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Don’t Choke - Managing Stress Under Pressure

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch May 4, 2015

Everyone has to perform under pressure at some time in their lives. Athletes competing, scientists giving a presentation, job seekers interviewing are just a few examples.

A recent speaker at NIH offered insight into how to harness your stress for better performance and ways to help restore your creativity and resilience when you are under stress. Sian Beilock of the University of Chicago researches performance under pressure and says how we view stress affects how we manage it. For a moment, consider your emotional responses to stress. Your mindset matters and can affect your performance. Stress can cause some people to start fearing failure. Then, their thoughts become focused on all the ways that they can fail at a particular task. However, you can refocus your brain by focusing on the reasons you should succeed, instead of the ways you can fail.

Focus on the Big Picture

Often under pressure, we focus too much attention on how all the little details contribute to our main goal. This then makes every detail a possible area of failure that we believe will be impossible to overcome. By taking a step back and focusing on the big picture (or the main goal we wish to achieve) we limit the possible failures and again focus on our one big success. Giving too much attention to details or dwelling on the details of a mistake, rather than trusting in a well-practiced process is often the problem when people choke (defined as not performing to their normal level of competency) under pressure.

Trust in Your Preparation

Rarely do we go into a high stress situation with out preparing for it. It is important to trust in your preparation. Remind yourself before and during the situation that you have prepared and practiced and that you are ready to achieve your big goal. After you prepare and practice it’s important to focus on the outcome you want to achieve. Some examples:

  • Practicing in a sport like golf, focus on where the ball should land with a mantra like “Swing Through” rather than worrying about each detail like “What did I just do with my elbow?”
  • Practicing for an interview, focus on the big picture of how interested you are in the job and how excited you are to be talking with your interviewers rather than worrying about the exact words to say to answer each question. You could give yourself a simple manta like “Communicate” or “Engage”.

What can you do when you are facing multiple stressors?

Our prefrontal cortex is an area of the brain that is responsible for personality expression, decision making and complex cognitive planning, among other things. Beilock noted that this area has limited attention resources in stressful or high pressure situations, and that our creativity can be stunted. However, there are ways we can unburden our prefrontal cortex and allow our creativity to work freely. How do you restore important connections in your pre-frontal cortex then? Especially when they can get hijacked by multiples stressors? Here are some practical ways to wake up your creativity:

  1. Walk away from a problem and come back. Focus on nature. Take a walk in the woods or even look at pictures of nature on your computer. You can use the break time to see things in a new and unusual way.
  2. Sleep, get needed rest.
  3. Talk with someone else. Considering a different perspective will help restore your creativity in problem solving.
  4. For high stakes situations, practice in a similar situation – most importantly with people’s eyes on you. Beilock’s work suggests that practicing under stress improves performance. For example, before an interview, practice with a career counselor, mentor or friend. The minor stress of practicing with another person can help to prepare you for the actual interview.
  5. Journal – use free association and just write for 5-10 minutes before a high pressure event or test to clear your mind.
  6. Use mind/body exercises like power posing and meditation that will help you manage your feelings and reactions in stressful situations.

The event “How to Perform Your Best Under Stress” can be viewed at:

NIH only videocasts at: If you would like to meet with a career counselor to talk about how to be more effective in your job search or interview situations, go to:

If you would like to meet with a counselor to talk about dealing with challenges that impact your ability to work effectively or other wellness concerns, email [email protected]

Career Symposium 2015 - #careersymp

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch May 11, 2015

This Friday, May 15th is the 8th Annual NIH Career Symposium.  Be sure to register in advance. Why should you come though? Well, it only happens once a year and it is an action-packed day! You can choose to come for the full day or only the sessions of interest to you. There will be panels, skills blitzes, a LinkedIn Photo-Booth, and the opportunity to network with speakers and peers alike. MAXIMIZING YOUR NIH CAREER SYMPOSIUM EXPERIENCE Prior to the Symposium:

  • REVIEW THE AGENDA Avoid day-of confusion by getting an idea of which panels and skills blitzes you’d like to attend. Map out your day by looking at the full schedule here.
  • PREPARE SOME QUESTIONS Look at the list of panelists and prepare a few questions you would like to ask. Please remember that this is not a job fair.  This is an opportunity for you to gain information about the next step in your career.

During the Symposium:

  • NETWORK Connect via social media and join us on Twitter that day by following @NIH_OITE. If you tweet during the event, be sure to use the event hashtag #careersymp
  • NETWORK Take advantage of this event to talk to people in new fields of work. Regardless of what sessions you attend or what career path you are pursuing, this event is a great opportunity to make contacts in a variety of different fields. That way, you can follow up with them for an informational interview after the event.
  • NETWORK Don’t forget to network with your peers as well! Introduce yourself to at least one new person at each event or session. One of the most valuable experiences of events like this can be meeting new people.

