Last week I was sitting at a Peet’s Coffee with a college senior who is graduating next May from my Alma Mater, Purdue, and she sheepishly asked me, “How do I make sure that I am really, really good in a job interview?” I thought about it for a moment and then went into coaching her on how to be best prepared, etc. But as I thought about it later, I should have seen it in the blush of her face and the timidity of how she asked the question, what she was really asking is how to get over what we all feel as we sit in an interview; stage fright or what I call interview fright! It’s real, it’s part of being human and we all get it, so let’s talk about a few ways to overcome it, or at least make it better so that the fright and nervousness doesn’t impede the strong impression we are trying to make:
Know your lines! Every stage director, presentation consultant, etc., will tell you that being prepared is the best offensive and defensive move you can make to overcome your fright. The more you interview the better you will be. The more you practice your story, the more it will come naturally to you. Grab a friend, spouse, partner or roommate who will give you an hour, to have them interview you the night before. Ask them for feedback and then take the question again and again and again until you feel you don’t want to practice anymore…it’s then that you are just about ready.
Show up early! Not only does it make a good impression, it also gives you time to relax, think and get your thoughts together. There is no stress in being early! Just like an actor uses the green room to wait for their stage call, you can do the same with a lobby or a conference room. Take this time to find yourself, listen to your breathing and get into your mental groove.
Talk to yourself! Many times interviews come on days when you have taken off work. And, if the interview is in the morning, you may not even have talked to anyone yet, so when you show up at the interview you are not warmed up. And although you may not realize it, you are uncomfortable in that you haven’t spoken as many words today as you normally would have. Your brain and mouth are thinking they are on vacation and you don’t want that. Either talk to yourself on the way to the interview or spend a few minutes in the parking lot beforehand reading out loud. The manual to the car will do if you don’t have anything else. I wouldn’t suggest you call someone else to get talking as you don’t want to get out of the concentration zone with another problem or concern. Just act a little crazy and practice your interview questions again out loud to get yourself warmed up.
Fuel! I had lunch today with an elite competitive cyclist. He said the last frontier for (legal) performance enhancement is matching what we eat and drink to different performance targets and knowing what works best as “fuel food”. The same is true for the important hour when your adrenaline will already be pumping and your heart racing and the perspiration pouring. Your body is performing, so you need to have eaten and be properly hydrated and not overly caffeinated. This is the not the hour to bonk or have a caffeine or sugar high or crash. Be cognizant of this and be sure you have properly fueled. Any actor knows how important this is before they go onto stage. If they are hungry then the stomach wants more attention than the brain.
Burn off the excess energy! You are going to be hyped up, no matter what. That extra energy can be good, but it can also be bad as it can cause you to ramble or not listen intently. If you can show up early, then take a walk around the building a few times before you go inside. Once inside, use the waiting time wisely but if you are amped up then use that time standing versus sitting. And if all else fails, sit in a chair and grab the seat on both sides and pull up as hard as you can to bleed off some of that adrenaline. Do this as many times as you need.
Look ‘em in the eye! You now are in the interview and you feel the dampness under your arms. Yes, you did apply your deodorant, but nothing is going to work at this moment. Your throat feels a little dry and your breath is a little shallower than usual. You are experiencing interview fright. This is the time to ignore all else and go into the character of the best prospective employee imaginable; one who can sweep ‘em off their feet. Look your interviewer right in the eye and tell yourself that there are only two people in this room and you are 50% of the room which makes you on equal footing. As you look her/him in the eye you will see yourself gaining confidence as they recognize that you are also all there in the moment just for them.
Chris Chew, who is a music editor says that stage fright is “only a mental condition for the fear of the unknown.” The same can be said of interview fright.
With your great preparation and practice of your newly found avoidance techniques you may never experience interview fright again!