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Confident Humility: Key to Successful Interviews

Picture of Angela Guido

Angela Guido

Confident humility is required to live a full and happy life. It is one of the founding principles of the Berkeley Haas School of Business. It is a key quality Google seeks in its employees.

Confidence itself is indispensable.

If we have confidence, we will speak up in meetings, ask for what we want, push back on unreasonable demands, and generally remain true to ourselves. When we lack sufficient confidence in a given situation, it is nearly impossible to perform our best.

But we also need humility. Or, basically, no one will like us.

Arrogance ranks high among the list of undesirable qualities in a mate, colleague, or friend.

We believe confidence happens in communication. We have exactly as much confidence as we give ourselves through our self-talk, and exactly as much confidence as we allow ourselves to experience when we speak to others (read: suspect they might be judging us).

Confidence is ultimately a conversation
we are having with ourselves.

All of our work is designed to enable our readers and clients to create more confidence in their lives. You already have the tools to do this, and we have techniques, exercises, and ideas to help you use them. One of the places our clients face concerns about confidence is in the interview process.

Interviews create the perfect circumstances for confidence implosion that is rarely replicated in adult life.

Think about it:

  • It’s just you and one other person, the hiring manager, in a room (or even worse a panel of people!!) who is a relative or complete stranger.
  • The person is tasked with making a yes/no decision about you – are you good enough?
  • At stake is a job, a promotion, a raise, an offer for admission to school – something important to you that you really want.
  • The only subject of conversation is you – your experience, your knowledge, your abilities, do you have the effective communication skills that make you a strong candidate?

OF COURSE you are going to feel judged in this conversation!!! There is no way around it. You ARE being judged.

And one thing about us humans – we HATE feeling judged. Especially if we are being judged negatively when we are trying to give a positive impression, especially if the stakes are high, and especially if that judgment stands in the way of something we want.

It’s not so much the opinions of others that we can’t stand – I mean, at bottom we know that opinions are just like passing wind – they come and go unpredictably and sometimes leave a bad smell behind them (see what I did there? Drop me a comment if you got my double entendre).

The reason we hate feeling judged is because it usually then also forces us to judge ourselves.

We imagine how the other person views our most cherished accomplishments. We wonder if they measure up. Maybe that huge project I completed that meant so much to me seems like a cake walk to this guy. It’s hard to feel confident in ourselves when we think this way.

And on the flip side, we worry that we will come off as full of ourselves. Do I sound smug if I really tout that accomplishment, not the team player or ideal candidate they want? I know I am supposed to sound confident when I talk about success, but how do I avoid sounding like an arrogant arse?

We walk a very fine line in these conversations. To tread that tight rope successfully, we need Confident Humility. We have to both be proud of what we have achieved and aware that we still have much to learn.

Great! But how do we do that?

The secret to Confident Humility is
an understanding of the nature of conflict.

When answering questions such as “Tell me about a time you made a difference.” “Tell me about your greatest accomplishment.” “When did you lead a team?” you can’t just focus your response on the successful outcome. You also need to reveal the challenges you faced along the way, the soft skills needed, the personal growth you faced that got you through the process.

Take the example of a big project you managed that was a huge success in the end. Take time to understand the ultimate impact of your work. How much money and time were saved by virtue of your ingenuity? Was there a positive outcome that would not have happened without your ideas? Were there other verifiable measures of your success such as praise from managers or clients or awards that resulted from your work? The “happy ending” is an important part of every story that provides a lasting impression of success.

But once you have understood the ending of the story, turn your attention to the middle: namely, what were the challenges you faced along the way?

  • Was there an interpersonal conflict on the team?
  • Did you need to convince someone who didn’t believe in your ideas?
  • Were there severe time or budget constraints that required extra creativity?
  • Did you have to overcome a seemingly insurmountable learning curve?

In what ways were you challenged by the experience? Where did you struggle? At what points did things seem daunting or hopeless?

As you talk about your successes in interviews, be sure to include this part of the story – the obstacles you had to overcome to achieve your objective. Discuss how you strategized about those obstacles. Not that you took those. challenges in stride, but how they were a critical component of your chances of success. Include how you thought and felt about them and how you decided on your priorities and your course of action. What actions did you take and how did they help you surmount the obstacles?

If you include the conflict in your own experiences, then you will be able to showcase even the most exceptional accomplishments with your humility intact.

By the way, there is a secret here. There is a lot of emphasis on the importance of confidence in the professional sphere. Women especially seem to be on a quest for more confidence.

What they don’t tell – though what you may have already figured out yourself – is that confidence without humility is fraud.

If your aim is to just sugar coat your life, put the spotlight only on the high moments, and sweep failures and struggles under the rug, you are truly vulnerable. Not only because you are hiding part of the truth, but also because the real secret to confidence lies in embracing your full humanity.

That means you have to savor failure.

  • You have to relish learning and personal growth.
  • You have to celebrate the pitfalls, setbacks, mistakes, challenges, and all the raw human emotion that comes with it.

It is only by appreciating the challenges we have overcome that we can truly appreciate how incredible we really are. The successes were just the cherry on top.

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