2 Reasons Candidates Self-Sabotage At Job Interviews


No Do-Over

Have you ever walked out of a job interview feeling that you could have done better? You did the best you could in the moment, but as you drive back home, thoughts keep popping in your head about what you should or shouldn’t have said.

You can’t help but replay in your mind what happened at the interview and wish you could go back in time. Well, there is no do-over but you certainly can choose to do things differently next time. I’ll share with you two reasons why candidates often self-sabotage at job interviews and what to do instead.

1.     Making Excuses

During initial consultations with potential coaching clients I sometimes hear “I have already had a couple of interviews but I wasn’t really prepared and didn’t get invited for the second level.” You might wonder why someone would bother submitting an application (which is quite a tedious process in higher ed!) and going to an interview if they aren’t willing to put in the time and effort to do their best.

It’s because if they do their best and don’t get invited back, they will feel the pain of rejection. The truth is they are not sure how competitive they really are, and fear facing their limitations. To them, being rejected means that they are not good enough, and that’s too painful.

So instead, they play it safe. They make minimal efforts to get the job, in case it’s “meant to be” or to give themselves the illusion of taking charge of their career. Fear stops them from doing what they know they could do to become a top candidate. When they are not invited back, their ego and sense of self-worth are safe because the rejection was caused by lack of effort, not lack of worth.

>>> What to do instead

Be honest with yourself before you even begin applying for a leadership position in higher ed. administration. Are you qualified? Would your application be competitive? Do you have enough interest in the position to motivate yourself to do your best?

If yes, then do it! Make a commitment and don’t cut corners. Take responsibility for your actions and the results you produce. Click here if you want to read my advice on how to write an outstanding application.

But if the answer is no, don’t even bother applying. This job isn’t a raffle prize. The hiring committee members shouldn’t have to waste time reading poor quality materials. Do your best or don’t do it at all.

2.     Trying Too Hard

That’s the opposite problem. Candidates are so anxious to do their best and to get the job that they become a nervous wreck. Typically, they create undue pressure by exaggerating what is at stake. Instead of seeing a job opportunity for what it really is, they attach far too much meaning to it and create a sense of attachment and desperation that hurts their ability to do well in the process.

For example, they try to say everything they know about every topic included in the interview questions. They are so focused on being thorough that they overwhelm the committee by saying too much too fast. Once they realize they took too much time for the early questions, they panic and start talking even faster or rambling because fear is running the show.

Another common example is to be so worried about answering questions correctly that the person will over-think what is being asked and may go far into exceptions and details while forgetting to mention the obvious elements the committee wants to hear. They may be overly focused on one word in the question and go off topic. When asked how they solved a crisis, they may recall the worst situation they ever faced and not make themselves look as effective as they would if they had chosen a better example.  

>>> What to do instead

First of all, remember that being the best fit for one position is an indication of fit, not worth. Keep things in perspective and know how valuable you are to a new institution. I recommend you read this blog “One Powerful Mind Trick to Shine at Job Interviews” to shift your mindset and feel more confident.   

To avoid reacting poorly to the questions, take some time before the interview to write down what you want the committee to know about you. Think of your professional identity, most impressive accomplishments, crises you handled exceptionally well, events that show your leadership style, and personal core values (e.g. integrity or transparency). Don’t leave things up to chance. Be very clear about how you want to show yourself.

During the interview, remember that your goal isn’t to be thorough but to be an effective communicator who says what is essential with clarity and confidence. You can’t summarize 20+ years of leadership experience in one interview but you can show the leader you have become.   

Not trying hard enough or trying too hard both come from the same problem, which is fear of rejection.

To navigate your job search process with confidence, it is essential to improve your mindset and thought patterns, as well as create and implement a winning strategy. If you would like to speak with me about your career goals and how I can help you reach them, click here to schedule a complimentary phone consultation. Call me before you struggle and there will be no struggle!

About the author: Dr. Audrey Reille has empowered thousands of professionals through one-on-one coaching, group coaching, speaking engagements, online courses, and interviews on international telesummits.  Audrey is the go-to coach for leaders in higher education administration. She empowers them to thrive by reducing stress, optimizing strategies, improving professional relationships, and developing a strong and empowered mindset. 

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