As an experienced counselor with a fairly deep understanding of human nature, I can say this with total confidence: job interviews freak people out!
In my time as a therapist, I’ve interacted with some truly capable people. I’ve coached business professionals who wield a great deal of influence, I’ve counseled semi-professional athletes ready to take their game to the next level, and I’ve mentored bright-eyed college grads who had a lot of ambition and very big dreams.
And no matter who I talk to, I’m always amazed to find that all of them (and I mean, all of them!) experienced a great deal of anxiety at the thought of being interviewed.
From a psychological perspective, the fear is totally reasonable. The dynamics of a interview are wildly unsettling, and play on our innate fear of rejection.
Think about it: an interview is a time-limited interaction with a total stranger, who will judge every single word you say, and analyze every action you make. He or she will openly scrutinize you. A few days or weeks after your meeting with the stranger, you will receive a phone call or an email, and be notified whether you have been rejected or not.
Not fun. Pretty terrifying, really.
So, as I noticed each of my clients was experiencing the same emotion regarding the same event, I put together an intervention to help them relax, focus, and make the most of every interview they find themselves on. The techniques I used are listed below, and each one is simple, actionable, and, most importantly, backed up with a lot of research! Use them to your advantage:
1) Envision your success before you start:
Visualization is frequently used in the sports world, and many public figures (notably Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey) have sworn by the principle’s powers. The idea is simple: condition yourself for the goal you want to achieve by imagining it clearly in your mind.
It sounds simple, but the research backs up the idea. One study showed that “mental practice” is almost as effective as actual, physical practice, and that doing mental practice and physical practice is more effective than either practice alone.
So how does it work? Visualization activities must follow a very specific path. First, find a quiet place and relax. Then begin to imagine yourself with the person or the people interviewing you: what do they ask you? How do you answer some of the tough questions they ask? How do you calm yourself when you begin to feel nervous? The clearer your visualization, the better the technique works.
In truth, visualization is really a form of preparation: you imagine the obstacles you’ll face, and you creative find ways to meet and overcome them.
2) Use social proof to your advantage:
We are intrinsically social creatures, and we are constantly reading the emotional cues of the people around us. It is nature’s most effective way of learning about danger and learning about opportunity, and it is deeply engrained into our psyches.
So how does that affect your job search?
Almost 65% of all new employees at any given company attained their interview through someone they know. There are plenty of conclusions you can draw from this (the most obvious being – if you’re looking for a job, you’re most likely to get it through someone you know, so tap into your contacts), but the important idea is that your interviewer will be more likely to hire you if someone can vouch for you. If you use your network to get your job interview, you are providing powerful social proof, and your interviewer already knows that someone values you.
Unfortunately, many people interpret the 65% statistic to mean that the odds are against them if they’re going into an interview without a connection to the interviewer. Luckily, you can provide social proof in your interview discussion. There are two ways to do this:
- During your interview, talk about people you know, and share stories about working with your bosses and interacting with decision-makers are your previous company. Don’t be boastful and don’t be a name-dropper, but make sure that your interviewer gets the feeling that others liked working with you and valued your efforts.
- Provide your own social proof. The trend is to include the words “References available upon request” somewhere near the end of your resume, which is thoughtful – after all, you don’t don’t want to deluge your interviewer with paper (especially before they’re interested in you). But if you’ve made it to the interview stage, do not leave your interviewer’s office without handing him a letter of recommendation. The letter can be from a former employer, an old professor that you’ve worked with, or a community leader that you’ve volunteered for, but make sure it’s a person with recognizable authority, and make sure it details you as competent, motivated, and easy to work with.
3) Give yourself a 24/7 pep talk:
A researcher at the University of Pennsylvania found that personal success was almost invariably related to that person’s “explanatory style”. That is, the most reliable way to tell whether a person will succeed or fail is to see whether they interpret their life in an optimistic or a pessimistic way.
The research makes sense: how you interpret your circumstances determines how you feel, and how you feel determines how well you perform.
So be nice to yourself! When you think about your job hunt, interpret your efforts in an uplifting way that makes the situation seem positive. If you’ve recently been laid off and you’re looking for work, don’t interpret your job loss as a negative: think of the new adventures you’ll have at your next place of employment, and how you’re about to take the next step of your professional career. If you’re looking for your first job out of college, don’t see yourself as inexperienced, but rather as a blank slate ready to dive in and learn all you can at your new job.
Chances are that even though you’re speaking nicely to yourself, you’ll still feel nervous, and that’s normal – expected, even. But you have a choice: you can speak kindly to yourself and foster positive feelings, or you can beat yourself up and feel awful. Not all choices are easy, but this seems simple.
Go get ’em!
Remember, job interviews can be daunting, but you’ve got some pretty powerful tools to use: you can see the outcome you want, you can use social proof to display your value, and you can get psyched, because the job you want is almost yours!
Author: Matthew Burke is a therapist in northern New Jersey. He serves as a job coach for many of his clients, and runs the cnacareeragency.com to help students and career changers enter the field of health care.