How to overcome interview nerves
I have this friend. He is keen to move jobs however there is one major problem – he has a fear of interviews which has stopped him applying for roles. Recently, he took the brave step of sending his CV for a role and was lucky enough to get invited to attend an interview. Instead of being happy (let’s face it – getting to interview stage is cause for celebration in itself!), he was instantly anxious at the thought of going through the interview process. His anxiety wasn’t just the nerves that most of us experience when faced with the prospect of an interview, it was full-blown panic which occupied his every waking hour. He became increasingly withdrawn and edgy as the interview date approached. Clearly, working in the recruitment industry, I was seemingly well-placed to help him but I must admit I struggled. As someone who enjoys interviews and interviews people for a living, it doesn’t hold much fear for me simply because it is my job and crucially, I have had so much practice. I really had to put myself in his position to try to understand what he was so afraid of and to help him get through it.
His biggest fear was that he wouldn’t be able to articulate his experience in a clear, concise way and at worst, would freeze completely. In order to help him prepare, we broke this down into the following areas:
If you are very lucky, you will work for a company who give you regular performance reviews. “Lucky?!” I hear you say, I know that regular appraisals are rarely the highlight in anyone’s calendar. However, they equip you with many of the skills you need to be good at interview (clearly, not something your company is actively trying to encourage!). Fundamentally, they make you think about your role in detail and give you the opportunity to talk about it. They make you analyse what you are good at and what you need help with. In short, they get you thinking about all the things you are asked at interview.
Unfortunately for my friend, he works in an industry where decent performance management is a rarity and he hasn’t had an appraisal for around 15 years! In my opinion, this is tantamount to human rights abuse, but that’s one for another blog! Despite being a highly skilled, professional and motivated employee, he struggled to articulate his experience at all – he simply hadn’t had the practice. For him, we had to start at the very beginning in order to get him to the point where he could talk about his role.
A good analogy when talking about Interview preparation is that you should have an imaginary filing cabinet in your head which you then fill with examples of your experience in different areas eg. People management, working under pressure, problem solving etc. Your preparation should involve ‘filling’ your files with good examples so that in the interview itself, you can quickly find the relevant ‘file’ and retrieve the example. Rather than trying to memorise numerous answers to questions (which you may or may not be asked), this technique focuses on your own experience in different areas. This is what you should learn, rather than stock responses to standard questions. This will also mean that you are more able to cope with ‘curveball’ questions. A useful way to structure these is to use the STAR / CAR format – click here for more info
That said, there are some categories of question which you would be wise to prepare for (what are your strengths/weaknesses? Why are you interested in our company/role?).
Be wary of over-preparing
My friend spent a lot of time preparing for his interview. He, quite rightly, researched the company in depth. However he spent lots of time trying to anticipate questions they would ask and rehearsing his answers. He even went as far as writing these down. In a way, there’s nothing wrong with this if you are using it as a technique to understand your key strengths but the problem he found was that he put so much pressure on himself to remember these perfect answers word for word, that as soon as he messed up, which everyone does inevitably, he was unable to get back on track. Also, the way you write is very different to the way you speak and so this may not be the best way of helping you prepare. It would be much better to jot down bullet points and key words as a prompt.
Plan the logistics
It may seem obvious but I have lost count of the number of people I know who failed to plan their journey and turned up late or worst, went to completely the wrong place!
Making sure that you know exactly where the interview is being held and if possible, doing a dummy run to suss out the parking situation etc. will give you one less thing to be nervous about. Likewise ensure your interview attire is clean, ironed and not missing any buttons. Anticipate anything likely to cause last minute stress and ensure it is sorted.
Learn to relax
My friend is a passionate music fan however when I suggested he listed to some music to help him relax before the interview he was adamant that this wouldn’t work as he needed to be completely focused. He clearly felt this was the best way to handle it, but ultimately it didn’t work and he entered the interview as jittery as ever. Perhaps, using music as a last minute form of distraction would have helped calm him down. However you do it, spending time trying to relax before an interview is a vital part of your preparation.
Understand what/who you are up against
Part of your preparation should include research into your interviewer – read here for advice. If you don’t know who you are meeting, call and ask. It may just be that the person you are meeting has a similar background to you (and therefore you have some common ground) which will help reassure you a little. Either way, forewarned is forearmed.
Equally, try to find out what the style of the interview will be. Is it a formal panel interview or a more informal sign-off? I appreciate that it can be very difficult to find this information out if you are dealing with the company directly however it is worth asking. If you are being represented by a Recruitment Consultant, I would be surprised if they didn’t ensure you were fully briefed on this. Clearly, you need to prepare yourself anyway, but it may help your nerves if you know what to expect in advance.
Think of it as a conversation.
I know this is akin to saying ‘picture your interviewers naked’ but if you can tell yourself that an interview is merely two parties getting together to learn more about each other, it may dispel some of the fear factor. It is a two-way street – you are there to learn about the company as much as they are there to learn about you. Please also bear in mind that many interviewers will be inexperienced and may well be suffering from nerves themselves!
Don’t be afraid to acknowledge your nerves.
In my friend’s case, they had an insightful interviewer who could see he was paralysed by nerves and who addressed this head on. He was mortified that they had noticed but let’s face it, if you are very nervous, your body will give you away. Much better to acknowledge it by saying “please bear with me, I am very nervous” or “I haven’t had an interview in a long time”. This will make you more human and approachable and a decent interviewer will then be able to help you come through it.
In the interview itself, if offered a drink, always accept a glass of water which will help guard against the dry mouth which nerves tend to produce! It also gives you a device to buy some valuable thinking time if you get a question which is particularly tricky.
Unfortunately, the best way to get better at interviews and keep the nerves at bay is to do more of them – something which few of us are likely to do unless we are active in the job market. Interviewing well is a skill you can learn however coping with severe nerves requires you to prepare more thoroughly to ensure that you are feeling as confident as possible, minimising any superfluous anxiety.
Ps. Despite his declaration that the interview was a complete disaster, my friend was offered the job! Clearly, he had prepared well enough that the interviewers got a good enough feel for him despite his shaky start. Thankfully, he didn’t allow his interview-phobia to stop him from seeking a new opportunity…