The One Trait You Must Demonstrate In Any Job Interview

December 12, 2014 • 12 minute read • by Saeed


“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

– William Shakespeare –

Blink, and you might miss her. At 5-foot-11 and 130 pounds, Wilma Rudolph was a sight to behold. At the 1960 Rome Olympics, Rudolph became “the fastest woman in the world” and the first American woman to win three gold medals in one Olympics.

You might think that she was born with innate athleticism. You would be wrong. Perhaps even more incredible than her achievement as an athlete is her resilience as a human being.

Wilma Rudolph was born prematurely weighing only 4 1/2 pounds and the bulk of her childhood was spent in bed. She suffered from double pneumonia, scarlet fever and later she contracted polio. After losing the use of her left leg, she was fitted with metal leg braces. She was only six years of age. As number 20th out of 22 children (yes you read that correctly), her family was poor and could not afford good medical care. The doctors had predicted that she would not walk again. But Wilma was determined to lead a “normal” life. Despite whooping cough, measles and chicken pox, she was out of her leg braces by age nine. Three years later, her mother came home to find her playing basketball by herself bare-footed. Later, she was encouraged by a track coach who recognized her talent on the court. The rest, as they say, is history.

It is clear that Wilma Rudolph faced great adversity, both internal and external. Despite that adversity, she became a great athlete and an inspiration to many. But perhaps even more impressive than her physical accomplishments, is her sheer will, determination, and resiliency. It is her mental fitness, more than her physical feats, and her dogged belief in her Self that ultimately drove her success.

From my coaching experience, I find that many people who fail to achieve their objectives, do not fail because of a lack of knowledge, skill or ability. These, after all, can always be acquired. With thoughtful planning and execution any objective is achievable. However, some, even when they have the ability to achieve an objective, still fall short of meeting their goals. Some, even when they know they can do the job, still fail to impress at the interview.

Why?

Research shows that, on average, interviewers reach final decisions about applicants in only four minutes after meeting them. According to Malcolm Gladwell, in Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, the decisions may occur even faster – instantaneously or in under two seconds. What he calls ‘thin-slicing’ has serious implications for job interview applicants. It means decisions are being made before the actual exchange of content.

That may seem unfair. Everyone, after all, deserves the same treatment and the same attention to factors such as experience, credentials and skills. And as with any job interview, a series of questions will be asked to assess the type of candidate you are. In truth, however, interviewers are less concerned with your technical abilities and more concerned with your personality type. They want to know if they can work with you. Hence the rise of personality testing in job interviews.

But beyond your personality type, the impression you leave behind of your Self has far more to do with your job interview success.

Agency and esteem are central to the construction of a concept of Self. A study of more than 500 students, academics and workers, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, showed that those who appeared more confident achieved a higher social status than their peers. The conclusions drawn from this study have significant implications for professionals. The key to career success, in other words, is confidence, not talent. Despite your credentials, experience and expertise, a lack of self-belief will reduce your chances of success. Henry Ford once said, ‘Whether you think that you can or you think you can’t – you’re right’.

Self belief is that powerful. To succeed, you must first cultivate the mental posture and mindset for success.

In her 2006 book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Stanford Psychology Professor Carol Dweck argues that individuals can be placed on a continuum according to their implicit views of where ability comes from. Those that believe their success is based on innate ability are said to have a “fixed” mindset. Others, who believe their success is based on hard work and continuous learning, are said to have a “growth” mindset. The distinction is crucial and can mean the difference between a life unfulfilled and one, like Wilma Rudolph, of extraordinary achievement.

That is because individuals with a “growth” mindset have higher intrinsic motivation to achieve. They are more likely to set higher goals and to persevere despite setbacks. Their underlying belief system tells them that if they really want to achieve something, they will find a way to make it happen. On the other hand, people with a fixed mindset give up more readily when faced with problems. They are uncertain and doubtful about their ability and they more quickly lose interest and motivation.

