Friday, October 03, 2014

Fake it until you make it

As people we are riddled with self-doubt. Constantly questioning our abilities and worrying over how we are perceived. There are exceptions to this rule, but sadly I am not one of them. I am fully aware of my limitations. I have faults, bad habits and I am far from perfect.

So when asked to walk into an office full of experienced editors and prove myself, to attend a one on one meeting with a Dame or sell myself in an interview – I find that I am overcome with panic.

PART 1: Walking like Beyonce

I spent two weeks of my summer working alongside the editorial team for a marketing and communications company in London. I was introduced to both the marketing and publishing side of the business in order to gain as much experience as I could. Being the new kid will always be daunting, having to introduce yourself to everyone at once, trying your hardest, and failing, to remember everybody’s name. Being actively engaged without pestering and finding the right balance between being helpful without getting in the way. 

On my first day I did what I am usually guilty of and built the whole scenario up in my head. I worried about trivial things like sweaty hands, a croaky voice and inappropriate clothing. I played out every situation from nobody speaking to me, to not being intelligent enough to understand the task I’ve been asked to complete. The elevator ride to the third floor felt like an hour and when it came time to walk into my new office for the first time, I could feel my legs about to give way. 

Within seconds my posture was upright, my face beamed a smile and I shook my first hand with firm confidence. “Hi, I’m Hollie” I echoed, “It’s nice to meet you”. Nobody would have guessed that seconds before I was having a nervous break down in the elevator. 

PART 2: Talking like Beyonce

I faced further challenges throughout my placement. One of my tasks was to phone a number of architectural companies and ask them if they had work to send us - it was free exposure so an easy sell. I spent all afternoon researching the companies I would be calling and the people I would be speaking to and saved the phone calls for the next day. 

The following morning however, I found myself continuously putting it off – the longer I waited the worse it got. I have spoken on the phone to many people before and even have the phrase ‘excellent telephone manner’ on my CV, but ringing companies I knew nothing about and a subject I had no knowledge of was unnerving. Eventually I wrote a brief script outlining exactly what I wanted to get across and bit the bullet. After one small dilemma of forgetting my own name, the whole task became much easier and I rang the rest of my contacts without hesitation – and mostly without my script. 

PART 3: Acting like Beyonce

My meeting with Dame Helen was arranged prior to me starting my placement. As my mother’s old boss (by old I mean over thirty years ago), I wrote her a letter with no expectation that it would progress further. Helen not only agreed to meet with me, she also asked around to find me a placement. The day before our meeting I began writing questions. I wanted to know everything – from what she studied at university to what life was like at the Economist. Her career is certainly one to be admired and during my journey up to the 8th floor, I was feeling slightly anxious. I kept reminding myself that Dame’s were people too, they sang along to the radio out of tune, they danced around their office when nobody was looking and got food stuck in their teeth. Strangely, these thoughts calmed me somehow. I still worried that I would say something silly or speak in another language (even though I am nowhere near to becoming bilingual). 

As I walked into her beautiful, immensely neat and well-arranged office with an incredible view over the city of London, I saw a smartly dressed woman beam a warm and welcoming smile in my direction. Within seconds, I was completely at ease. I breathed a sigh of relief and comfortably introduced myself (this time remembering my name). Helen broke the ice by chatting about my family and university before giving me the opportunity to bombard her with questions like a hungry journalist. 

It was an incredible opportunity to meet such an inspirational woman and has motivated me beyond belief to work toward my aspirations. 

PART 4: Believing you’re Beyonce

My final day was spent with two incredible ladies, who kindly agreed to help ‘fake interview’ me. I planned some answers to typical interview questions, which we went through together, before they asked me other questions they’ve been asked previously. They gave me many tips and told me how interviews are structured and what interviewers are generally looking for. This afternoon was certainly more informative than all the hours spent in the careers office. 

I myself have never been for an interview before so this was indeed an eye opener of what the process entailed. My biggest challenge was selling myself. Among friends, family and even strangers, we are taught modesty and composure. Most people have experienced being present when your mother is bragging about your achievements to a family friend – the overwhelming sense of embarrassment as you momentarily lose your cool. Interviews thus are a very strange concept. Modesty is thrust out of the window and you are beckoned to do your own bragging. You must sell yourself as well as the guy at the fruit market selling packs of bananas. This takes an enormous amount of confidence and if, like me, you are sometimes lacking that quality, then you are left with one alternative… fake it. 

Write a list of reasons why you excel, in the circumstance of an interview it would be reasons why you would be great for the job. If you are not yet ready to head to the interview room, then post-it notes around your mirror stating achievements you are proud of and qualities about yourself that you admire would be a good place to start. 

Confidence comes with practice and experience; the better you are at something the more likely you are to tell other people about it. Until that day arrives however, I guess we will just have to pretend.


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