Keeping your cool in a job interview
Tips on being your best self in an interview situation
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If you are confident in your ability to remain calm and collected during an interview while still coming across as focused and confident, look away now. You don’t need this advice. However, if like me you attend your first proper interview for an actual full-time job and discover you have no idea what to say, then keep reading. I’ve been there (a good few times, actually), but, inch-by-excruciatingly-painful-inch, I learned how to tackle my nerves and make a good impression.
When I first started going to interviews, I would be so nervous that I would keep drinking the water they offered - glasses and glasses. So often, that one interviewer asked if I would like them to open a window, I obviously needed to cool down. Most of the time I would be lightly shaking, and my voice would always come out weird when answering the first question.
I was so caught up in what they were going to ask, and how to give a perfect answer, that I failed to relax into it, be myself and appear in anyway competent. Obviously this was a major hurdle in landing a job. My eureka moment came when I was interviewed for a marketing internship. On the day, I couldn’t find the office due to a slight mix up in my mind between the word “road” and “street”. This led to me racing at top speed up and down Dublin’s cobbles, in heels, four times. Luckily I was in plenty of time (Tip #1!) so I made it with a minute to spare, complete with sweaty red face and out of breath (at least this time I felt the water was warranted).
I wouldn’t recommend doing this, at all in any way, but exercise is a great way to calm nerves. I was interviewed by two people at the same time, good cop and bad cop. Bad cop did most of the talking and got me so far out of my comfort zone I forgot to be nervous. I couldn’t possibly have prepared for his questions if I had tried. They seemed so ridiculously hard in comparison to any other interview I’d been to that I thought, pretty much from the moment he started talking, that there was no way I would get the job. This was an a-ha! moment, because it meant I relaxed. I stopped caring about perfectly rehearsed answers and just went with the flow.
I walked out 99% sure I would never hear from them again, but I was wrong. They offered me a job. This was a fantastic learning curve for me, and it gave me great experience that I carried into later interviews. I had found my rhythm and what worked for me.
So without further ado, here are my top tips to help you not be your own worst enemy on interview day:
- Exercise. Seriously. See my epic run, above. While I don’t recommend you partake in such a marathon 10 minutes before you are due to interview, a little light exercise like a short walk on the day can work wonders for calming stressed out minds.
- Be yourself. This sounds clichéd, but I don’t care because it is so important. If you try to base your answers on what you think the interviewer wants to hear, it just won’t work. You want to work in a place where you will be happy, and they want to hire someone who is a good fit for the company. Also, pretending to be someone you're not is hard work and likely to increase your jitteriness.
- Be prepared. Make sure you know your CV inside out. Be aware of what skills you possess and how these fit the job. Know what achievements you are most proud of, and what you can bring to the role. Do research on the company and make sure you have great reasons why you want to work for them. Spend a bit of time researching the best way to structure your answer - for example, many people use the STAR (situation, task, action, result) method.
- Expect the unexpected. You can’t prepare for everything, so if a curve ball gets thrown your way, don’t get flustered. Accept that you can’t know everything they are going to ask. Just remember your interviewer is not looking for a perfect answer. A lot of the time it is the way you answer a question that is important. Take some time to think about what they have asked if you need to, don’t just launch straight in. Remember to breathe as well - holding your breath will make you tense up.
- Cut yourself some slack. You have done all the hard work in getting to this point - building up experience, writing a good CV, doing a great application. Trust yourself to do your best, and if they don’t want you then it is their loss - you will eventually find a place to work that works for you, which is the most important thing of all.