Attending the symposium is an extremely valuable professional development opportunity, so be sure to take advantage of this event. It can also feel like a whirlwind of information, people, ideas, and possibly even emotions. After the symposium, be sure to carve out some time to process all of the information. If you are at the NIH, you can follow up with the great resources offered at the OITE.

Your First Day at NIH

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch May 20, 2015

Coming to the Bethesda campus of the NIH for the first time? If you are just arriving at the NIH as a summer intern, the Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE) wants to take a moment to welcome you! Summer is often seen as a time of the year to kick back and relax, but not here at the NIH, and we love the extra excitement and energy buzzing around campus during the summer months.

Orienting yourself to a new place and a new role can be tough, but we hope you will take advantage of your time here. It will be important to familiarize yourself with the resources around you as you make this transition.

To help with this, please take a moment to watch our new YouTube video, Your First Day at NIH.  

OITE news

A Recruiter’s Best Practices for Resume Writing

Submitted by Amanda Dumsch May 25, 2015

People overthink their resumes -- constantly. It’s true that the competitiveness of the job market makes it even more imperative than ever for applicants to draw the attention of the reviewer before s/he moves on to the next resume in their pile. However, it’s equally important that an applicant’s resume convey its message concisely, thoroughly, and in an easily comprehendible format.

The tools to master this exist—the trick, then, is knowing how to and when to use them. Translating your CV to a resume can seem like a daunting challenge. It may seem impractical that any lab skills would translate to the office – but this in fact, is untrue. If you find yourself getting overwhelmed, start with the fundamental skills that make any employee valuable – team player, multitasker, multilingual, etc. Think of how your lab work utilized fundamental skills and specialized skills (digital, knowledge of 508 compliance, etc.). Map this out, and then begin.

The written and spoken version of the English language pattern follows a system--lead with what you’re going to tell someone, then tell more, in greater detail. You do this first part when meeting someone, by answering simple introductory questions that spur answers such as “My favorite hobbies include playing Monopoly, painting, and taking long walks on the beach.” Later, you may expand to tell someone how you once won the regional Monopoly championship (if such things even exist.) A resume’s no different than this simple concept.

Start small and simple, extend to larger pieces of information that are important, relevant, and impressive. Provide a thesis statement at the top of the page. It helps to put it in prose form so it stands out visually from a page full of bullets and draws my eye directly to it. This prose/thesis statement section can be called many things “Profile”, “Objective” “Mission Statement”, etc. Your job here, in two sentences or less, is to tell the reader who you are and what you bring. Follow the same rules that exist per Thesis Writing 101: Make it relevant; make it succinct; make it strong. Every skill you list should be 100% relevant to the position and you shouldn’t list more than 3 skills, in addition to your years of relevant experience and education. Finish it with what you want to do. And then prove it.

Your experience sections, then, are your supporting paragraphs. Ideally, you will have gotten the reviewer interested from your profile section and made them more curious about you. Now, fill in the details. Just like a simple conversation, you led with the basics and inspired intrigue. Now, give the reader more. Again, think of similar situations like a report or a conversation: You wouldn’t only give a laundry-list of details in other forms of communication. So don’t do the same here. Tell me a story. Start with what your overall purpose was at that position. For a research assistant position, for example, instead of listing duties, you could lead with “Provided logistical, research, and administrative support to a federally-funded research lab of 10 focused on biosurveillance research.”

For your next few bullets, tell me how you did that. What specific activities did you do that are also relevant to your reader? This is as simple as looking at the job description and responding to the qualifications requirements. For the final bullet (and six should be your max per job), tell me what long-term effect you had. Could you say that you “Performed lab-based and academic research in support of an academic paper, which identified a new trend in biosurveillance efficacy”? Your reader wants to know the effect that you had and wants to be able to imagine that same effect at their organization.

To put it simply and alleviate some of the potential anxiety about transitioning a CV to a resume, the only difference between a resume and an opinion paper, memo, or report is that the paragraphs are bulleted. That’s it. The bullets, while easier to report information, don’t change the way a reviewer has learned to absorb information by decades of reading and conversing. Your challenge, then, is to do your best to make sure that your resume plays into that natural method of information absorption. It’s definitely an art, not a science. Utilizing the simple tools mentioned above will greatly improve the chances of the reviewer understanding your potential impact on their organization.

If this method interests you, feel free to check out this article from the Harvard Business Review that encourages the same approach. Happy writing and happy job hunting!


Post written by guest blogger, Kendell Snyder, Talent Acquisition Specialist at Obsidian Analysis, Inc. Kendell Snyder is the head for Talent Acquisition activities at Obsidian Analysis, Inc., one of Washington’s fastest-growing private consulting firms. For more information on Obsidian’s work, growth, or our recent accolades, please visit .