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Nervous about job interviewing? These eight tips will help you better prepare, feel more confident during the interview, and answer questions effectively.
Interviewing for a job can be nerve-wracking. You may feel uncomfortable “selling” yourself or fielding unexpected questions. Or the prospect of having to meet and impress new people may be enough to trigger stress or anxiety.
However, no matter how fearful you may be about interviewing for work, it's important to remember that interviewing is a skill you can learn. With the following tips and techniques, you can become a master at sharing your value with potential employers, presenting yourself effectively at interviews, and getting the job you want.
Let’s assume you have focused your search on certain types of jobs and types of employers. You have developed a preferred list of both. You have scanned the horizon, conducted research, compiled your questions, and engaged your network for assistance. Your resume is in order.
Then job openings start to pop up through your web searches and referrals from your network. Some seem close but others don’t quite fit. You quickly skip over those jobs that are “beneath” you, have titles that appear to be foreign, or are in fields or industries you’re unfamiliar with. You have decided to be focused and only apply for positions that exactly match your search criteria.
[Read: Finding the Right Career]
But limiting your job search limits the possibilities. Once you create too many filters and requirements, you can easily overlook opportunities. In this type of market you have to get out there and actively uncover opportunities. Don't dismiss opportunities to interview based upon superficial and narrow criteria. You never know when an interview for a “not-quite-right” job will result in a surprising match, a referral to another opening, or an entirely new position tailored to fit your unique experience and abilities.
We tend to conclude that our lives are pretty much the same as other people's, that they’re average and boring. As a result, many people don’t tell their own story well. But your story is so much better than you think. The way your life has evolved; the things you’ve learned; your achievements, failings, and dreams—these things are unique to you and much more interesting than you realize. Sharing your well thought-out story is a powerful interviewing technique.
[Read: Effective Communication]
Your story is what helps people understand who you are and where you are going. So learn to tell your story and tell it well, especially for interviewing and networking purposes. Putting together your story takes a lot of work and practice. However, the benefits to you and to your career are enormous. Your stories:
Once you’ve developed your story, the next step is to practice telling it—saying it out loud, ideally to others. Don’t wait until the interview to tell it for the first time. Try reciting it into a tape recorder or sharing it with a confidante for feedback. Get over your feelings of story inadequacy or thinking that a job well done speaks for itself.
As you become more comfortable in how to tell your story, you will see that your life has not just been a string of random events. Your story has a past and it has a future and the road ahead becomes clearer when you understand where you have been. The ultimate test will be the next time someone says, “Tell me about yourself.”
Applying your story to a specific employer or job is the next step. Lining up the stories that apply to the opportunity at hand is critical. Put yourself in the interviewer’s shoes and pose the questions you would ask. Which stories are relevant to this job interview? Think about personal stories that show how you handled change, made choices under pressure, or learned lessons from mistakes and failures. You should also think about stories you can tell in the interview that reveal your skill set.
Learning and appreciating your story is a prerequisite to any interview process. Don’t rely on your ability to think on your feet. Anticipate the questions and have answers at the ready. In the end, this is about making a great and memorable impression that demonstrates competency and ability.
If you’re having trouble developing a good interviewing story, ask your friends or family members for their own success stories. Notice the elements that make them work, such as specific details and a smooth flow. Notice elements that don’t work, such as vagueness or rambling. Then think about your own experience and try to uncover the moments when you really excelled or when you rose to meet a challenge. After you identify several, practice them until they flow easy and work on adapting them to different types of questions.
Interviewing for a job can make anyone stressed. In small doses, that stress can actually be beneficial, helping you perform under pressure. However, if stress becomes constant and overwhelming, it can impair the way you communicate during an interview by disrupting your capacity to think clearly and creatively. When you’re stressed, you’re more likely to misread an interviewer or send confusing or off-putting nonverbal signals.
If you can’t quickly relieve stress in the moment and return to a calm state, you’ll almost certainly be unable to take advantage of the other interviewing techniques and tips. All our best intentions go out of the window when we’re overwhelmed by stress. It’s only when you’re in a calm, relaxed state that you can think on your feet, recall the stories you’ve practiced, and provide clear answers to an interviewer’s questions. Therefore, it’s vital that you learn quick stress relief techniques ahead of time.
If you start to feel anxious or overwhelmed before or during the interview, turn your attention to your breath, consciously slowing and deepening it. Keep in mind that you need to exhale slowly, as well as inhale slowly. Controlling your breathing in this way can help you quickly return to a more relaxed state—even when faced with challenging questions—and remain focused and engaged.
[Listen: Deep Breathing Meditation]
Interviews range from conversations lasting a few minutes to several formal meetings, sometimes with more than one interviewer. Interviews allow you to demonstrate that you are the right candidate for the job, but you are not alone if interviews make you nervous. The better prepared you are, the more relaxed and comfortable you will be when the questions start coming your way.
Don’t let your references be the last to know about your job search, or even worse, get an unexpected call from a potential employer. Many offers are withdrawn over bad references. Why take that chance? Get in touch with your references right away to seek help and to avoid surprises on either side.
To get to the motivations and working style of a potential employee, employers often turn to behavioral interviewing, an interviewing style which consists of a series of probing, incisive questions.
Sample behavioral interview questions include:
Interviewers will follow up your preliminary answers with further questions about your actions. To prepare for these types of interview questions, the following tips might help:
Being prepared and asking great questions about the position and the employer shows your interest during the interview. You can't just be an effective responder. You need to assert yourself, too. By the time you reach the interviewing stage, you should be clear about what you want and what you offer to the company.
Try to be thoughtful and self-reflective in both your interview questions and your answers. Show the interviewee you know yourself—your strengths and your weaknesses. Be prepared to talk about which areas would present challenges and how you would address them. Admitting true areas of weakness is much more convincing than claiming: “I have what you need and I can do anything I put my mind to.”
As we know, it’s not always the smartest person or the one with the most relevant skills that gets the job. Rather, the successful candidate is often the one who has the best “people skills”, who can relate easily to others. In other words, it’s the person with a high emotional intelligence (EQ). Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify, use, understand, and manage emotions in positive ways to communicate effectively and empathize with others. If you have a high emotional intelligence you are able to:
[Read: Emotional Intelligence at Work]
Along with the ability to quickly manage stress, emotional awareness is a primary skill of emotional intelligence that can be learned. Being able to connect to your emotions—having a moment-to-moment awareness of your emotions and how they influence your thoughts and actions—is the key to understanding yourself and others.
One way to apply emotional awareness in an interview situation is to find common human connections with the interviewer. If you set out with the intention to discover how you and the person interviewing you are connected and what you share, you will discover commonalities much faster. And the interviewing process will be much less intimidating because of it.
While searching for commonalities, avoid pummeling your interviewer with a series of set questions. Let the interview happen naturally, but keep an eye out for hints of commonalities. Once you do, the world will feel like a smaller, friendlier place and your anxiety over interviewing will shrink.Last updated or reviewed on February 28, 2023
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