During my 10 years at Google as a VP, there were weeks where I spent up to 40 hours conducting interviews. So to make things easier, I always had one skill that I particularly looked for in candidates: self-awareness.
Sure, your experience and skills are important, but they can be learned. And when someone is highly self-aware, they are more motivated to learn because they are honest about what they need to work on. They also get along better with their colleagues and supervisors.
What’s more, it’s a rare trait: research shows that while 95% of people think they are self-aware, only 10% to 15% actually are.
I always look for two words: too much “me” is a red flag that they may not be humble or collaborative; too much “we” can obscure the role they played in the situation. There must be a balance.
I usually learn something revealing when I ask about their specific role. A positive answer would be, “It was my idea, but credit goes to the whole team.”
I also ask how their colleagues would describe them. If they only say good things, I gauge what constructive feedback they’ve received.
Then I will say, “And what have you done to improve?” to check their orientation towards learning and self-improvement, and to see if they have taken that feedback to heart.
If you are not self-aware, how would you know? Here are some telltale signs:
- You consistently get feedback that you don’t agree with. This does not mean that the feedback is correct, but it does mean that how others see you differs from how you perceive yourself.
- You often feel frustrated and annoyed because you disagree with your team’s direction or decisions.
- You feel exhausted at the end of a working day and you don’t know why.
- You cannot describe what kind of work you like and dislike doing.
Becoming more self-aware is all about understanding why you work the way you do and what you can contribute to your team:
1. Understand your values.
Knowing what’s important to you, what energizes you, and what drains your energy can help you understand how you work.
With these insights, you can express and understand your values when they are at odds with each other or someone else’s values.
2. Identify your work style.
Spend a few weeks writing down the times when you feel like you’re reaching new heights at work or hitting new lows. You start to see patterns.
If you have trouble trusting your own instincts, ask someone whose judgment you respect, “When have you seen me do my best and worst work?”
3. Analyze your skills and abilities.
In an interview environment, you should be able to speak confidently about your strengths and weaknesses.
To get a more tactical sense of self-awareness, ask yourself two questions:
- What are you very good at? What skills do you have and which do you need to develop further?
- What are your options? What are you naturally good at and what abilities have you acquired over time?
Eric Yuan, founder and CEO of Zoom, has another great practice, in which he sets aside 15 minutes of meditation.
“I ask myself, if I start over today, what can I do differently? Did I make mistakes? Can I improve tomorrow? Sometimes I write down something important,” he says. “But usually thinking is enough.”
Claire Hughes Johnson is an advisor stripeauthor of “Scaling People Up”, and teacher Harvard Business School. Previously, she was Chief Operating Officer of Stripe and spent 10 years at Google, overseeing aspects of Gmail, Google Apps and consumer business. Claire also serves as a trustee and the current chairman of the board Milton Academy. Follow her on Twitter.
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