I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around it, but I’ve started the recruiting process for my first Real Job after I graduate. My first interview felt momentous, an entirely new experience. I currently have four jobs, so I’m no stranger to the hiring process, but most of the roles I’ve held so far have come from opportunities to work with people I already know — and, more importantly, who already know me.
I worked through my interview prep, anchored by an acronym to help structure interview responses: STAR. First, you want to establish the Situation (using only the relevant details!), describe the Task (your responsibilities), explain what Actions you took to address the goal, and finally relay the Result (bonus points if you connect the dots for how this comes to bear on the company you’re interviewing for!).
I’ve found a lot of comfort in having this framework to rely on for structuring my responses, but I still worried about the content of my responses — how do I get across who I am? How can I connect with these interviewers so that we can both understand each other and take the first steps to being genuinely known?
Creating an Edge:
I recently attended a talk in the Center for Positive Organization’s Positive Links speaker series. Laura Huang spoke about the implications of her findings from her book Edge: Turning Adversity into Advantage.
In my cognitive science classes, we often learn about all the ways that our brains take shortcuts, trying to cut down on the effort required to process and act on the massive amounts of information we are taking in at any given point. Being a part of an organization — or trying to become part of an organization — necessarily requires interacting with other people, usually lots of other people. Our brains often take shortcuts when it comes to appraising all of the people we meet, with Huang finding that the perceptions people have about others are about 50-60% based on stereotypes. That may seem dispiriting, but Huang reframes this statistic as an opportunity:
“That’s a lot, 50-60% based on those stereotypes. But there’s a huge 40-50% that have nothing to do with those stereotypes. When you can disentangle and understand what is underlying that for you uniquely, that’s part of where you can start to gain that unique edge and how you can actually take distinct actions that will help in your own unique way.”
Huang believes that we can each craft our unique edge by recognizing whatever disadvantages we may face, taking authentic action to address the perceptions of others, and empower ourselves in the process:
“Having an edge is about gaining an advantage, but it goes beyond just advantage. It’s about recognizing that others will have their own perceptions about us, right or wrong. When you recognize the power in those perceptions and learn to use them in your favor, you create an edge.”
Huang breaks down the concept into EDGE, offering me a new acronym to add to my interviewing frameworks:
- Enrich — First we need to be aware of the value we each uniquely bring so we can enrich the teams and organizations we’re a part of.
- Delight — When we can allow ourselves to be authentic and flexible, letting go of what we think people want from or expect of us, we can delight others, a positive sense of surprise that helps them see us for who we are.
- Guide — People are going to have perceptions about us, and if we can recognize what those are, we can take actions to guide them towards a truer sense of our best self.
- Effort — If we allocate our effort with an eye for enriching, delighting, and guiding, we enable our effort to be more efficient, so our hard work can work harder for us.
Huang’s work centers on the ability of each person to create their own edge as a way to circumvent and reclaim the adversity they face. This framework is a tool to help people take charge of their own experiences and gives people a sense of individual power that we can use as we as a society work towards systemic changes:
“When you are in the system, you need to take charge of your own outcomes. Yes, do what you can to change systems — advocate for better hiring practices, speak up for injustice, and educate others about the reality of bias. But we can’t just wait for people to make fair decisions on our behalf, make the right decisions about our future, or do things the ideal way. Creating an edge enables you to succeed within an imperfect system.”
With positive practices and DEI initiatives, we are working towards a better future for work, but we will never reach an ideal. Organizations are made up of people, and people are imperfect. But when we recognize the value we each uniquely bring and how to best communicate that to others, we are making good use of our edge.
Alicia Haun is a content marketing intern at Riverbank Consulting Group. Alicia is a senior at the University of Michigan, where she also works with the Center for Positive Organizations at the Ross School of Business. Alicia is passionate about the field of positive organizational psychology and looks forward to helping work become a place of flourishing.