It can be agonizing to watch someone not live up to the expectation of success. You see it often in professional sports. The basketball shot that could have helped bring home the trophy but instead it misses the net. When a track runner who is leading the race drops the baton in the last hand off before the finish line. Or that much needed field goal attempt that hits the goal posts instead of passing through for the win. Each time, the crowd watching groans or is left speechless. All the right pieces seemed to be there for the big moment to happen, but someone could not hold it together under the pressure.
Performance anxiety rises when the stakes are high, especially at a job interview where dreams and money are on the line. For years as a hiring manager, I saw it often in the workforce with young job candidates who had high caliber skill sets and strong qualifications. All signs were there that the person being interviewed would make a superb first impression. They were on time, had extra copies of their resume or CV, dressed sharp, and seemed to have done their homework on looking up the company’s goals. It seemed they would sail easily through the interview, but instead only a few were able to convey their value to the employer. As questions began, often times their nerves got the best of them and the interview did not go well.
No matter how much you prepare, your time in at a job interview will never feel like a spa treatment. However, taking the following actions will help relieve that pit-in-your-stomach feeling and decrease your self-doubt so that you can put more of your best self into the moment.
Visualize The End Result You Want To Achieve
Believing that you will succeed in front of the employer is a must to turn a good impression into a great one. Research supports that for any performance, visualizing the positive outcome you want to achieve before the real live event makes a positive difference. It also helps settle nerves before "go time."
You can use the energy produced by anxiety to actually work in your favor when you get really clear about what message you most want to present in the upcoming interview. Picture what you'll wear, what they are likely to ask, what you will say, what the room may look like--the more detailed the better for your body and mind to benefit the most from visualization. How will it feel to get that positive feedback and outcome you are seeking? What does your first day on the job look like?
As surgeons, Olympians, celebrities and top musicians in the world have discovered, by regularly using visualization you will see your worry and other internal blockers to performing under pressure start to fade.
Have An Ace Up Your Sleeve For Damage Control
Mistakes happen to the best of us, especially in job interviews. The key is to not let that trip you up or stay stuck giving a negative impression. When you do make an error, have a plan to recover and move forward.
One way to bounce back is to have examples ready of when you had to learn something quickly, put more effort into a goal than expected, or failed but learned from it. These are your safety nets to use when needed. For example, I remember a candidate in a recent job interview completely did not understand a technical question that was asked. He seemed rattled at first, but soon he turned things around by calmly sharing, “This reminds me of the time my professor assigned a paper on a subject I had never heard about before. I rose to the challenge and my final project ended up being one of the best in the class, as I do not give up when I do not know the answer. It actually motivates me to want to learn more and do my best work.” Although he did not answer the question as hoped, his resourcefulness and candor helped him stay at the top of the pool of candidates. He was later called in for a second interview.
Bring Your Personality With You
So many times because of the normal fear of making a mistake, the best parts of a person’s individuality often get left at the door in an interview. Keep in mind that recruiters, hiring managers, and supervisors who are asking the questions ultimately are looking for a good fit for their team both with skillset and likability. The faster you warm up to those interviewing you the better, rather than keeping too icy of a professional guard.
Employers are seeing so many candidates that it can be easy to blend in and not hold their interest or attention. Throughout your interaction with an employer, see where you can make a genuine connection by:
- Finding out things in common with those interviewing you (Similar schooling? Sports fans? Travelers?)
- Sharing a humorous (but not over the top) story of what happened on the way over to the building, on your last vacation, or the last time you felt nervous
- Offering up something that impressed you lately in the news or developments you have noticed in the industry you are interviewing for
Don't start up that comedy stand-up routine you mimic that your friends might adore or share cute stories about family members just yet, but do what you can to showcase your unique personal qualities. Find moments in the interview to authentically express your interest in the job and what about the opportunity excites you. Having a sense of humor, sharing enthusiasm, and showing an upbeat vibe helps the employer see that your positive presence and can-do attitude will be an asset to the team.
Practice With The RIGHT Person
How do you be sure you are ready for the unexpected at the interview and that your strengths will come across? Practice. Review. Repeat. But not just in your head or with a friend who took a class in job searching, although both are a good start. Professionals do not show up to perform at a concert or a ball game without helpful coaching. Seeking out support with a professional career coach, rather than only from a friend or family member, will help enhance your interview performance. It is the optimal way to ensure you are doing everything you can to shine at your next interview and get the objective feedback you need to improve and be competitive.
Rehearsing with someone who has a lot of insight about what employers want will advance your interviewing skills. You will be increasing your chances of not having a brain freeze when it time for the real deal and you are face to face with your possible future boss. You should not sound scripted, but you need to practice until you feel you have a solid foundation of what strengths, skill sets, and talents you have to offer.
Get Out Of Your Own Way
So many high achievers tend to be humble or even shy about their own success. In most situations this works out well, but being comfortable with a spotlight on your achievements is necessary in a job interview. Job interviews are not the time to keep quiet about your significant personal growth, academic achievement, and service to others that you have provided.
Think ahead of specific stories from your previous triumphs so the interviewer will see your strengths, hear your worth, and feel your positive energy. Then take the time to write down your success stories as this helps you be able to share them with conviction later at the interview. Reminding yourself of past hurdles you have climbed over is also the best weapon to disarm the criticizer inside in our head that often says we are not good enough.
Even if you have not worked for a company before, you likely have valuable experiences to share from school, sports, and helping in your community that can demonstrate you have a strong work ethic. If not, now is the time to start adding to that list so you have more to share during a job interview in your future.
Most of all, be sure to also take your time telling the interviewer your examples of solving problems, providing direction, handling a difficult project, and changing a negative situation into a positive one. It can feel awkward to slow down, so many interview rookies will rush through it to “get it over with.” This mistake subtracts from their professional image and makes everyone feel uncomfortable. As you practice, interviewing will feel more natural and your worth will be more believable to yourself and others.
Reviewing and putting into action all of these tips before your next interview will keep you more confident and impressive when it is your turn in the hot seat. But be sure not to stop there once brought on board as an intern or employee. With tougher economic times hitting most parts of the world, young workers are often the last to be chosen to be put on a payroll but the first selected to lay off or get reduced hours. Continuing to keep a job can be just as challenging as being successful at the interview. By knowing more about what employers expect and starting out aware of your own value, you tip the scale in your favor to keep succeeding.
What tips do you have for continuing to make progress on a career path when there is less opportunity available? Your suggestion may be included in the next part of this series that explores how job interview rookies can become pros in the hot seat.
Read Shea's first submission on four ways you might be tanking your job interview.