3. Wear your failures and setbacks as badges, not blemishes to cover up. As cliché as it is, our failures really are what propel us forward by showing us exactly what not to do, and failures are usually closely followed by successes.


Roche, Joyce M., and Alexander Kopelman. The Empress Has No Clothes: Conquering Self-Doubt to Embrace Success. San Francisco: Barrett-Koelher, 2013.

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When learning something new, we instinctively keep it close and secret until we feel confident that we’ve got it down pat. Usually this is because we feel embarrassed by our clumsiness with new skills. However, we can’t learn until we apply our skills, which means a bit of screwing up. You’ll find that even though screwing up might be hard on your ego, it’ll increase the rate at which you learn and respond in unique situations.

This is because of a special nerve in our bodies, called the vagus nerve. As Christopher Bergland explains in this article on Psychology Today, “When people say ‘trust your gut’ they are in many ways saying, ‘trust your vagus nerve.’ Visceral feelings and gut-instincts are literally emotional intuitions transferred up to your brain via the vagus nerve.”

Bergland goes on to say that we can teach ourselves to respond positively to the “gut-feeling” we get from the vagus nerve by being in tune with the loop between our bodies and minds and using this awareness to our advantage. Instead of choking under pressure, which comes from a negative response from the vagus nerve, we can control its signals and stay calm under stress.

Now, I’m not saying that you should go out and look for the most stressful situation you can find and purposely make your learning experience as intense as possible. Many people thrive under pressure, while others do much better using more gradual methods, and I understand that. I do want to encourage you to push the limits you think you have when you’re taking on something new, because:

1. Most of us underestimate ourselves.

2. Most of us overestimate the thing we’re learning.

3. You won’t really know how true either of the above are until you go out and see for yourself.

Examples of diving in:

-Giving a presentation using material you’re new to. Of course, don’t do this at your next big, job-on-the-line presentation, but do try out new materials, approaches and styles when you have a less career-defining presentation.

-Teaching yourself a skill that is outside your normal set of skills. If you’re a numbers wiz, try out some of the good literature. If you’re an extravert, try meditation. If you’re shy, try the above suggestion!

-Wearing your mistakes as badges, knowing that each falter invariably pushes you closer to mastery.

How do you deal with handling pressure? How does it impact your ability to learn?

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