Pressure: Grace

Stammer/stutter“Courage is grace under pressure” is a famous quotation by Ernest Hemingway. Tell us about a personal moment of your grace under pressure.

While I am quite happy to write about aspects of my life or what I really think in bite-size pieces on this blog, I am not so comfortable with doing the same thing on a face-to-face level. There is no supposing why this is, I know that it is simply preferable to have the time to think, to write, to review, and revise before presenting my pearls of wisdom to the world.  Part of this is due to a life-long struggle with stammering – most of the time I have it under control, but there are times when I either frantically spew a geyser of dialogue before the dreaded tongue-freeze sets in, deliver what I have to say in a staccato monotone, deliver a speech reminiscent of Yoda, or just mutely stare, unable to produce a syllable.

So when it came to applying for a new position within the organisation I worked for, I very nearly died a death. Not only would I have to attend an interview before a panel, the panel consisted of people I see every day.  I knew I was right for the post, I had the relevant background and experience, the appropriate skills and most of all, I was really interested in the area of business. I slaved over my cv and the application letter, tailoring both to match the job description.  and   Everything was in place and all I had to do was spend a short time selling myself to the panel. One of the things that made it so hard was that I knew each and every one of the interview panel. No matter how impartial they tried to be, they all knew me too, so unlike a candidate who was not a member of the organisation already, they were human beings and could not have helped having some kind of opinion about me before I entered the room.

You may be surprised to know that I did not spend a lot of time preparing for the interview. Knowing myself, I was aware that the more I thought about it, fear would grow and I could render myself incoherent. What I did was to go back in my head to other interviews, and to a prep course that I had taken many years ago before I embarked on my working life.  There are techniques to keep yourself calm in an interview that might help you to know. For instance, posture and bearing.  Don’t take a series of deep breaths before you start, that can actually result in becoming breathless. Instead, take one good deep breath, then make sure to breath in a regular way, in through your nose and out from your mouth. Come into the room with your head up. Look quickly at each face and smile.  When you sit down, first make sure you can feel the seat against the back of your legs – that way, when you sit, you will immediately be in the right position to remain comfortable while sitting up straight – try it, it really works. Don’t clasp your hands, they might get all sweaty.  When one person directs a question to you, don’t hold that person in a stare while you answer, lean back a little, occasionally glance at the other panel members while you are speaking, to include them in the conversation.  Listen to the questions and put them into the context of the job description.  So that’s what I practised with a very supportive colleague on the day before. I also repeated key phrases from the job description over and over again until I was so familiar with them I didn’t stumble when I spoke .

The bottom line for me was that I wanted this job and if I didn’t try, it wasn’t going to land in my lap. The interview was at worst a necessary evil, at best a step towards getting what I wanted.  On the day I told myself I had done all I could do, and whatever happened, it would be over in an hour or less, and the world would still be turning, regardless of the outcome.  Happily, I succeeded, and thankfully, I still enjoy that post to this day, so there are no worries about another interview in the near future.

Under Pressure – Queen – NaBloPoMo January 2014

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