One of the most stressful parts about graduating college is figuring out your next chapter: where are you going to work? This is of course assuming that a full-time job is your chosen next step, vs. something a little more unconventional like traveling the world (which I sometimes wish I had done). And while certain industries are more competitive than others, they all share the often dreaded part of the hiring process: interviews.
While I think some of us are naturally more skilled at interviewing than others (just like some people are better test takers than others), it still doesn’t make the pressure any less intense when you’re going through it. I find it hard to believe there is a single person on this earth that doesn’t get at least a little bit nervous for a job interview; so hopefully you can first find comfort in that—it’s okay and perfectly normal to be battling those pesky butterflies in the moments leading up to your time slot. Unfortunately, I’m not sure there are ways to eliminate the nerves completely, but over the years, I’ve discovered some helpful remedies for keeping them at bay a bit.
How to shake the nerves
Tip #1: Practice deep breathing. It may seem cliche, but it really does work! If I’m really feeling anxious right before the start of my interview, I take three deep, long inhales and exhales. I promise you, you will feel your body start to calm itself and your mind start to reset too.
Tip #2: Give yourself words of affirmation. I find this one is most powerful if you also do it in front of the mirror. One of my best friends once told me to remember that even though you want to work at their company, they would be lucky to have you. So now that is what I tell myself before every interview— “I am going to rock this, and they would be lucky to have me.” And when I’m really in need of some confidence, I repeat that phrase while standing in a badass superhero pose (see image below for visual assistance).
Tip #3: When in doubt, dance it out. I understand if this one isn’t for everyone, but it’s my absolute favorite way to shake out the nerves leading up to my interview. I just put on an upbeat, high-energy song (extra points if it has motivating lyrics) and just work it. Now I’m definitely not going to win any dance competitions with my choreography, but simply moving my body around and having fun always does the trick.
Bonus tip: Always have water with you to keep you calm during the interview. I think this one goes without saying—and definitely don’t overdo it to the point where you have to go to the bathroom mid-interview—but taking a second in between your responses to clear and wet your throat a bit does wonders.
Okay, so you’ve calmed the nerves a bit, that’s a good start. But what are some things you can do to make sure you actually perform well in the interview itself? Well, controlling the nerves is definitely key because the more comfortable you are in the interview, the more open and personable you will come across to everyone you are speaking with. And even though it may be unrelated to the specific job responsibilities, how well an interviewer connects with your personality is a big factor in you getting the job, because team dynamic and culture fit has a lot to do with the decision process too.
What are some other guidelines to follow when going through job interviews? I know there are tons of legitimate articles on Google that have a great long list, but you’re clearly reading this blog post to find out if I have anything unique to say, so here are some of the things I personally do that I’ve found very successful in helping me stand out from the other candidates.
Yes, duh. But I don’t just mean read the company website or pull out key words from the job description. I mean anticipating specific interview questions and preparing thoughtful, detailed answers catered to that position. What I find really works for me is keeping a google doc of all my Q&A’s so that if I don’t get that one job, I still can reference my responses and just adjust accordingly, not start completely over for the next one (given that if you’re sticking to the same industry, the job responsibilities will most likely be similar across companies). I also make sure to have a section at the end filled with strong questions to ask your interviewer(s) when the time comes. I’ve previously done the work to make sure those questions are both unique and also strategically phrased to give me some deeper insight into the role and company, so it’s valuable to always keep record of them for reuse. (If sharing those questions would be helpful, comment below and I can make a part two!)
2. Don’t over practice!
Of course after you prepare your answers, you should practice one or two times, but I’ve learned the hard way that over rehearsing and memorizing your responses actually does you more harm than good. In a previous interview, I had rehearsed my responses to specific questions so much, that when the interviewer asked me one that was out of left field and not on my list, it threw me completely off and I never really recovered for the rest of the time. I also think that when you memorize your responses too closely the way you wrote them (which is never really in a conversational tone), you come across as stiff and rehearsed, when what you should be striving for is being authentic and natural.
Remember, no one knows your background better than you do. So get your thoughts down on paper as much as you need too, but in the moment, just trust yourself and your instincts. We are always more capable than we think we are.
3. Small talk is your friend
Normally, I loathe small talk. But at the start of an interview, it is so important to warm things up by connecting with your interviewer in any little way you can. Hopefully they will do this too, but I always find it helpful to research the person I’m speaking with ahead of time on LinkedIn and try to find anything we have in common that I could kick off the conversation with. And if you can’t find anything relatable on their profile, the boring cliches are still none-the-less effective, like “How has your day been?” or if it’s a virtual interview, “Where are you calling from?”. People love to talk about themselves, so when in doubt, that’s always a safe bet.
4. Never forget the formalities
For the love of God people, please always send Thank You emails (or letters if that’s more your style) after your interview is over. I don’t personally think it matters if it’s ten minutes after it’s over or the next morning, just make sure you do it! I know from personal experience being on the other end of the hiring process, that small little gesture can sometimes make the difference between another candidate getting the job over you because it shows you take the process seriously and are passionate about getting the role.
Other proper interview etiquette to stick to: arriving early, turning your phone off, a professional handshake (if it’s in person), and dressing to impress. No matter what the dress code is at the company, I firmly believe overdressing and being the most professional one there is way better than trying to match the casual style of current employees. Trust me, people are more likely to notice and remember your jeans and sandals (in a negative way), and a snap judgement could be made that you aren’t professional and don’t take the job seriously.
Let me just wrap up this blog post by saying that these interview tips are not a one size fits all, and I’m not guaranteeing that if you do every single one of these, you’ll be the one they offer the job too. But I am saying that implementing these in your routine may help set you apart from the rest of the competition and boost your inner confidence. I think I speak for everyone when I say that interviewing totally sucks. It’s usually a rigorous, exhausting process, and applying and interviewing for a new job at multiple companies is a full-time job within itself, that you then have to often balance with your current job. But the reality is, it’s an inevitable part of working in the real-world, and the better we get at interviews and the more of them we do, the easier it does get. Just try to remember that at the end of the day, you will always end up where you are supposed to be. And not getting that one job you thought you really wanted, actually allowed you to be open for the next and better opportunity, which may turn out to be the exact role that changes your life.