By Shea Ki
The pressure in my chest felt worse than a sumo wrestler giving a bear hug. I had applied to be a Resident Advisor and received a notice to come in for the second round of the interview process. I remember being excited but nervous and thinking, "I really need this job."
High stakes, big pressure
It was a time in my life when I was doubting if finishing college was going to be possible. Borrowing more money was not an option and I could feel the school I loved (and a special guy who I had met there) slipping away.
Instead of packing my bags and heading who knows where, I filled out the long job application to be a RA. I saw it as a perfect solution as it would pay my room and board and the position to help support other students excited me. The drawback was it felt like everything depended on me doing well at the job interview. I had only been on one other job interview before and it was for a summer job. This opportunity seemed so much bigger because a lot of my future, my parents' expectations, and a new romance were riding on it.
Diving in without a clue
I entered the second round of job interviewing not knowing much of what to expect and wishing I had found out more. I discovered a huge group of other candidates also waiting to be called in. We all were asked to come in at once so they could divide us into "teams" for the day. The staff put us into groups to do everything from building a lego structure to figuring out how to make a paper boat float. I realized quickly we were being observed and rated by other Resident Advisors and school staff throughout the experience.
I quickly felt swallowed up by the louder and seemingly more confident candidates. I knew I was likely being evaluated for how I think on my feet and get others on board to hearing my ideas, but not much would come out of my mouth. My heart was on high speed and my brain seemed like it was stuck back at the lounge area where we had been waiting before the interview. I was starting to doubt my fit for the job, my chances of staying in college, and even if things would work out with that special guy.
Positive self-talk for the win
By some miracle, I noticed my deer-in-headlights moment starting to further downward spiral and took back control. I shifted my thinking and began my own inner pep rally--"Shea, you got this. You have gotten this far for a reason. Relax and enjoy these activities. GET IN THE GAME."
I started to feel more me. I could sense my anxiety easing up as I paid more attention to what was happening in the moment. Although others were more quick to solve puzzles and take the lead for most of the activities, I made more effort to connect, provide my ideas, and add in some needed humor.
I was so glad when the job interview was over. I got back to my dorm room and collapsed on my bed in relief. I felt like there was something more I needed to do before taking a big nap or instead going out for the night. I found myself getting up to write a thank you note for the interview. Partly because I knew I was suppose to and also because I did not want to miss my last chance to make a positive impression. My mind kept playing back the interview and I could not stop thinking, "I really needed (and now really wanted) this job!"
Focus on their needs, not yours
I decided mailing the thank you note through the campus mail to the Residence main office would take too long. I wanted to walk it myself to the office and make it more sincere by addressing it to an actual person. I looked up the name of the RA Director on the college website, even though I had not met her directly. She had spoken at the beginning of the group interview briefly and then had to go to a meeting. I held back from sharing with her how much getting an RA position would mean whether I got to stay in college or not that semester. Instead, I put in the thank you letter some positive comments about the interview experience, the enthusiasm of the staff that interviewed everyone, and how much I wanted to help others on campus be successful.
I was notified about two weeks later that I did not get selected to be an RA. It was a nice rejection letter, but still stung and made my heart sink. Then something shocking happened. That same week I got a phone call that changed my life...and thankfully my bank account. I received a phone call from the Director who said she had received my thank you note! She also wanted to let me know that a few candidates selected had declined the opportunity. She said her staff were calling back those that had still scored pretty well during the group interview, had cleared background checks and held good references. She wanted to call me herself because she was impressed with my follow-up and it was "rare" for her to get a genuine thank you note.
I will never forget her saying to me, "Would you still be interested to serve the George Mason University community as an RA?"
My voice in my head: "Hellz yeah!"
My voice on the phone: "Count me in."
And what about that special guy? Because I got to stay on campus, stress less about paying for it, and do a job I enjoyed, we were able to continue to date. A few years later he proposed and we got married! And, no joke, our first born son is named Mason.
Your turn to share:
How do you help shift yourself out of negative thinking before or during a job interview? I'd love to know what works for you or what you find hard about job interviewing.
Most of all, believe in you.
Shea Ki is on a daily mission to help others boost their power to shine in the hot seat. As Founder of Upgrade My Interview™, she coaches, blogs, and dances from the rooftops when needed to spread her message that career happiness is possible for everyone, not just a lucky few.