Photo Credit: Krysten_N via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Krysten_N via Compfight cc

I coach people for job interviews and find that a few simple things can reduce anxiety.

1) Tell YOUR truth, your stories, your examples.  I coached a young man for an interview with Goldman Sachs for a summer position.  He was incredibly nervous.  I noticed that he got even more nervous and flubbed his answers when he was not being specific about his own experience.  He told me it was because people told him to say certain things and he was trying to do that, trying to give the interviewer what he thought they wanted.  When he instead told a story based on his own experience, he was funny, engaging, intelligent, and just a pleasure to talk with.  So I recommended that he forget all the things people told him he should say and instead focus on what he actually did, experienced, thought, believed.  He followed my suggestion, ended up acing the interview and getting the job.

People want to hire real people, not a robot.  If you don’t get the gig when you are yourself, then it’s not the right gig for you.  But how much worse it would be to get the gig based on being someone you’re not, and then find out it’s a horrible fit for the real you.

2) Stop trying to read the interviewer’s mind.  There is no such thing as mind-reading.  And even if there were, you are not a mind reader.  We actually have no idea what other people want to hear.  So don’t waste your time trying to figure out the “right” answers.  There are only YOUR answers.  I know you really want the job.  You can only do your best, so stay within yourself, your mind and experience.

3) Believe you deserve to be there.  You got the interview because your resume and cover letter met the basic requirements for the position, and conveyed something appealing to the employer.  You cleared the first hurdle, which means you already won.  Clearly, the interviewer wants to learn more about you.  So you deserve to be there.  I like to say “don’t do the employer’s job for them, by taking yourself out first.” Usually, I’m referring to a decision you make to NOT even apply for the job.  In an interview, you do it by bringing your self-doubt into the room and believing it.  Leave self-doubt at the door.  Bring along your best friend’s voice.  Even better, bring along your best self – the self that deep down knows you are capable of doing this job and much more.

4) Remember that you know how to come up with a solution to a problem.  You have a ton of experience already – in school, at home, in any job, with your friends, in sports or clubs, everything in life.  An interview question is simply an employer wanting to know how you think through a problem.  There will be interview questions that throw you momentarily.  It’s OK. Calm down.  Breathe. And remember how you worked your way through many unfamiliar situations or problems.  You KNOW how to  learn something new, how to do something new, how to “show your work” so someone sees how you think through a problem or situation that is unfamiliar.

5) Prepare concise answers to some common questions, and rehearse them.  If you’ve thought ahead, you are less likely to be very nervous in the interview, and less likely to go on and on in your responses.  And concise answers impress people, while leaving them room to ask additional questions.

One of the most common manifestations of nerves is talking too much or too long, not taking a breath, and generally trying to pile on the proof that you really do know what you’re talking about, you really do know the material, you really are qualified for the position, really, I can do it…

I’m exhausted writing this and the people interviewing you are exhausted and perhaps even exasperated by you doing this.  I talked with one employer who interviewed someone who was really well-qualified for the job.  He should have been a slam-dunk, and the person who interviewed him wanted to hire him…except for his fatal flaw of talking too long.  He answered the question, gave an example, then went on to another example, and still another example.  He never gave her the chance to react, respond, ask for clarification, or ask another question.  She knew that her team would question her judgment if she hired this person who went on and on.  So despite his qualifications, he didn’t get the job.  If he had answered the question and given ONE example, it would have satisfied her curiosity.

Common interview questions are:

  • Why do you want this job?
  • What do you bring to this job that we need?
  • Why should we hire you?
  • Tell me about a time when you met a challenge.
  • Tell me about a failure and what you did about it.
  • Tell me about managing a team.
  • What would your boss tell me about you?
  • What would your staff tell me about you?
  • What do you love doing most at your current job?
  • What do you like least about your current job?
  • Why are you leaving your current job?
  • Tell me about yourself.
  • What’s your greatest weakness?
  • What’s your greatest strength?
  • What do you think the greatest challenge of this job will be?
  • Tell me about times when you did this function in the job for which we’re interviewing you (fill in key word, e.g. manage a project, improve a process, launch a product, market a service, develop and implement a communications plan, organize a financial system, manage a busy person’s schedule…)

There are as many answers to these questions as there are readers of this blog.  The following format may help you answer many of these and other interview questions:  Repeat the question in statement form.  Give a general response.  Give an example. Tie your response back to the job for which you’re interviewing.

Here’s an example:

“I’ve learned that my greatest weakness is my desire to say yes to what my boss and colleagues ask of me.  Sometimes I have so much on my plate that it’s not realistic for me to take on one more thing.  So I’ve learned how to ask questions before saying yes.  For example, my boss asked me to take on a project for her boss.  Clearly, it was important.  So I asked my boss when her boss needed it, and if there were other projects I was working on that could wait so I could do this project.  She heard that I knew the project for her boss was a priority, and she also heard that I had competing priorities.  Luckily, there were a couple of projects that we agreed could wait a few more days, and I could do the work her boss required.  Sometimes all of them are critical and so I simply work more hours, or ask if someone else can help me with one or more project. I’ll bring that ability to communicate about and set priorities to this job, which I think is important because it seems that this job encompasses a lot of high-visibility responsibilities. I’ll want to make sure I’m working on the activities that are the most critical, and I can only do that by talking with my boss – you – regularly.” 

I hope these tips help you feel more confident when you go to your first, second, third or even fourth interview.