How to stop fearing job interview and perform better

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Did you ever have troubles sleeping the night before important job interview? Have you ever felt your heart racing and palms sweating during an interview? If so, you are not alone. Job interview is a very stressful moment for all us. But is it possible to make it less stressful and even… enjoy it?

Roots of stress

Can you remember your last job interview? What was the prevailing feeling? Most often it is fear. It can be a fear of various kinds. It can be very intimidating to be face to face with a person who asks many questions and you are supposed to give all the answers. It gets even worse if there are multiple interviewers. It can feel like a test at school, where you are a student and the interviewer is a teacher. And unfortunately, our schooling system has taught us to fear tests, to be afraid to make mistake and fail. Subconsciously we can translate that fear to job interviews. We fear to be inadequate, not being able to answer interviewer’s questions and feel stupid. On top of that, we usually tend to put a lot of hopes on positive outcome of the interview. Passing or failing the interview can have big impact on the quality of life that we can afford. Especially if the search have been going on for a while. As a result, we fear to fail the interview. It leads to stress and anxiety. It creates a vicious cycle. We worry about the outcome, which creates stress, which in turn lower our chances for success, which in turn makes us worry more, and so on. There must be a different way.

All about mindset

Fear is a very strong emotion. But it can we can defeat it with a right state of mind. The angle at which we look at things determines our perception of those things. Point of View Bias

What if we look at job interviews differently? Not as a test, but as opportunity? An opportunity to move forward, to get a step ahead of where you are. What’s the worst can happen? You will not pass it. It means you will stay where you are. But if you succeed, you get the job and move forward - possibly to better responsibilities, career prospectives and more money. It is a win-win, a situation with no downsides. So case of bad interview outcome your result is neutral, in the best case - positive.

Job interview is also a great opportunity to meet to interesting people and talk to them. It is a great way to learn. Your interviewer is usually at higher position that the one you are seeking. You can learn what kind of people are at senior positions at the company, what they talk about and what are interested in. You can learn more about company itself - its inner kitchen and how they do things. You can learn what technologies the company is using, how they organize meetings, etc. You can even learn how many people are smiling in the office!

You can take even more weight off your shoulders if you remember that job interview goes both ways. The company is looking to hire someone who can help to solve their problems. It is someone who has the right skills and abilities, who will fit right in. Similarly as the company interviews you, you are interviewing the company. You are not seeking just any job (otherwise you could go and flip burgers). You are seeking a position where you can utilize your strength and that don’t care about your weaknesses. The position and the company must fit your skills and abilities and enable you to succeed. If you think about it, if a shark applies for apple-picker position, it will fail miserably. It does not have right skills and abilities. But a squirrel will succeed, no matter if it is smarter than a shark or not. But if instead a shark applies for a job to bite swimmers, it will excel leaving no chance to a squirrel. Also you are looking for a right company and position, the ones where you can be a shark and do your sharky things.

So in order to consider a job interview to be success, it needs to mark two check marks. First - you fit the company needs. The second - the company suits you. They are equally important. So not passing an interview in not a failure - I see it as a good outcome, it just means that both check marks did not tick.

How to increase your chances

So you feel confident and relaxed going to a job interview. Assuming you like the company, how can you maximize your chances? I know of several ways:

  1. Do your homework. Learn as much as you can about the company and what they are doing. What is the company’s past, what they are going right now and where are they headed? What other positions do they have open? Be ready to answer (a totally legitimate) question “Why do you want to work here”. You must have it clarified for yourself. Try to put yourself at the opposite side of the table. What would you think as an interviewer of a person does not know anything about the company and the job he or she is applying for? That the person is either looking for any job or too lazy to care to learn about the company.
  2. Prepare a plan. Think of things you want to talk about, think of a what kind of answers you will give to common questions. But don’t memorize answers, you will forget them and it will be awkward and stressful. Instead, think of ideas that you want to transmit, how do you want to present yourself.
  3. Ask meaningful questions. Sometimes you can learn more about a person from the question he asks than from answers he gives. When you ask meaningful questions, it shows your interest in the company and what it is doing. It shows you as an active person who is interested in what you are doing and what is going on around. Again, put yourself at the other side of the table. What would you think of a person who asks no questions? Or asks questions about salary and vacation right away? Or about a person, who asks how the company accomplished X and what challenges does it face to develop project Y?
  4. Keep calm. It is pretty easy to be thrown off tracks by a tricky or unexpected question. Don’t let it get you, not knowing all the answers is totally OK (you are not Wikipedia). Some questions are not supposed to be answered at all but rather used to check your reaction.
  5. Learn from failures. Analyze the interviews that you failed. Try to understand what went wrong. But be objective and self-critical. It is the easiest to say that the interviewer was not just. But start with questioning yourself first, what you did right and where you can improve. Write down answers and do better at the next interview.
  6. Practice public speaking. Expressing your ideas clearly is a valuable skill at any position. Go to your local Toastmaster’s club and spend a few hours each month speaking in front of other people. It will put clarity of your speech and your confidence at a totally new level.

Keep calm and enjoy the process

Everyone is stressed or worried to a certain degree during a job interview. If you are able to handle your emotions and be calm, you already have a competitive edge over others who can’t.

Even if you don’t pass the interview that went well for a position of your dreams - don’t worry. Sometimes things are just don’t meant to happen. Sometimes the best things that happen to us are the things that never happen. Maybe you fail an interview today, but more exciting job is waiting for you around the corner. Looking back at all the interviews that I failed now I am really grateful that it worked this way. Otherwise I would not be where I am now.

Try to see your next job interview as a great opportunity to meet new people, learn and show yourself. It is not as an exam. Put the weight off your shoulders. You will feel much better and is more likely to succeed!

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