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Why Do Job Interviews Feel So Weird?

Posted by Eileen Hoenigman Meyer

Career Advice Expert

August 18, 2016

Scoring a job interview confirms that you’re a promising candidate who’s getting noticed. It’s exciting to imagine the possibilities: Maybe you’ll land your dream job. It requires some emotional volleying, though, to both savor the possibilities and to protect yourself from potential disappointment.  After all, the interview is just step one. There is no guarantee that a job offer will follow. Job interviews are emotionally complex, which is one reason they feel strange.

Plus, this meeting requires ample prep. As you amass your research and shape your plans, it can feel less like you are preparing for a business meeting and more like you are studying for a test, which can make you feel nervous and vulnerable.

[Related: Check Out Reviews from People Who Have Interviewed at the Same Company]

Job interviews can be emotionally complicated. But examining your feelings about them can help you recognize the value of these meetings and make your peace with them, regardless of the outcome.


1. The language of formality

Job interviews feel formal in a way that daily office life does not; for example, you may feel a bit conspicuous to arrive in your suit especially if you find your interviewers dressed more casually.

Formality, though, is its own language. It softens into casualness once trust is established. After you have demonstrated that you can play by the rules, then you can loosen them. You have to show the team that they can count on you. So you have to be on time. You have to demonstrate that they can trust you with their customers, students, clients or patients so you have to present the most professional version of yourself in the earliest days of your acquaintanceship.

If you are offered the position, then you get to make it your own. But few professionals start there.

2. A lopsided conversation

Dr. Richard Orbé-Austin, career coach, psychologist, and partner with Dynamic Transitions Psychological Consulting points out that interviews are rhetorically different than most interactions. Dr. Orbé-Austin explains, “[I]t is an unnatural way of engaging with people, since it tends to be a one-way conversation, where you reveal a good deal about yourself, but the interviewer(s) does not generally reciprocate. That is not how we typically have conversations, where usually there is a back and forth exchange.”

This one-sided sharing can make interviewees feel exposed and vulnerable.

[Related: 2016 Best Places to Interview]

3. Balancing honesty with strategy

Your need to secure a new job may be pressing. But you don’t want to relay this desperation or speak ill of your current employer. You want to be honest but also strategic in how much you share. You may be trying to bolt from a job that you’ve outgrown, trying to flee from a toxic environment or angling to find an easier commute or a better salary. All are legitimate reasons to job search.

Being delicate in your explanation may make you feel less than forthright, but it also gives you the chance to reflect on the limitations of your current position in a tidy, emotion-free way. This is an important exercise. It may be true that your boss is a jerk, but it’s a more usable fact that you’re ready for new challenges. This is not dishonest, it’s simply more pertinent.

[Related: How to Answer "What Is Your Greatest Weakness?"]

4. The awkward self-sell

It can feel boastful to convince other people of your professional value, but remember, they are a busy team trying to fill their open position. If you can do that for them, they can get back to business as usual. They are eager to hear how your past experiences have prepared you for this opportunity.

Most interview teams just want to get a sense of your skills set and what it’s like to work with you. So get excited to discuss your accomplishments, and make sure to share the ones that have made your colleagues’ lives easier.

5. Embracing the challenge

Dr. Orbé-Austin explains that job interviews can drudge up anxiety “because they feel like a high-stakes evaluation of our very selves.” Try not to emotionally inflate the situation. Interviewees are simply being accessed for their fit on the team, and Dr. Orbé-Austin notes, they should do the same as they decide if the company culture feels right to them.

Regardless of the outcome, interviews are important to your professional development. Dr. Orbé-Austin writes: “The more you interview, the more you can recognize the types of organizations and roles you may want. Therefore, it can help you shape your professional development goals. Also, interviews are a great way to strengthen your communication skills and self-branding strategy. Interviews force you to develop a narrative about your professional self, and that narrative can be leveraged to enhance & amplify your personal brand in a variety of job-related spaces (e.g. LinkedIn, professional associations, etc.).”

DISCOVER: Read Actual Reviews of Interviews Submitted By Job Candidates!