Chances are, you are woefully unprepared for that upcoming interview and you don't even know it. Talking points rehearsed? Check. Company and interviewer researched? Of course. Answers to tough questions practiced? You bet. Psychological tells analyzed? Uh, come again? Without knowing it, you communicate your deep psychological beliefs, attitudes and weaknesses every time you open your mouth. I've interviewed people who looked stellar on paper, but who exposed their hidden tendencies, issues and mental roadblocks as soon as they spoke.
Dr. Aaron Beck, the "father" of cognitive therapy, first proposed the theory behind cognitive distortions. Cognitive distortions are limiting or weak habits of thinking that are not accurate. We all suffer from these occasionally, but when they come to be how we see and interact with the world, they can prevent us from seeing things as they really are which can limit our growth and success.
If you want to appear confident and project the right attitude, stop leaking negative psychological tells. Here's what you need to know to nail that next job interview:
We feel angry and frustrated because we think we know what is fair, but life and other people won't agree with us.
Example: "I worked hard for my previous employer for three years but still got laid off."
Here the applicant is angry and frustrated that their efforts were not rewarded when they thought they should have been. The reality may be that the company was forced to downsize because of the economy and their firing had nothing to do with the employee's work ethic. This cognitive distortion can come across as sounding whiny or complaining. Think of your six-year-old stomping her feet and proclaiming, "But that's not fair!"
There is reality, and then there is our interpretation of reality. They are always different. With this cognitive distortion, imagine seeing, hearing and experiencing the world through a special filter that highlights negative details and filters out all of the positive details.
Example: "The last company I worked for went out of business. It was a disaster, and I should have jumped ship before being taken down with it."
This statement is wrong on many levels, but what strikes me most is the focus and emphasis on the negative. Sure, the company went out of business, but was there nothing positive that came from the experience? Maybe the relationships you made? New training you received? Lessons on what you'd do differently? There is always a silver lining, but for folks with this cognitive distortion, they just can't see it.
Can you see the positive in an otherwise negative situation? This is a critical skill that is attractive to employers. Accept your responsibility for what went wrong, but look for anything that is positive from the event.
Watch out for this cognitive distortion in interviews. There are two types of control fallacies: externally controlled and internally controlled. Externally controlled fallacies occur when we view our behavior and success as something that is beyond our control (i.e., not generated from within but rather from something outside ourselves). In other words, we are helpless victims of fate and happenstance.
Example: "I wanted to go back and get my degree, but there was nothing I could do."
Externally controlled beliefs sound like excuses. It shows that you have no personal responsibility for your life. Nobody wants to hire someone who constantly says it was bad luck, fate or just not in the cards when something goes wrong (or right!).
The internal control fallacy is the belief that somehow you are responsible for the pain, happiness, failures and successes of everyone around you.
Example: "Because of my involvement, our regional division was number one in sales for the entire company."
If you can back this up with data, this is a powerful statement that is sure to get attention. However, if you don't have the data, this statement is a red flag. It may mean that you are a bit narcissistic, prone to exaggeration or have the tendency to believe that you are personally responsible for the success of others -- all three of which are not what you want to communicate.
We all know this guy (or gal), so please don't let it be you. Being wrong is unacceptable to them, and they will go to any length to demonstrate why they are right (and why you are wrong). While only a rookie will get into a power struggle with an interviewer, this cognitive distortion can come out when you describe your work history or when the conversation touches on your ex-bosses and co-workers.
Example: "Even though we lost the account, there is nothing that I would have done differently."
Admit your mistakes. Own them. Don't minimize them or suggest you don't make any. Nobody wants to hire or work with a know-it-all ... especially when they don't.
We are either perfect or we've failed. Like a light switch, it's either on or off -- there is no in between. This cognitive distortion shows a lack of mental flexibility and single-mindedness.
Example: "I want the security of working for a big firm because I started a company a few years ago and it was a complete failure."
Sure, maybe the company did fail, but this kind of thinking tells me that this person is blinded by the company's lack of success -- they are unable to recognize any aspects of the experience that were sources of learning or growth. They seem incapable of looking at the experience objectively.
The mother lode of cognitive distortions in the interview process. Here, we hold other people responsible for our pain. It's always someone or something else that is responsible for our problems and mistakes.
Example: "I've bounced around the last few years because I've worked for ineffective leaders."
What's the old saying? When you point your finger at someone, there are three fingers pointing back at you. It is beyond frustrating to hire someone who does not take responsibility for their actions and choices. Be a breath of fresh air and take responsibility -- at least some of the responsibility. The fear applicants have is that, if they "own up" to any weaknesses or mistakes, then they won't be looked upon favorably, but the opposite is true.
Robert Pagliarini is a CBS MoneyWatch columnist and the author of The Other 8 Hours: Maximize Your Free Time to Create New Wealth & Purpose and the national best-seller The Six Day Financial Makeover.