Who are you? Understanding the importance of self-awareness in interviewing in applied sports science
Previous blogs in this series
“I think self awareness is probably the most important thing towards being a champion.”
Billie Jean King
An increasing trend in interviews is for the interviewers to ask some questions about you. There are no right of wrong answers here, you have to be your genuine self, because otherwise you will look like a shifty-fraudy-blagger. We are now back into tightrope walking territory – be yourself (my experience tells me that most folk are), but with some decent boundaries. For example, a common ‘personal’ question is, “What are your weaknesses?” An annoyingly common response is to hear something like, “I am just too motivated, I just love it too much and I am ambitious, it is a terribly woesome burden on my soul”. This type of response is akin to hearing, “I think I am a too beautiful, I think my good looks intimidate people” (cue deep frowning and “Give me a proper weakness please” follow ups).
This type of question explores two main areas.
· Are you self-aware?
· As a line manager, what sort of person do I have in front of me and therefore, what do I need to keep an eye on and support you with?
Who are you? Understanding the importance of self-awareness in interviewing in applied sports science
Now, I’m no psychologist, so don’t get your hopes up (generally on this blog or if you ever meet me too) for some perceptive insight into the inner workings of the human brain or interactions of human behaviour. (With my disclaimer out of the way, I will launch straight into some psyche-based wild sweeping statements, wee-hee). Self-awareness is the bedrock of high-performing people. Before you can take people with you, before you can influence, before you can form strong, meaningful and trusting relationships, you must know where you stand. What is your style? How do you come across? What are you like on a bad day? What are you like when your strengths are overplayed?
A slight variant of the ‘weakness’ question, is “What are your weaknesses and how do manage them?” I am not in favour of this secondary query. The reason being is that I would like to see if they have developed this aspect of maturity. To the above, a line manager is considerably assured when a candidate can show, explain and articulate how they are managing themselves. For example;
“One weakness that I am aware of is at times being a little blinkered. This comes to the fore when I am under a bit of pressure and at times I haven’t engaged with other team members enough and I have ploughed on regardless without them on-board. I am actively working on this area. When I go on training camps with my sport, I have asked the physio to cite me if I go to ground or don’t engage enough. This seems to be helping.”
Now you have showed me that you are self aware, you are reflective and self deferent enough to be working on it and I now have a better idea of how I can work with you. Nice. My spidy-senses would get pricked up if a candidate; a) spoke about themselves in the third person (though who doesn’t enjoy listening to such extraordinary ostentaciousness); or b) spoke around the topic, acknowledging the importance of self-awareness, but couldn’t give examples of how they have adapted and learnt.
Other angles of enquiry about you, that you could expect;
· Give me an example of how you have supported another practitioner?
(Exploring your team working, empathy to others, commitment to interdisciplinary team working)
· What makes you frustrated?
(A variant on the weakness and another one for the line manager’s hit list for working with you, but this shines a light on how you like to work)
· What would others say about you?
(Another variant on self-awareness, I would suggest giving a good and bad side)
There are a plethora of alternatives and angles, they should all explore elements of your character and will be viewed through one crucial questioning lens – ‘can I trust this person?’ One cunning tack – is the impossible question. These tend to border on the moral ethical topics and arguments, but could equally be discipline specific, and will involve the interviewer playing the devil’s advocate to whatever point you make, no matter how well you make it. Importantly, these are not traps laid to be a sneaky-trickster, they serve a crucial purpose, but first some examples;
· What is the difference between sophisticated sports science support and performance enhancing drugs (ooh controversial)?
· Why should society invest in high performance sport when 50% of the world’s population don’t have enough to eat? (a monumental and existential question).
· Should a sport be in the Olympics if it isn’t the pinnacle of achievement in that sport? (an esoteric but important question to the aspiring non-Olympic sports)
· How would you contribute to culture change in a sport? (a very complex one, where do you start, behavioural, strategy vision, living the values day-to-day?)
The purpose of these questions is to assess your ability to outline the merits of an argument, establish a view and then crucially how you handle being presented with an opposing view. This would test whether you stay calm under a dash of duress, ideally be able to acknowledge the merits of the opposing view but ultimately to test whether you crumble, hold or press harder. As previously discussed in this blog, the interview is designed to explore your competence for the job role, and here it is the ability to ‘hold the middle ground’ and ‘influence others’. If the role/sport/environment you are applying for is likely to encounter such debating and compromising skills and tendencies, then you could expect such a line of questioning.
We are nearing the end of the interview now. You will typically be asked if you have any questions yourself (job role details, location, typical working day, possibility of fractional role; requirements of successful candidate, professional development; working conditions; chances for progression = Yes: Starting salary, desk, IT, Christmas party details = No, this isn’t the time).
You may well at some point towards the end get asked the tried and tested, trusty old chestnut, “Why do you want this job?” This is a golden opportunity and you should be ready (unlike these smashers that have been unleashed on me, “because I could do with a change” or “it just seemed, er I don’t know, quite good”). I would suggest an impassioned case. You should summarise the case for your abilities, your knowledge and your wherewithal to excel in this role, in so doing outline your interest, motivation and ambitions. You should do this, because if this is your ambition, then this could be the deciding moment when someone takes a leap of faith and chances their company’s money, their time, their opportunity and their reputation to invest in you. This could be when you get that break, this could be the moment your career goes in the direction you want it to, this could be the first step in a long road of helping athletes reach their peak and hopefully succeed. And that is a cool career and that is why you should always prepare for interviews – your life’s work can depend on it.
A final word. In this blog series I have tried to cover the main areas you are likely to encounter in the interview process and in so doing highlight some of the areas candidates can trip themselves up, get their knickers in a twist or simply let themselves down, but equally excel. In an attempt to highlight the key areas, there are many areas I haven’t covered. These include assessing suitability for more senior roles, involving management, leadership philosophies, interconnections and depth of knowledge (my second favourite interview question is on this), prioritising and higher level influencing to name a few… Really, interviewing is a skill that takes practice, not to become something you are not, but to allow you to get the most out of yourself. Therefore, you should prepare and you should practice. Rather than apply for loads of jobs just for training, enrol in an interview class, or engage in some role-play with some thesps’, you could simply rehearse, engage in reflective practice, keep your own notes on scenarios you could get asked about. So interviewing is no different to many aspects of life, it just feels shrouded in mystery and is so absolute with winner and runner-ups that few rarely want to discuss it openly. It needs work.

About steveingham

Dr Steve Ingham is one of the UK’s leading figures in sport and one of the world’s leading performance scientists. He is steeped in high performance and has been integral to the development of Britain into an Olympic superpower. He has provided support to over 1000 athletes, of which over 200 have achieved World or Olympic medal success, including some of the world’s greatest athletes such as Jessica Ennis-Hill, Sir Steve Redgrave and Sir Matthew Pinsent. Steve has coached Kelly Sotherton's running for heptathlon and to 4x400m Olympic medal winning success. Steve has worked at the English Sports Council British Olympic Association, English Institute of Sport, where Steve was the Director of Science and Technical Development, leading a team of 200 scientists in support of Team GB and Paralympics GB. Ingham holds a BSc, PhD and is a Fellow of the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences. Steve is author of the best selling ‘How to Support a Champion: The art of applying science to the elite athlete’, discussing and inspiring the importance of learning and adapting to reach our maximum potential. Steve established Supporting Champions with the ambition of helping ambitious people to find a better way of creating high-performance. Steve hosts the Supporting Champions Podcast on sharing his pursuit of understanding and exploration in performance.

Leave a Comment