Unfortunately, many people wait for their self belief to increase before they take action. That, however, is not how it works. You can’t sit around waiting for a sense of self belief to kick in when all your stars are aligned. You have to start developing your own self belief. The world will largely accept you at your own estimation. It is yourself that you have to convince of your self-worth, before you can convince anyone else. But once you are absolutely sure that you have what it takes to master any situation, you will act in such a way that your beliefs will become your reality. Mastery is made up of intention, concentration, and attention. To develop it, you must be willing to take risks and to face the inevitable rejections that come with putting yourself out there. You must practice, fail, learn and repeat until you succeed.

And if the interview doesn’t go your way, remember the words of Wilma Rudolph:“Winning is great, sure, but if you are really going to do something in life, the secret is learning how to lose. Nobody goes undefeated all the time. If you can pick up after a crushing defeat, and go on to win again, you are going to be a champion someday.”

Good luck.

©2014 – All Images and Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.

You Can Change The World. If You Think You Can’t, Then You Won’t.

December 10, 2014 • 6 minute read • by Saeed


“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”

– Mark Twain –

Thought to self: if you think you can’t, then you won’t.

It was July 1989 and this was the thought that came into my head as I was cycling up National Highway 1D, also known as the Srinagar-Leh Highway, in the state of Jammu & Kashmir in Northern India. This 262 mile (422 km) stretch of road connects Srinigar, the capital city of Kashmir (locally regarded as the Switzerland of India), to Leh, the capital city of Ladakh (“land of high passes”), where the people are predominantly Tibetan and where, except in prayer, they do not have the concept of the wheel in their lives (evidence of wheeled vehicles appears from the second half of the 4th millennium BC).

The Srinagar-Leh Highway is one of only two roads that connect the highly remote and forbidding region of Ladakh with the rest of India. The highest pass on the road is at 13,478 ft (4,108 m) elevation, which is approximately half the height of Earth’s tallest mountain, at 29,029 ft (8,848 m) elevation. The road generally remains open for traffic from early June to mid-November but heavy snowfall blocks traffic, cutting the region off from the rest of the world for some six months each year.

I was young and inexperienced. My cycling shoes were a pair of flip flops purchased in a New Delhi night market (BTW: best pair of footwear I have ever owned – seriously). My panniers were filled, not with rations for survival, but with philosophy and anthropology books, a Sony Walkman and music cassette tapes (Steve Jobs: where were you then?).

My fuel was an unreasonably large-sized bag of dried apricots (they have been cultivated in Central Asia since antiquity and the dried ones were an important commodity on the Silk Road). I had purchased them in the town of Kargil, an important transit hub, which sits at about the half-way point (and when you’re there please try the restaurant on the third floor of the building in the main street near the mosque, which offers pleasant and inexpensive Tibetan dishes – and tell Lobsang I said hello!).

The day I set off from Kargil, was the day I planned to cycle to the highest pass on the road.

That day was all climb. And as I did, I naturally began to wonder what in the world had possessed me to torture myself in this cruel way. The more negatively I thought, the more I felt my brain, not my body, giving up. There were certainly plenty of physiological considerations. The air was thin, but I had acclimated. Physical conditioning was required, but I had been on the road for more than six months. My body sponged up water, but I was hydrated and my gut was full of; well dried apricots (one serving cup delivers 81 grams of total carbohydrate).

It was not my body but my brain that was telling me that I can’t do it.

You may have heard the old adage that sport is 10% physical and 90% mental. Psychologists began studying sports in the nineteen thirties and forties. Research conducted in the 60’s and 70’s concluded that mental practice facilitated motor performance in about fifty percent of the studies. More recent control group studies of performance athletes have validated the earlier findings and gone further concluding that the brain gives up and subsequently sends signals to the body to also cease, even though the body is not showing physical signs of complete exhaustion. Not only do the new studies emphasize the idea of mind over matter, but they also demonstrate that the brain can be trained to allow the body to physically handle more. It is the brain that holds us back from pushing past a certain point and allows or limits our endurance performance rather than the body. But we often confuse mental fatigue with physical fatigue.

