Conquering Interview Anxiety

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Does the mere thought of a job interview set off a flurry of butterflies in your stomach? If so, you’re not alone. Interviews make virtually everyone nervous, because it’s easy to feel that your worth is being judged and your entire future is on the line. The truth, though, is that lots of bright and talented people have many unsuccessful interviews before they land a job. So here are some suggestions for conquering your jitters and improving your interview experience.

1. Recognize that an interview is just a structured conversation. And you are an expert on the topic!

An interview is not an inquisition. It’s simply a conversation about you. Since you know more about yourself than anyone else, you have the necessary information. You just need to determine the best way to present it.

2. Develop your talking points.

Anxiety is due in part to feeling out of control. One way to regain a sense of control is to determine in advance what you want to tell the interviewer. Like politicians and celebrities, you need to develop “talking points” – that is, the information about yourself that you most want to convey. Then, as you respond to questions, you look for opportunities to include your talking points in the answers.

Sample talking points: Having a leadership role in a major project, being able to work well with many different types of people, knowledge of many software applications, experience on cross-cultural teams, or any other aspect of your knowledge, experience, or personality.

3. Monitor your “self-talk”.

Self- talk refers to the silent commentary that constantly runs inside our heads. We often unconsciously increase our anxiety with negative self-talk. People who are nervous about interviews have thoughts that sound like this: “I know that I’m going to screw up that interview. Interviews always make me nervous, so I probably won’t be able to answer the questions very well. Then I’ll make a bad impression and lose the job.” This is an excellent way to talk yourself into failing!

4. Create a personal pep talk.

To reduce anxiety, drown out that negative commentary with a personal pep talk! For example: “I’m a real expert in my field. I have a lot of knowledge and experience that would be very useful for this employer. I’m smart, capable, and I can work well with almost anyone. This interview is not a life-or-death event. It’s just a chance to have a conversation about my experience and background. And I know more about that than anyone!”

5. Do your homework on the potential employer.

The more you know about the organization, the more prepared you will feel. And the more prepared you feel, the less nervous you will be. So check out their website, Google them, and try to network with people who have worked there. Include relevant information in your answers to show the interviewer that you did your homework.

6. Visit the interview location.

If you’re not familiar with the organization, drive to the site before the day of the interview. This will eliminate worries about getting lost or questions about the length of the drive. Seeing the place will increase your feeling of familiarity, and familiarity reduces anxiety.

7. Rehearse Q&A’s with a friend or family member.

Rehearsal may be the most helpful tactic for reducing anxiety, because practice increases your comfort with answering questions. Many interviewers ask similar questions, so get a list of common ones (Sample Interview Questions) and have a friend role-play the interview with you. When you don’t like your answer, just stop and repeat until you’re happy with it.

If you are extremely nervous, practice with a full dress rehearsal! Wear a suit, sit by a desk, give your friend a different name, and go through the whole thing from entering the “office” to departure.

8. Ask the scheduler if there’s anything you should be prepared to discuss.

When someone contacts you by phone or email to schedule the interview, ask if there’s anything you should be prepared to discuss. You may or may not get useful information, but sometimes even an assistant can give you a heads-up about critical topics.

9. Practice physically relaxing on command.

Because there truly is a mind-body connection, physically relaxing will help you mentally relax. To calm down before an interview, take deep breaths or progressively relax muscle groups.

10. Energize yourself on the way to the interview.

Make your drive to the interview an upper! Listen to upbeat, high-energy music or a motivational CD. Practice your personal pep talk and tell yourself how well-qualified you are for this position. Your goal is to arrive in a positive, self-confident frame of mind.

11. Assess the interviewer’s experience and comfort level.

Anxious applicants are so focused on themselves that they usually neglect to size up their interviewer. But this is a critical step. Some interviewers are highly experienced, while others are not. Managers who seldom conduct interviews may be more nervous than you are!

Veteran interviewers will confidently direct the discussion. They know where they want to go, so you just need to focus on working your talking points into your answers.

With novice interviewers, you may need to take more initiative. For example, some may do all the talking, which defeats the entire purpose of the interview. In that case, you can say “Would you like me to tell you about the project I led last year?” or “If you like, I can review my experience working with this type of software.” In other words, help them get to know you.

Feel free to ask for time to think.  If you are asked a particularly difficult question, it’s okay to ask for a little time before you answer. For example: “That’s a very interesting question. Let me think about that for a minute.”

Remember that a hiring decision is not a verdict on your value.  If you don’t get the job, don’t overreact. It does not mean that you’re worthless as a person. It simply indicates that you weren’t viewed as the best choice for this particular position. And that could be true even if you are extremely capable, since the interviewer will be looking for a particular “fit” with the company, the culture, and the management.

If you don’t get the job, you may actually be better off.  Since you can’t see the future, you don’t know what would have happened if you got this job. Perhaps you would have had a horrible boss or dreadful working conditions. And perhaps you will land a much better position in the future!