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The Mental Game Of Interviewing: Mental Toughness And Poise Wins The Day.     Have you ever wondered if the interviewer was trying to intimidate you? Maybe even trying to get you to say something negative about your current or former boss, or your organization? Did you sense they were trying to see if you could be bullied? Did you sense they were trying to see how you react to a hostile, stressful interview? Well, if you interview long enough you'll run across interviewers like this. Your job in the interview game is to use mental toughness as your secret weapon. This article helps you become more resilient and poised in the face of unpleasant situations like this and to understand the four levels of an interview so you can master challenging interview encounters.     1584 words.
The Mental Game Coach, Peak Performance Playbook



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The Mental Game Of Interviewing

Mental Toughness And Poise Wins The Day



Bill Cole, MS, MA
Founder and CEO
William B. Cole Consultants
Silicon Valley, California



  • That entire interview panel acted outrageously!

  • That was an interview nightmare.

  • Weird does not begin to describe that hiring manager.

  • That HR interviewer was very unprofessional.

  • That stupid interviewer was using gamesmanship to try and get into my head!

  • Why did that interviewer have to be so argumentative?

  • I want a company that's healthy and has a good work-life balance. That interview felt toxic!

  • The interviewer acted neurotic and dysfunctional.

  • What does an interviewer think they're achieving by being sarcastic and insulting?

  • This interviewer was a put-down artist. They tore my work history to shreds.

  • I've never met such a mean interviewer.

  • A business owner can be proud of what they've accomplished, but this guy was downright arrogant!

  • Why do interviewers need to be so combative? Can't they display good manners?

  • I don't expect all that much from an interviewer. But I do expect them to be ethical, not underhanded, like this one was.

  • That HR person was aggressive, and cut me off many times.

  • I think I actually got a sociopathic interviewer!

  • That interview felt like an interrogation. All that was missing were the police spotlights.

  • That interviewer was abrasive and abusive. I wouldn't take a job offer there in a million years.

  • Why did that hiring manager need to act so disrespectfully?

  • That interviewer put the word "psycho" in psychopath!

Have you ever wondered if the interviewer was trying to intimidate you? Did you believe they were trying to trick you? Have you felt they were toying with you? Did you think maybe they were dishonest with you? Maybe even trying to get you to say something negative about your current or former boss, or your organization? Did you sense they were trying to see if you could be bullied, or if you would stand up for yourself? Did you sense they were trying to see how you react to a hostile, stressful interview? Have you ever thought they were disrespecting you? Did they actually insult and demean you, and act dismissive of your accomplishments?

If you have done any degree of interviewing, I'm sure you've run across at least some of these situations. Regardless of whether the interviewer was doing these things on purpose, you had to be on your game and to be mentally tough. If you weren't able to stand up to them, they would see you as weak, non-assertive, not good at thinking on your feet, easily pushed around, unprepared, negative or overly needy for a job.

I've identified hundreds of examples of mind games, tricks and curve-ball questions interviewers ask. I have also identified hundreds of things interviewers do to attempt to throw you off your interview game. I lay these out, and also lay out the strategies for handling these, in my forthcoming book, The Mental Game Of Interviewing, due to be published by Albert-Brownson Publishing in September 2017.

Your goal in the face of any unusual situation, quirky interviewer, hostile or stressful scenario, or downright mean-spirited attack is to remain calm, poised, self-possessed, grounded and professional at all times. The Master Rule of Mental Toughness is "Never let them see you sweat". Take everything in stride. Be cordial and even-tempered. Remain in control and control the clock. Don't take anything personally. Don't be defensive or attack back. You can tolerate anything for the short space of time in an interview, and later, when you are out of that situation, you can think more clearly and make a decision about what to do going forward. But while you are actually IN the interview, keep hope that perhaps this crazy, negative situation is a one-off, attributable to the oddball interviewer, and not to an institutional strategic plan.

The mental game of interviewing is all about having the proper motivation, energy, preparation, focus and determination to handle anything that can happen in an interview—and win. For over 40 years I've also been the mental game coach to world-class athletes at the national, international, professional and Olympic levels. I've coached my clients during two Olympic Games. I've taught them how to succeed in their minds before they succeed in reality. You can do the same in the interviewing Olympics.

Play The Interview Game Well

Interviewing is essentially like a game or a theatrical production. You are a player or an actor in that event. You must show excellent self-control and not be reactive to anything that happens in it. Instead, be responsive. Being responsive means you pause and take your time before acting or saying anything. In contrast, being reactive means you would instantly assume things not to be verifiably true, and instinctively lash out, say things you don't mean or act in other ways that are not in your best interest. You must always act in your own best interest. You have to take care of yourself and put your best foot forward at all times.

