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Being “Assertive” in Job Interviews

image I received a note from someone that said:

“I was told I was not assertive enough in an interview I just had.  How do you do that?”

Good question, and one that I think affects a number of job seekers. How do you express assertiveness without being over-bearing or offensive? And what does being “assertive” really mean?

One nice result of this encounter, is that the employer gave an honest critique that most people are not likely to give. It gives you a chance to do something about it for the next time around.

Here are some things to consider…

Being assertive does not mean being aggressive. It does, however, mean that you can tactfully and effectively get your point across without allowing others to take you completely off course.

When someone is told they were not assertive enough, it can be for a number of reasons, like:

  • Sounding unsure of yourself when answering questions
  • Creating an impression of being afraid to ask questions
  • Mumbling or being too quiet
  • Qualifying too many answers (i.e. “I think maybe this, but can go along with that”)
  • Showing a lack of confidence in achievements and abilities
  • Being overly agreeable to everything said by the interviewer
  • Taking too long of pauses to think of answers before responding to questions
  • Trailing off when speaking sentences instead of clearly completing a thought
  • Not having examples of taking initiative in previous jobs
  • Creating an impression of someone that waits to be told what to do

Any of these things and more can leave the interviewer with the idea that you are not assertive enough. So how do you overcome that?

Be prepared! Knowing what you will say to various questions and having specific stories of your previous accomplishments will help you express yourself with confidence when asked. Practice will make you more assured as you go. A saying in sports goes: “An amateur practices until they get it right. A professional practices until they can’t get it wrong!” Be a professional and be the best prepared candidate they are likely to interview.

Express your honest opinions… judiciously! Certainly a job interview is not the place to express opinions about politics. However, if a job related question arises where you may have constructive input, it can enhance your credibility to share it in a tactful way. This must be handled well, however, if you consistently shy away from giving your opinion when asked, it certainly will create a negative impression.

Smile! …not constantly, or at obviously inappropriate times in a conversation. However, if you are overly serious throughout the interview it tends to express uneasiness or a lack of interest. A sincere smile can do much to warm up a business relationship and to show confidence.

Don’t try to be all things to all people. It’s OK, and usually adds to your credibility to admit you don’t know something or don’t have much experience in a certain area. When someone says they can do everything, no matter what they are asked about, it either seems like the person is “blowing smoke”, or that they’re too afraid to show any weakness at all… which, ironically, is an indications of a LACK of assertiveness. A confident, assertive person will be straight forward about what they can and can not do.

Don’t be intimidated. One trait employers look for is the ability of an individual to communicate effectively with all levels in an organization. If someone clams up, or becomes very tentative in their responses when speaking with more senior leaders in a company, it certainly creates communication problems. Realizing that people are people, at every level of a company, may help you speak with confidence when asked. Respect and professionalism are important, however, being self-assured when speaking with anyone is a positive attribute.

For someone that may naturally have a more introverted personality, it may be somewhat outside of their comfort zone to exude assertiveness. However, preparation, practice, and confidence in your own skin can help present you in the best light.


Thomas said...

I found this article to be excellent and it offers clear advice in presenting yourself in an interview. I teach a class on communication and presentation skills for job seekers. I'll offer these insights to future classes.

I tell my clients to smile and so many feel self conscious about smiling. Smiling helps the other person relax and makes you look more confident. As Harry Urschel states a "genuine" smile can do much.

Thanks again for sharing this wisdom.

Anonymous said...

Great information! I’ve been looking for something like this for a while now. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Great subject to address, Harry! I think another concern that hiring managers may have re: non-assertive candidates is how the candidate may represent the organization to others as an employee.

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