Are you anxious about an upcoming interview? Do you think your nerves have held you back at interview on previous occasions? Everyone has been there. I certainly have been there. And you know what? We’re not alone. You might have heard of the recent “car crash interview” delivered on radio by the Green Party Leader. Ok it was on the radio but it’s not that different from what we go through at a job interview. When asked to explain how she would deliver some of her party’s main policies she stuttered and went silent for long periods of time. She later admitted that her mind went blank. Is this familiar?
First let’s get one thing clear: it is normal to be nervous/anxious before/during an interview. Actually it is a healthy response to an important life event and can help you to keep sharp and focused if it is in the right dose.
Many things can happen at interviews that are out of your control. I remember this interview I attended a few years ago – when I entered the room I found out the panel included four interviewers plus two more on Skype from Russia. I had not been told this in advance and I was already feeling a little anxious to start with. One of the interviewers, who was just across me on the table, never made eye contact. In fact, he kept his eyes down on a notebook all the time while scribbling and never talked to me. The Skype connection was not good and I kept being interrupted by the call breaking up. Was I rattled by it? Of course I was. Those were 30 excruciating minutes! I couldn’t gather my thoughts, couldn’t remember my well thought examples of a time when I had done this or that. All I could think of was why was that person ignoring me – was that deliberate to unsettle me? Had he already decided I wasn’t suitable for the job? This interviewer was probably just taking notes but I didn’t think of that then and the more I dwelt on it more nervous and distracted I felt. Needless to say I didn’t get the job.
And how do you move on from a disastrous interview? You just do. You reflect on what went wrong and why and focus on what you can do to make it better next time. For all the bizarre things that are out of your control, there are equally many that you can do to prepare and settle your nerves.
What can you do
- Prepare, prepare, prepare. Research the company thoroughly. Write down the answers to likely questions and then say them out loud. This will help you to organise your thoughts and also to remember. Are you dreading a particular question? Then work on it, think it through and prepare an appropriate answer. If you are not sure how to do this you can always ask us at the Careers Service for advice. You can also have a simulation interview with a careers consultant. Prepare in advance not only your answers but also other mundane aspects like “what am I going to wear?” and “how am I going to get to the interview place?” Don’t leave these details to the last minute.
- Get a good night’s sleep. Eat something even if your stomach is turning with anxiety. Your brain needs fuel to work properly and you don’t want to faint during the interview.
- Take deep breaths. Once you get there, find a quiet place and take a few deep breaths. This will help you to relax and calm down.
- Shake your interviewer’s hand with confidence while making eye contact. Keep in mind that you are on the shortlist. These people want to meet you, are interested in what you have to say and that’s why they have invited you for an interview. Consider the interview for what it is: a conversation between two or more people. And it is a two way street: they are interviewing you to decide if they want you to work with them but you are also deciding if that is the right place for you. You will have the opportunity to ask questions as well.
- Sit slightly forward on your chair to engage with the interviewer, make yourself comfortable. Use the language you usually do but keep it professional. You can take a CV to occupy your hands and refer to if needed but don’t fiddle with it.
- Listen properly. Don’t try to put an answer together before you listen to the question fully. If you are not sure, it is ok to ask for clarification. You don’t need to rush into an answer. This is a conversation, remember? It’s ok to pause for a couple of seconds to gather your thoughts.
- If you don’t know the answer to a question stay calm. Maybe you didn’t understand the question. Ask the interviewer for clarification. If you have some knowledge about the situation tell them what you know. Or you can buy a little time by saying “That’s an interesting question. Can I consider it for a bit and get back to you later?” But if you feel you won’t be able to answer the question at all, be honest and apologise “I’m sorry, I’m afraid I don’t know the answer to that question”.
- If you get a difficult question and feel you haven’t answered particularly well don’t let that set the pace for what follows. Focus on answering well the following questions. A positive attitude in such a situation will show your determination and ability to deal with pressure.
If everything goes wrong, what is the worst that can happen? You won’t be offered the job and that’s it. It hurts but keep it in perspective. Don’t dwell on it. There are more jobs out there and next time you’ll be more knowledgeable. Approach the next interview with renewed enthusiasm and a positive attitude.