Mental Toughness Is Your Secret Weapon

Sometimes the concept of mental toughness is misunderstood. Mental toughness is not about appearing tough or rude or aggressive. It's not about being selfish or taking over the interview. It's not about having a big ego. It's really just about having strong mental armor that will withstand any onslaught the interviewer throws your way.

Many interviews are friendly, collegial and respectful. Some are not. Some interviews feel like interrogations. Others are a business-like back and forth discussion. Regardless of the format and tone of an interview, you want to get through it under control and to show the interviewer how much you have to offer them.

In a stress interview the core purpose is to test you, using the interview as a proving ground in an attempt to elicit the same responses there, as in the real job you may be offered. If you are going for a job in customer service and it has time pressures and emotional customers who are often upset, the company has every right to see how well you handle stress and pressure. Stress interviews are designed to "rattle your cage" and to keep you off-balance. The interviewer wants to see how well you perform under stress. Show them. Give them an academy award-winning performance.

Maybe the interviewer will try to "bait you" with leading questions. Maybe they'll try to get you to "go negative" by sharing something negative and asking you to reciprocate. Maybe the interviewer will have poor manners. Maybe the interviewer will ask inflammatory questions designed to anger you. Maybe the interviewer will act dismissively of you or be completely silent to make you uncomfortable. Maybe the interviewer will try to get you to say things you really don't mean. Whatever they are trying to do, you don't have to buy what they're selling. You can hold your ground and be your own person.

The Four Levels Of An Interview

An interview could potentially go to these four phases:

  1. The friendly and rapport-based phase. Most interviews begin this way, at least for a minute or two. Some interviewers skip this and get right to level two. Some interviewers stay with this style the entire time.

  2. The professional, collegial, business-like discussion and questions phase. This is the core style of most interviews. Here you simply answer questions that pertain to the job, or opening.

  3. The provocative and challenging phase. The interviewer probes, follows up, asks you to clarify, challenges your thinking, and they may disagree with you. This may be stressful, but the purpose of it may NOT be hostile, from the interviewer's perspective. They are just seeking more data.

  4. The "Pull the rug out from under the applicant", hostile, stress-based, rude, mean, disrespectful phase. Not all interviews even get to this level.

Innocent And Normal Types Of Questions

Some interviewees misinterpret innocent and normal questions as mean or hostile. If the interviewer asks you a probing question, a follow-up question, or asks for more details about an answer of yours, these are normal types of questions. Unless the tone of the interviewer is rude, these would not be considered hostile or stress type questions.

If the interviewer asks you to "explain your thought process" behind an answer, this is fair game. If they ask why you made a certain decision, that's all good. They have a right to know these things. What if they say, "Do you want to change your last answer?" Now THAT could be a trick, it could be real, it could be mean, or it could be simple curiosity. It could mean the interview has now gone up to the fourth level—hostile. Your response to such a question depends on the tone in which it was asked, but regardless, you want to remain poised and say something like, " Actually I like my answer, but it sounds like you might have a question in your mind. I'd be happy to answer anything you'd like to know. What can I tell you?, or "I like my answer, but I'm always open to learning something new. What did you have in mind?" These responses show you are in control, and you will gain valuable feedback on exactly what the interviewer meant. Then you can formulate a proper answer.

You want to be mentally strong and to remain poised in an interview, no matter what the interviewer throws at you. Now you have a good picture of how to do that. I wish you the best of luck and hope you win the mental game of interviewing.

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This is an excerpt from the forthcoming book, The Mental Game Of Interviewing, due to be published by Albert-Brownson Publishing in September 2017.

Copyright © 2011- Bill Cole, MS, MA. All rights reserved.


Bill Cole, MS, MA, a leading authority on peak performance, mental toughness and coaching, is founder and CEO of William B. Cole Consultants, a consulting firm that helps organizations and professionals achieve more success in business, life and sports. He is also the Founder and President of the International Mental Game Coaching Association (www.mentalgamecoaching.com), an organization dedicated to advancing the research, development, professionalism and growth of mental game coaching worldwide. He is a multiple Hall-Of-Fame honoree as an athlete, coach and school alumnus, an award-winning scholar-athlete, published book author and articles author, and has coached at the highest levels of major-league pro sports, big-time college athletics and corporate America. For a free, extensive article archive, or for questions and comments visit him at www.MentalGameCoach.com.

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