By Rebecca Baumeister, Youth Leader and Organizer, Germany
How our digital Erasmus+ project helped participants discover their talents and boost their confidence in job interviews.
“So where do you see yourself in 5 years?” – “What are your biggest strengths?” – “What are your biggest weaknesses?” – “Why would you like to work at this company?” Chances are, if you’ve ever applied for a job, these are the kinds of questions you were asked during your job interview – the ones that make your palms sweat and your mind race. The ones you’ve read endless articles about in preparation.
But why is it that job interviews are so challenging and stressful for most of us? In our interpretation of current research, it is because they require two skills: knowing yourself and being confident enough to present yourself well.
Basically, it is like being under a psychological microscope.
The root cause of our discomfort in job interviews is this: Most of us go through life without being prepared for the kinds of questions we get asked. We spend our school years focused on gaining knowledge, acutely aware of the subjects we struggle with – but often unaware of the areas of life we naturally thrive in. For example, a student might find solving math problems extremely difficult and be given extra tutoring to get them through high school. At the same time, that same student might be extremely socially aware and great at solving conflicts in his peer group, but never be praised for it. This can be detrimental for self-confidence and also hinder students in discovering what they are passionate about and good at. Both are highly important predictors for student success in higher education.
Today, many schools and universities are starting to adopt a new approach: strengths-based education. In this approach, students become aware of their unique skills and strengths from an early age (e.g. through testing and awareness exercises) and learn how to use and foster them. This boosts the students’ confidence and they learn how to build on them and even use them to help overcome their weaknesses. By the time they leave high school or university, they are well- equipped for the dreaded job interview questions.
In our Erasmus+ project “Activate your strengths through art”, we aim to help young adults get to know their strengths so they can feel more confident in the job market. In the first project week, our participants focused on getting to know their unique skills and create new self-awareness and self-confidence. In the second project week, our participants learned about the current state of the job market, how it might develop in the future and how we as young people can prepare for it. In the third part of the project, we will look at the methods of strengths-based education in more detail to help our participants create confidence-boosting learning environments of their own.
The great thing is, many of the exercises of strengths-based education are easy to do at home by yourself!
Here are 5 ways we helped our participants get to know themselves and boost their confidence in our digital Erasmus+ project:
1) Get to know yourself!
One of the best ways to do this is by starting a journal and writing out your answers to specific
questions about yourself. Here are some examples: What are my favorite activities? When do I feel most inspired? What do I really like about my character? When was the last time I felt proud of myself and why? Who are my biggest heroes and why? What does success mean for me? Answering questions like this will help you get to know yourself. You will find out what is important to you and what brings you joy, satisfaction, and motivation in life. A great building block for success!
2) Make a vision board
You can dream as big or small as you like for this one – all you need to do is get inspired and get creative! You can make vision boards for your personal development, for your career plan, fitness goals, the kind of life you want to live ... the sky is the limit! Start by choosing your topic and your time frame (e.g. my career goals for the next six months) and find pictures, quotes, and drawings that represent how you would like to feel, look and act in the next six months. If your work is stressful and hectic at the moment, your vision board might include calming colours, organisation and reminders to take care of your mental health. If you would like to change jobs, you might find some visual representations for the kind of role you want to work in your new job and find quotes that inspire you to make a change.
3) Take a strengths test & reflect on the results
There are many free psychological tests available to find out more about your character strengths. One of the most well-known is the VIA Strengths Finder test and it is widely used at universities, schools, and jobs all around the world. You can find out your biggest strengths according to the results – but what is even more important is the reflection you do with your results. Look at each of your top strengths and try and find examples of why these are your top strengths and how you can use them. E.g. if one of your top strengths is “appreciation of beauty”, it may show in your life by giving other people compliments about their clothing or graphic design on a project, as well as having a keen eye for aesthetics. These two examples can benefit you immensely in your career: one can help you build bonds with co-workers and friends and make you well-suited to leadership positions as praising your staff’s achievements will come naturally to you. The other aspect can make you suited to career paths that involve aesthetics e.g. architecture, clothing design, or art.
4) Draw a Resources Tree
The question behind this exercise is: What gives you energy when you are down? What boosts your mental health? We all experience stressful and challenging times in our lives and it is essential to know who and what you can rely on to give you energy and help you through. This can be people, activities, entertainment, meditation, exercise, etc. Draw the most beautiful tree you can imagine and write down your resources that give you energy at the roots. Some examples from our participants were: singing, playing with the dog, going running, making a photo album of happy memories, laughing with friends, gardening etc.
5) Practice job interview situations
With a friend, colleague of fellow student, you can practice job interview situations! One of you plays the interviewer and the other the applicant. Ask each other questions in varying degrees of difficulty and later give each other feedback on how you came across. Pro tip: ask a third party to come along and help by observing and giving even more feedback!