It’s completely natural to be anxious about a job interview. In fact, a telephone survey done by researchers at Everest College found that 92% of Americans are stressed by at least one thing about the job interview process. The top concern? Many are worried that they’ll come across as nervous.
There’s an effective way to overcome this anxiety that I practiced personally when I worked in the corporate world, and I’ve been coaching my clients to do the same for more than 20 years. It might seem elementary, but it works.
My advice is to prepare for your interview just like you prepared for your multiplication quizzes when you were a kid: with flashcards. Get a pack of five-by-seven lined index cards. On the blank side, write down the interview question. On the lined side, write your answer — how you would speak it, not like you’re writing a paper. Start with the most common interview question: “Tell me about yourself.” Include obscure questions like, “What book are you reading right now?” and other questions interviewers might use to throw you off. If you need inspiration, look for questions online, or think back to previous interviews. Your deck should include anywhere from 50 to 100 questions with varying difficulty.
Once you have the cards written, practice speaking the answers out loud. Include keywords that will help remind you of the answers. You want to sound natural, but also make sure there is some structure — for that, I recommend using the STAR interview method.
Situation: Set the stage for your story, and provide details that the interviewer will need for context.
Task: Describe your specific role in that situation.
Action: Explain what steps you took to address the issue.
Result: Share what outcomes your actions achieved.
For each letter, use just one or two sentences so that your answers aren’t too long. The process of creating these flashcards doubles as a self-reflection exercise to help you understand who you are and how you want to communicate that to others. Your answers will help clarify these questions for the interviewer:
• What is your value?
• How can you contribute to the company?
• How well do you fit into the company’s culture?
• Are you competent in what you say?
• Are you trustworthy?
This will likely take you a lot of time because you need to be thoughtful about each answer, but by overpreparing questions and answers, you will enter into your next interview feeling confident. In my experience, if you have a carefully thought-out deck, you will be prepared for 80% of the questions you are asked.
When you are asked questions that aren’t in your deck during an interview, jot them down as soon as you leave. Then, add them to your cards. If you were proud of how you answered the questions, use those answers. If not, think about how you could have given a better answer, and practice that for the future.
Once you land the job, don’t throw away your deck. It’s something that you will refine and continue to work on throughout your career. The good news is that years later when you go back to it, your brain’s muscle memory will kick in, and the answers will come back to you quickly. It will take a lot less time to prep for an interview then, and you can be ready in as little as 24 hours when an opportunity presents itself.
In addition to being prepared for your interview, reviewing proper interview etiquette rules can help alleviate stress.
Read the email with details about your interview, and then reread it again. My coaching clients get a very detailed email that includes information about how to enter the office and where to have a seat. Just last week, a client who admittedly did not read the email, barged in on me during a session with another client. You certainly don’t want to seem like someone who cannot follow instructions at the interview. Also, this may sound obvious, but arrive at the interview early. Very early. You never know what can happen with traffic or public transportation, so plan ahead.
A survey done by CareerBuilder revealed that 64% of hiring managers would dismiss a candidate if they took a call or answered a text during an interview. Another interview deal-breaker was inappropriate attire. It seems silly to have to say this, but put your smartphone away, and make sure it’s on silent — and dress appropriately for the occasion.
Don’t just assume you already know interview etiquette; do your research. All of these are examples of horrendous errors that can ruin your brand and chances at getting a job.
Fighting Day-Of Anxiety
Before the interview begins, perform deep diaphragmatic breathing. This is, in my experience, the fastest way to slow your body’s physiological response to stress.
Breathe in through your nose, concentrating on filling your belly with air like a balloon. Hold your breath for a count of two seconds, and then, exhale slowly through your mouth until your belly flattens. Breaths should be at a ratio of 1:2, with exhales about twice as long as inhales. Try counting to four as you inhale, hold for the count of two, and then exhale to the count of eight. You can easily do this undercover while you are sitting in the lobby.
When you get shocked by a question in an interview, it’s typical to freeze or stumble. Instead, reach for that glass of water they gave you. Use the time as you have a sip to calm your brain down. You’ve just given yourself five to eight seconds to respond with an answer. Like everything else, practice it at home so that it looks natural.
Practice with coaching
In addition to practicing at home, it helps to run through mock interviews with a career coach. Executives often think they are very good at interviewing when in fact, they can always improve. Just last week, I was coaching a CEO through the interview process. While he was a phenomenal interview, there was one component he missed: a personal connection. I couldn’t really get a sense of who he really was as a person when he was interviewing, so we worked on his personal stories and likability.
We are often blind to nuances that will make a big different between getting the job and not getting the job. A coach can help bring these to light so you can address them with potential employers. You’ll never again ask yourself why you didn’t get that job!
For more strategies on how to ace your next job interview, download our e-book Job Search Strategy: Reach Beyond the Obvious.