Job interviews are stressful. It doesn’t matter if you’re 16 and have no job experience or 35 and are imminently qualified for the gig you’re applying for. They are intimidating and not a whole lot of fun.
A lot of people think getting the job is primarily a matter of having the right education, the right resume, and the right job skills. All of these things matter, but these often are the things that will land you the interview—not the job itself.
Some of the most successful people in the world will tell you not to underestimate personality when it comes to landing a job. For Warren Buffett, character and energy round out the traits he seeks in employees. Others point out that coming across as arrogant is a sure way to lose a job.
Claire Hughes Johnson, a former VP at Google, points to a different highly-coveted trait, one that 95 percent of people think they have, but only 10-15 percent actually do.
“During my 10 years at Google as a VP, there were weeks where I would spend up to 40 hours conducting job interviews,” Johnson writes at CNBC. “So to make things easier, I always had one skill that I looked for in candidates before anything else: self-awareness.”
Ask Yourself: ‘Am I Self-Aware?’
If you’re like me, the first thing you’ll do after reading this sentence is ask yourself if you possess self-awareness, and then immediately answer yes. The second thing you’ll do is wonder if you’re one of the 10-15 percent who truly are self-aware, or part of the 80-85 percent who believe they are self-aware but actually are not.
And there’s the rub, of course. How does one begin to define “self-awareness”?
Johnson’s statistic comes from a Harvard Business Review article written by Tasha Eurich, an organizational psychologist and author of the 2018 book Insight: The Surprising Truth About How Others See Us, How We See Ourselves, and Why the Answers Matter More Than We Think.
Eurich, who spent nearly five years as part of a research team on the subject, says people who lack self-awareness can greatly reduce a team’s effectiveness. While defining self-awareness is to some extent subjective, Eurich identifies several characteristics and tendencies of people who lack this important trait:
“They won’t listen to, or accept, critical feedback.
They cannot empathize with, or take the perspective of, others.
They have difficulty ‘reading a room’ and tailoring their message to their audience.
They possess an inflated opinion of their contributions and performance.
They are hurtful to others without realizing it.
They take credit for successes and blame others for failures.”
Again, if you’re like me you’ll quickly scratch most of these off the list and think they don’t apply to you—maybe all of them. But then you’ll take a closer look and ask yourself if this is entirely true. After all, sometimes reading a room is difficult. Have there been times when you should have spoken up when you didn’t? Were there times when you kept talking when people were ready to move on?
And then there’s critical feedback. Can you really say there haven’t been times you’ve become defensive or agitated when being told something needed to be fixed or improved? Maybe you were convinced you were right—and maybe you even were. But learning how to discuss and handle such situations in a professional manner is important, and if your first reaction to criticism is to get angry or defensive, you might be part of the 80-85 percent who think they’re self-aware but really aren’t.
The point is this: success isn’t just about financial intelligence or job experience. It’s also very much about emotional intelligence and emotional resiliency.
Fortunately, as Claire Hughes Johnson points out, we can grow self-awareness much like we can improve our financial intelligence or cultivate job skills. Specifically, she offers three tips: 1) know your value(s); 2) Know your work style; 3) Understand your strengths and weaknesses and be able to discuss them, especially in a job interview.
This is good advice.
Now, do I really believe that most employers are zeroing in on self-awareness like a laser beam when they meet with job candidates? Well, no. But the primary point remains true: hiring decisions often come down to intangibles that have little to do with your job experience. Employers are looking for clues about you. Is he dependable? Is she easy to work with? Is he pushy? Do traits like gratitude and empathy come naturally?
Remember: the employer isn’t just reading your resume, they are reading you.
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