Don’t Choke On That Big Opportunity


In my mid-twenties, I had the opportunity to interview for my ideal job with a young cable sports network. The main function of the position was to develop marketing programs with advertisers to activate their sponsorships with college sports properties. Not only was I a huge college sports fan, but I was also a marketer with extensive media experience. It was the perfect match! And, I really, really wanted the job.

I had plenty of time to prepare, so I learned all about the network and their relationship with college sports. I created a thorough list of the programs that I had noticed airing on that network as well as its competitors. I described the positives and negatives of each. I also wrote down a few ideas of my own in order to show the interviewers my initiative, creativity and understanding of the requirements of the position. I was well prepared.

On the day of the interview I met directly with the hiring manager. There were no other interviews scheduled. It should be mentioned that my job at the time was a dead end. In order to move up, I needed to move out. The job for which I was interviewing combined my interests (sports) and experience (broadcast media), plus it offered a clear pathway to advancement at a respected company.

I really wanted this job and I felt the pressure the minute I walked into the building. I began sweating profusely and my hands started to shake. My mouth was so dry that my voice sounded hoarse. I stepped into the restroom to regroup. My stress response was off the charts. I needed to calm down, but I couldn’t and that added to my nervousness.

I checked in at the front desk and my name was called in what seemed like hours later. The interviewer was a serious man. He was tall and athletic and dressed very well. We exchanged a few pleasantries, but it was obvious he wasn’t interested in building rapport. He was simply collecting information. The small talk didn’t last very long.

His first interview question was really a command: “Name all of the ACC schools.”

I froze. I couldn’t think of any ACC schools. Not one. As a point of context, we were literally down the street from the Georgia Tech campus—an ACC school. I had been to countless football, basketball and baseball games there, but I could not make the connection. I began to panic. My mind went completely blank.

“We cover the ACC. How can I hire someone who can’t even name the ACC schools? That is the minimum requirement of this job,” he said. And just like that the interview was over. Opportunity lost.

I choked. I blew it. I let the moment get too big in my head.

On my way down the elevator I began listing ACC schools: “Ah! Georgia Tech… Duke, North Carolina, Wake Forest, Maryland…. Dammit!”

As I’ve mentioned before, the classic interview is the worst approach to determine the fit and competency of a job candidate. I have found little correlation between people who are good at interviewing and people who are actually good at their jobs. They are two different skill sets.

The problem is we need to nail the interview in order to get the job.

There is a mountain of evidence that supports the fact that interviewers make snap judgments about interviewees the second they lay eyes on them. Then they ask leading questions or listen for answers that support that first impression. That’s how we are wired. So, not only will you need to get over your own nervousness and physical stress response to the situation, but also you will need to overcome the biases of your interviewer. That is a lot to ask in a high-pressure situation.

The question is, will the pressure help you elevate your game or will you choke like I did?

High-pressure situations are not going away. You will encounter big interviews, important presentations and game-changing sales pitches. That’s where the big opportunities lie. You not only want those opportunities, you want to win them.

Dr. Jeannine Jannot and I developed a 3-part, best-self workshop series to teach you the tools and techniques to bring out your best self in high-pressure situations. Don’t miss out on those big opportunities. Embrace the pressure and win the moment. Click here for a link to our Best Self workshop series.

Today is a great day to be your best self!

Quick tip: don’t try to calm down in big situations. It doesn’t work. It only makes you more self-conscious about your stress response. Instead, harness that energy to bring about your best self.

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