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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Tips for Assertiveness in a Job Interview

In these tough economic times many people are experiencing job loss. This morning I read a post on about a guy who after losing his job as a mortgage broker, then beat out 300 people to get a job he found on Craigslist. He is now busy and thriving.

In a time of so much unemployment, the job interview has to be an assertive event for the interviewee. Not only do you really need the job, like Josh in the CNN interview, but also you are competing with a lot of other people who equally really need the job.

You therefore MUST be good at having a successful job interview.

Asserting yourself is key to a good job interview. Assertiveness is about having respect for yourself as well as respect for the other person. Respect for yourself means knowing that you are worth hiring enough to make sure that the interviewer knows that as well.

I love listening to politicians. Often an interviewer will ask the politician a question and he/she answers the question in such a way that he/she gets information out that sells her/his platform. In a job interview, your strengths are the platform on which you stand. Assertively inserting this information into the job interview is the essential element in a good job interview.

Here are several ways you can assert your strengths in a job interview:

1. Take with you not only your resume, but a typed list of accomplishments you think you achieved in your last job. This should be a simple list:
  • Created a new program focused on X
  • Brought XXXX people into the firm
  • Timely in accomplishment of tasks

The details of these positive accomplishments can come out in the interview and give you an opportunity to talk about yourself.

Hand this to the interviewer saying assertively, "I made a list of what I achieved in my last job."

2. Bring with you a folder in which you have copies of emails, thank you notes, articles - anything you have to support your list of accomplishments. Note: If you haven't been keeping these type of things, it's a good thing to start doing going forward

3. If a question is one you can answer well, answer it and find a way, as a politician might, to insert something else you'd like the interviewer to know.

Interviewer: "Tell me about your computer skills. Are you familiar with Excel?"

You: "I am quite familiar with Excel and used it everyday in my last job. Your question about Excel reminds me of an Excel project I worked on involving XXXX in which I did XXXXX."

4. Be prepared to assert positive aspects of you into every possible question. And bring with you support for your assertions.

Simplest example:

Interviewer: "We are looking for someone who can write newsletters. I notice on your resume that your last position was an administrative assistant. I'm not sure you have the experience to do this writing job."

You: "Part of what drew me to apply for this job was the opportunity to write newsletters. I often had the opportunity to edit for my boss in my admin post. As a matter of fact, I brought a copy of XXX that I wrote for her when she was too busy to do it herself. In addition, I assumed that you would wonder about my qualifications to write that newsletter so I have written a mock-up of what might be the front page of a newsletter. Here it is."

A more complex example:

Interviewer: "What did you learn as an administrative assistant that would apply to an internal communications post at an environmental engineering firm?" I imagine the interviewer's eyebrows knit together as this question is asked.

Note: This question (and the possible body language with it) pulls for you to be defensive - it's not assertive to be defensive and will put a block between you and the interviewer. Instead you start by making a connection between you and the interviewer and then tailor the question to your advantage.
You: "I can imagine that it seems like a leap to you that I would want this job, but I've always wanted to write. I brought a folder with samples of my writing and in addition to the samples, I also made a mock-up of what might be a front page for a company newsletter here."

Note: The first statement is an empathic assertion - you try to imagine what it's like to be the interviewer and then make an assertive statement: "I've always wanted to write."

The interviewer takes your folder, thinks, "Wow, this person is really eager," reads your material, is impressed and you get the job!

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Speaking Up to Doctors and Other Authority Figures

Speaking up to someone who is supposed to be an authority is often hard for people. Nowhere is this more evident than in the physician's office.

I work with a lot of infertility patients and I often have to walk them through how to ask questions of the doctor. Most patients have a list of questions they need to get answers to. But often in the face of a authority figure, we are worried that we will be "wasting their time." This may lead to unneeded apologies, "I'm sorry to take up your time, but I wanted to ask you....."

In the first place, apologizing and the rest of the above sentence does take up the physician's time. If you simply ask the question, time will be more effectively used.

There's an article in today's Wall Street Journal about this very issue. The Journal article focuses on the patient who is concerned about cleanliness and public health. The patient quoted in the first paragraph, screwed his courage to the sticking place when he heard his doctor sneeze outside his examining room door and asked, "Are you going to wash your hands before you examine me?"

The patient used courage to ask the question. However, he could have made an even more effective comment by making an assertive statement rather than asking a question. If you ask, "Are you going to wash your hands, etc?" in reality you have put the ball in the physician's court. He could say, "No, my hands are clean."

As a matter of fact, later in this same article another patient said to her doctor: "I have to ask you to wash your hands, according to that sign right there." The doctor, who cursorily washed her hands, responded defensively to that request, stating that she washes her hands at least 15 times a day.

Whenever you ask someone to do something, you give them the power to refuse. If you make a statement claiming your own agenda in the statement, it is much more powerful and takes away the sense that the receiver has a choice.

Example #1:
"I'd feel much more comfortable if you would wash your hands before examining me."

In this example, you make your assertiveness about you rather than the physician. This direct assertive statement expresses your concerns without implying wrong-doing on the part of the physician. In other words, you are taking responsibility for your own worry rather than pointing a potentially shaming finger at the doctor.

Example #2:
"I imagine you have had a overwhelming morning with all those patients in the waiting room, but I would feel much more secure about my own health if you would wash your hands before we start my examination."

The above is an empathic assertive statement in which you connect with the physician by recognizing his/her personal stresses in the day (so that he/she feels more understood and thus more connected with you) before you make your assertive statement.

The Wall Street Journal article points to the Joint Hospital Commission's work entitled: "Speak Up" which is focused on patient advocacy. The web page is worth reading if you are in a physician's care or dealing with ongoing illness.