How to deal with toxic self-talk after an interview or presentation

The interview process is one of the many doors that can lead to living in your purpose, connecting with those who you are meant to help, and curating your dream life.

However, over the years, I’ve noticed that even the most successful, experienced and qualified leaders can inadvertently close those doors of possibility.

The good news: there are strategies that help prevent you from undermining yourself – in interviews, and also when making proposals, sharing your ideas, or anytime you bravely step into vulnerability.

Think about a recent interview, meeting or presentation.  It goes well.  You have a good feeling about it!

Then, perhaps a few hours later when you’re replaying the conversation, or a week later when you haven’t heard anything, your brain kicks in and you begin thinking of all the things you should have said. Or not said.

You begin doubting yourself – second-guessing yourself.

It’s normal, it’s destructive, and it becomes a self-made barrier to what you’re seeking.

What you think, and what you assume – about yourself or those you were speaking with – sets off a chain of re-actions for what you choose to do next.

The problem is, your thoughts may have no basis in reality.

The story you create in your head is often incorrect – or at least parts of it are.  Your assumptions, your “baggage” from the past, or even industry standards and expert advice can cause you to be triggered by, or misread body language, glances between others in the room, tone of voice, questions, and silence.

And thus, the resulting actions you take next may be off-track, confusing or unsettling to others, inappropriate, and can cause others to re-think the way they view you.

For example, the following statements were all said to me during searches – and, in all cases – their assessment & assumptions were not true!:

  • I could tell by their questions/body language they didn’t think I had the right qualifications…
  • I’m sure they’re looking for someone younger/smarter/more experienced/more fill-in-the-blank than I am…
  • It’s been two weeks and they haven’t contacted me. Clearly, they’re not interested…
  • I froze when they asked me about x – I was so nervous, and my response was terrible…
  • They want someone who will play all their political games, and that’s not me… 

Your resulting RE-actions, based upon your thoughts and assumptions, may be a desire to follow-up in some way; to clarify what you said or meant to say, re-state your value and experience, or even to withdraw.

It’s tricky, because there’s nothing wrong with following-up and clarifying your points. We’re all human. Nerves and other factors can create situations where we’re not fully present.  One of my clients recently shared that when they were hiring an Executive Director, the candidate answered a question in a way that caused great concern for the committee interviewing.  The candidate read the room correctly, followed up with an email that re-stated what she had meant to convey, and ended up being hired.

Even when there’s nothing to “clarify or correct,” a follow-up/thank you where you re-state your key message points can be helpful.

The caveat: you must have a good mindset about yourself; with an intention to share and summarize – not sell, defend or convince.

When the action you choose to take comes from a negative (and often incorrect) assumption about what the other person is feeling/thinking, it can be the difference between success and failure.  I’ve seen people who were being considered as finalists, self-destruct with follow-up emails or conversations that appear desperate, weak, more entry-level than executive, and reveal an insecurity that is… not appealing.   (This dynamic also has relevance when negotiating your fees – as my husband always advises: don’t negotiate against yourself – learn what the other party is offering.)

See if any of these sound familiar:

  • I’d like to re-iterate my strengths… [In this context, the word “strengths” often appears like you’re selling. Instead, restate the kinds of problems you solve, the impact you have, how you go about helping others. Let the interviewer think: “I think this candidate could help us solve our big challenge and would be perfect for us!”]
  • I hope you believe like I do, that I’d be a great person to have in the role… [This is an empty statement, it adds nothing. Convey your impact. They will determine whether you can provide what they need.]
  • I know I’d do a great job… [as above]
  • This would be a great opportunity for me… [as above]
  • You seemed to be confused [assumption] by my reply to x question, so I wanted to clarify…
  • I assume by your lack of response that I am no longer in the running…  [Yup. I’ve actually seen leaders who were about to be contacted with good news, write a “snippy” email to a recruiter saying this.]

Instead, when you’re in the throws of an interview or any other important process, use The Four P’s Method I teach my clients. This process helps differentiate yourself, stay in your power, and not get derailed or head into an emotional tailspin:

  1.       Prepare. If you’re applying for a job or making a proposal, most likely you know that you can do it. You’ve weathered storms, suffered heartache, encountered setbacks, and each and every time you’ve found a way to inspire and lead your team to new heights and goals.  In hindsight, you have an exciting and strategic trajectory of impact in your career and life. (That’s a fact, by the way.)

The doubt or insecurity you feel, comes when you think about whether others think you are qualified.

So, Stop It!

Your job is to facilitate a transfer of knowledge; to help your interviewer(s) understand the challenges you’ve faced, how you addressed them, and how you came out the other side. Problems and challenges are a part of any successful business.  Job transitions and continued learning are a part of every career. Share how you help those around you, in the unique way that you do, so that others can envision how and why working with you is exactly what they need.  When you help to elevate the discussion from solely checking off boxes of skills, experience and metrics, to conversations of impact and insights, you enroll and engage others. You paint a picture of your value and what it’s like to work with you.

Here’s something I tell every single client preparing for an interview: “Shift your thinking: You have nothing to prove, and lots to share.”

  1.       Practice. Anticipate the questions you are likely to be asked and practice your responses. And, just as importantly, practice painting the picture of yourself no matter what questions they ask. During your preparation, work to reveal your unique impact and context that cannot be gleaned from your resume.  [I teach a process to reveal and create your elevated messaging and positioning statements, in The Career (Life!) Breakthrough Academy.]   [and here’s a link to some blogs that can also help.]
  2.   Post-mortem. As soon after the interview as possible, talk through the experience with someone you trust.  It’s important to prevent any negative thoughts from gaining traction.
  • How do you feel right now, and why? (not: “How do you think you did?”)
  • What were the “sound-bites” about your impact, true value, and uniqueness that you conveyed?
  • When did you feel connection in the room? To whom? What made you feel that way?
  • Were there any times you felt less connected? To whom? What made you feel that way?
  • Is there any follow-up action needed? **Caution: before proceeding you must analyze the assumptions you are making – about yourself and others.  How do you really know that your assumptions are true? (p.s. – you don’t!)
  1.       Proceed. Here’s the hard part:  keep moving forward. In some cases, there will be a good reason to do some follow-up positioning.  In most cases, however, if you’ve Prepared, Practiced and done the Post-mortem, it’s time to trust and Proceed. Don’t wait for the phone to ring.  Don’t put big decisions on hold. Don’t start to second-guess your performance. Don’t go into your “downward spiral” thinking, as Benjamin Zander describes in The Art of Possibility.

Here’s my premise (well, it’s a fact):

Your true value – how you help others, how you make them feel, how you create/build/manage/collaborate – is already present in you.  So, while you are looking for the next right “vehicle” to help you live in your purpose (a job, role, business, project, etc), and create your dream career/life, know that you have a responsibility to have your impact – whether you help one person today, or thousands.

So keep moving! Keep making the day-to-day choices you need to create your own momentum, open doors, and connect with the people and organizations you are meant to help. Test and overcome those self-sabotaging thoughts and assumptions.

And, watch as new opportunities begin to appear!

To your success,


P.S. – I love hearing from you. How do YOU keep from making assumptions and second-guessing yourself? COMMENT below:

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