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teach a pig to sing

I sat down in a session with Mary Jane Mapes, author of You Can Teach a Pig to Sing, at the annual SHRM conference in Chicago. While her talk was on building better relationships with those around you, there was much of her advice and tips that can be readily applied to the interview experience.

It doesn’t matter if you’re the interviewer or the interviewee, there are days when you go into an interview and you sit across from someone you can already tell is going to be difficult. Whether it’s their pursed lips and folded arms, their incessant foot tapping, or even after lunch tuna breathe, there are things that automatically and instinctively annoy us, agitate us, or unnerve us.

As Mary puts it, you’re faced with a P-I-G. What’s a PIG?  A ‘Particularly Irritating Guy,’ a ‘Pesky Incessant Griper,’ a ‘Purely Imposing Gossip’…pick your poison; we’ve all got our own PIGS in our lives.  And guess what?  It’s highly likely that you’re someone else’s PIG.

But, that doesn’t mean that the other person, the PIG, is a bad person or that we can’t see the best in them.  Sometimes the difficult people are actually the ones we need on our team to make it the best it can be.  So how do you make the most of a job interview when faced with a PIG?

Here are my key takeaways from Mary’s talk:

You find what you focus on. We often pre-program ourselves into the ‘it’s not us, it’s them’ mentality.  It’s always everyone else that needs to change and everyone else that has the problem.  Sometimes it is our own mindset that sabotages us in the interview, no matter which side of the table we’re sitting on.

Instead of creating a positive environment, we become reactive to the negative aspects we’re focused on.  If we’re focused on find things wrong with a candidate or a job, that’s all we’re going to see.  If we instead flip the focus and decide that everything and everyone is wonderful, we’re going to focus our findings on the outstanding nature of the opportunity presented.

You’re the only person you can’t ignore. Let’s face it, as much as we’d like to change others, we simply can’t.  The only person we can change is ourselves and we’re the only voice we can’t ignore.  To paraphrase a famous saying, success or failure is not determined through knowledge or skill but through the ability to understand and manage our self.

We have to take time to listen to our internal voices and know what they’re saying.  Maybe we’re focused on the negative because we’re really having a bad day, had a flat tire on the way to a job interview, or the recruitment manager just yelled at us.  The point is, we unknowingly listen to our internal voice and act accordingly.

You can’t transform relationships until you reform your thinking. It’s great to know all these things, but how do we change our thinking and build better relationships with the stranger across the table?  It starts the same way any new habit does, with practice.

You have to practice your 3 V’s: Visual, Vocal, Verbal.  To change your outcomes start with writing down and reviewing the words you would use in the situation at hand to get the outcome you want—this is the visual.  Then say these words out loud, perhaps in a mirror—the vocal: you have to begin to hear what it sounds like.  Then comes practicing persistently and consistently to verbalize these in action.

It might sound like work, but after awhile it will no longer take practice to get to the relationship building outcomes you want in the interview because your practice will have become habit.  When you see that you are in control (and not the P-I-G) you can change each situation.  And, instead of locking people into behaviors you want to avoid, you will be celebrating and singing the behaviors and interactions that lead to discovering the right opportunities ahead.

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