So, brain is boss and by that logic we must manage up.

The brain comes conveniently equipped with a control mechanism to make sure that the marathon runner reaches the finishing line not in a completely shattered state. There is always a little reserve. You may be the next Usain Bolt or you may be a nonprofit program manager or a social entrepreneur in the process of pursuing a new innovative solution to solve a vexing social problem. Whatever your goal, be it conquering a hill or a mountain or changing the world, you will have to be persistent in the face of challenges, adversities and failures in order to ultimately succeed.

When your brain throws un-motivating messages at you, it may just be that same control mechanism that exerts its influence over athletes, holding you back from pushing past a certain point. As with athletes, the secret to success comes with structure, discipline and focus.

Most of the time, success does not happen overnight or on the first try. There will be times when you will want to give up and when you will feel you have nothing left. You will ponder the challenges and you will wonder what possessed you to do this in the first place. You will run out of money, fans and friends. There will be times when you will simply think you can’t. The same way you train your body for endurance, you must also train (or trick) your mind for perseverance. It is your mind that will push you that final step, or hold you back from realizing your dream. If you succumb to the trickery of your mind and think you can’t, then you won’t.

I made it that day and I can tell you unequivocally, it wasn’t the apricots.

©2014 – All images and content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.

To Find Your Passion, You Have To Face Your Fears

December 10, 2014 • 15 minute read • by Saeed


“Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls.” 

– Joseph Campbell –

When he famously uttered the phrase “follow your bliss,” Campbell meant it as a sort of sacred call to action for the soul to pursue whatever makes it happy on the path to ultimate fulfillment and success.

Since this concept now occupies a more and more central role in my own research and work with clients, and since the idea of following your bliss (or passion) has been adopted and incorporated into our zeitgeist by such business luminaries as Steve Jobs (most famously at his 2005 Stanford Commencement Speech), I felt it deserved closer examination.

As the conventional wisdom goes, follow your bliss and success will follow you. So let’s see what’s at the end of this yellow brick road.

Is Passion a Pink Unicorn?

Passion is defined by Merriam Webster as ‘a strong feeling of enthusiasm or excitement for something or about doing something.’ It is also associated with anger that ‘causes you to act in a dangerous way’ as well as a strong ‘romantic feeling.’

Thanks for nothing Webster.

Bliss is defined as ‘perfect happiness’ and ‘great joy.’ When blissful, you are thought to be ‘oblivious of everything else.’

Again, gracias por nada.

Interestingly though, this concept is akin to the concept of ‘Flow’ as defined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi – one of the godfathers of the positive psychology movement. In Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Csikszentmihalyi defines the concept as: a mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is so fully immersed that they become oblivious to their surroundings and singularly focused on that task.

If you don’t know what that looks like, just watch a five year old at play. For adults, it is the state of optimal mental performance.

While the formal definitions of bliss and passion are differentiated and nuanced, it’s safe to assume that Jobs and Campbell likely used these terms interchangeably (as will I) to denote that you should pursue whatever rocks your boat. In truth, passion has an infinite variety of meanings, and for many, it simply means strong emotions of any kind. And while, it’s difficult to nail passion with a satisfying definition, it’s easier to ponder what it is not:

Passion is not passive.

Passion is not a quitter.

Passion is not disengaged.

Passion is not a bystander.

Passion is not love.

Passion is not happiness.

That last one should have given you cause for pause. It is clear that, whatever passion is, it emanates from inside and compels us to engage the worldoutside.

Regardless of the actual word chosen (or even its specific meaning), implicit in this idea is that each of us has a pre-determined journey, at the heart (or end) of which lies our passion and/or bliss. Therefore in life, we are being called to ‘discover’ that passion, and once discovered, to follow it. Then, and only then, will we be met with synchronicities and seemingly “lucky” moments that are guiding our path towards eventual (and inevitable) fulfillment and success.

That’s all good. Theoretically.

The problem is that it’s pretty hard to pursue something you are unsure about. The whole idea that you come pre-equipped with a passion for some particular thing and that it’s only a matter of finding it through introspection, is pre-deterministic at worst, assumptious at best and potentially highly damaging. It leads people to believe that one day an apple (no pun intended Mr. Jobs) will fall on their heads and they will have a moment of epiphany and know what their passion is.

And therefore they wait listless for that magic day to arrive.

If you can’t seem to find something you’d love doing, you’re not alone. Many of my coaching clients struggle with this question either because there is nothing they feel passionate about or there are multiple things they feel passionate about each competing for their attention. Here, it becomes not a problem of passion, but one of focus. I have known many others still who have become successful entrepreneurs in their own right but weren’t necessarily following their passion. It was after their foray into whatever venture, that their passion (s) became clear. Often, they had to face a central fear to move ahead. So to find your passion, you have to face your fears.

You Have To Fail In Order To Find Your Passion

Even on Campbell’s utopist journey, he reminds us that we will have tests, trials and “dragons” to face on our quest and that these dragons are really our inner fears working against us.

Fear, however, gets a very bad rap.

We are taught to fight, resist, avoid, suppress, deny, and medicate our fear away (or for that matter fear’s live-in relatives: anger, insecurity, and anxiety). We are taught that “there is nothing to fear but fear itself” and that fear is “False Evidence Appearing Real.”

That’s a pretty catchy backronym with one problem: the appearing evidence is not always false.

Anthropologically speaking, fear is a primal response to danger. Fear is adaptive, functional and necessary for our protection. When we lived on the savanna and the threat we faced was becoming lunch for a lion, fear was the self-protection mechanism that shut down our prefrontal cortex and allowed the limbic system (which regulates emotion) to take over and protect us from these legitimate threats. The evidence of one hungry lion, was real enough and prompted a physiological response that we now know as “fight or flight.”

The result was that we lived to see another day. That’s a super-sweet beneficial byproduct of fear.

Lynne Isbell, an anthropologist at the University of California, Davis goes further. In her theory she suggests that fear of snakes drove pre-human evolution. She posits that (because) snakes and primates share a long and intimate history, both groups were forced to evolve new strategies to survive. Primates developed improved vision and larger brains to detect and avoid the reptiles before they could strike. In other words, without fear our species may have never survived or, in turn, ever evolved.

Be it fear of snakes or fear of success, experts advocate exposure to, rather than avoidance of, fears. Exposure involves gradually and repeatedly going into feared situations until the fear begins to subside. Exposure involves not avoiding the fear that comes with uncertainty which often underpins the search for a great career.

At the height of his fame, Steve Mcqueen was the highest paid actor of his time (and the King of Cool). He pursued acting because that’s where he found women and money (not passion – that he found on motorcycles) and it is reported that he lived in constant fear that one day the public would find out that he was a fraud and that it would all be taken away from him. The anxiety felt by many successful people suggests that early in their lives they were not sure they had found their passion, they had many failures and even when they had found success, they continued to struggle with insecurity, anxiety and fear. In other words, they had to fail many times over, before they found their success or their passion. Passion, like success, was something they pursued and worked towards. They had drive.

By turning towards rather than away from our fears, we create the opportunity to transform them from a stagnating force to one that is single-minded and transformative. Exposing ourselves to our personal demons is the best way to move past them. It’s a pre-requisite to removing the clutter that keeps our passion from remaining undiscovered. Perhaps the reason you haven’t done xyz is because you haven’t faced your fear about it.

At the end of the day, it becomes like the fabled Cherokee story of the Two Wolves. And the question to be pondered becomes: which wolf do you want to feed?

Know Thyself

Today, our quotidian threats are less life threatening than those our ancestors met on the African Savanna. Fear of success, fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of loss. Nonetheless, they still prompt our fight-or-flight response. Fortunately, we have evolved enough as a species to better understand the complexity of our emotions, and know that reacting without thinking, doesn’t serve us well. Instead, combining cognition with strategy, we take the time to reflect which gives us the opportunity to make a more considered choice about how to respond. In other words, it’s in the course of evolution that we have learned to ‘check ourselves before we wreck ourselves.’

How do we learn to learn?

The term meta-cognition – defined as “thinking about thinking”- has become de rigueur in educational psychology over the last couple of decades. Most of us think our thoughts are accurate. We trust our own thinking so much that we do not think to question our own thoughts or thought process. When acquiring knowledge, you’ve pushed the play button on your cognitive abilities. When actively using the knowledge you’ve acquired in a strategic manner to ensure that a goal is met, you are in full meta-cognition mode. That is to say, the process of learning how you learn, leads not only to acquiring knowledge but also to how to use that knowledge.

Bobby Fischer was insanely passionate about chess. However, he was very ‘objective’ about evaluating his position while playing. As a matter of fact, that objectivity, or the ability to step outside of himself and observe himself playing, was one of his greatest virtues as a chess player.

Integrating Passion with Profession

Campbell and Jobs seem to assign ‘bliss’ and ‘passion’ to a realm of esoteric romanticism. Passion, however, is less esoteric and more pragmatic than that. In truth, passion comes from the Latin word ‘pati,’ meaning to suffer or endure. Passion requires us to forego, to sacrifice, and to endure in the face of failure and rejection.

Passion is diligence.

Passion is mastery.

Passion is perseverance.

Passion is pursuit.

Passion is intention.

Passion is curiosity.

Passion is action.

Passion is focus.

Passion is rigor.

Passion is discipline.

Passion is drive.

Passion is the third pig in the famed children’s story, the one who built the brick house. Passion is about how sharp you keep your tools, how well you recognize your worth, and how you work systematically to make yourself (or your product) invaluable.

In identifying flow, Csikszentmihalyi hypothesized that flow is possible in any circumstance as long as three conditions are met: clear goals, feedback loops, and self-confidence. He went further to posit that people with very specific personality traits such as curiosity, persistence, and intrinsic motivation may be better able to achieve flow. Some of the challenges to staying in flow include states of apathy, boredom, and anxiety. Being in a state of apathy is characterized when challenges are low and one’s skill level is low producing a general lack of interest in the task at hand.

So being challenged and developing the skills to meet the challenge is a prerequisite for flow. But importantly, with practice, mindset and the right circumstances, flow can be achieved anywhere, anytime. Even at work!

In Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell, argues that to be really good at something, to be great at something requires significant investment of time. He uses The Beatles and Bill Gates as examples for what he calls the “10,000-Hour Rule”. The Beatles performed in seedy clubs in Hamburg, Germany over 1,200 times between 1960 to 1964, amassing more than 10,000 hours of playing time (therefore meeting the 10,000-Hour Rule), before making a big splash on the music scene of the time. Microsoft founder Bill Gates met the 10,000-Hour Rule when he gained access to a high school computer in 1968 at the age of 13, and spent 10,000 hours programming on it. That is mastery. That is passion at work.

In other words, passion equals hard work and perseverance because that’s what allows you to be good at something. In turn, this allows you to create environments of trust and open communication; synergizing people; supporting and nurturing teams and colleagues; creating operational efficiencies and effectiveness; positively impacting growth, productivity, innovation, and profitability.

It may be that passion and bliss await us at the end of the yellow brick road of our careers after a long journey of discovery. But overnight successes, free rides and apples falling off trees belong to the realm of fantasy and mythology. The real journey of passion is replete with determination, hard work, self-knowledge and self-confrontation.To find your passion, you have to face your fears and work your tail off. Passion is ‘discoverable.’ But this journey is marked by focus, discipline, and rigor; not happenstance. It is the journey of the Jedi Warrior. It is the journey of the wisest pig and the one that builds the strongest house. I would argue that passion is not inherent to be discovered but emergent to be explored.

To find your passion, you have to stop chasing unicorns and start slaying dragons.

Oh yeah, and put a sign on the door: No Wolves Allowed!

Good luck.

©2014 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A