Leigh Gauthier : "Demonstrating that you are coachable, yet able to stand up for your opinions without getting defensive is imperative."

In a job interview, we make ourselves vulnerable to the judgement of others. When we feel judged, we feel pressure to perform and worry that we might fail. Fear of failure causes us to be nervous about potentially losing something important to us.

What can you do to help minimise the onset of anxiousness before, during and after an interview?

Think about your strengths before the interview

Adequately preparing for the interview helps move your mental state from distress to ‘eustress’ – a motivating form of stress that helps you perform well. This creates the optimal balance of energy and enthusiasm in the interview.

While it is natural for candidates to rehearse their answers in the waiting room, this is actually not the best use of one’s time. Take a few minutes to think about why you are interested in the role and what you have to contribute. Review a list of your strengths reminding yourself of your unique abilities. This is a powerful way to get focused before the interview and a much better use of your energy than memorising your responses.

Over-preparation can make your answers appear canned and you lose your ability to build rapport with your interviewer in an authentic way.

Get curious during the interview

When anxiety threatens to overwhelm, taking a few deep breaths and slowing things down are one of the best things you can do. It’s easy, it is calming, and no one knows you’re doing it. If you have a tendency to forget to breathe, set up a reminder for yourself to pause, breathe, and gain control.

Additionally, part of the nervousness comes from focusing exclusively on oneself and thinking about how you are coming across. Get out of your own head and get curious. Ask questions about the company, the role, and the interviewer.

Some situations are more nerve-racking than others, especially when it comes to dealing with the unknown. For instance, how do you deal with interview questions you may not be able to answer straightaway such as “How would you value a dinosaur?” Again, get curious. Ask why would the interviewer be asking such a question? It is ok to pause and ask questions to find out specifically what the hirer is asking for. While the interviewer responds, this gives you a chance to clarify your answer.

Generally, it is not about the answer. It is about how you think on the spot, respond to pressure and structure your answer. You can say something like: “I haven’t thought of that before, but off the top of my head, this is what I would do.”

Share with the panel your thought process as you develop your reply. Also, remember to have fun with it. Some of these questions will test your sense of humour. After all, part of the job of the interviewer is to assess for cultural fit, not just competence to do the job.

It is not uncommon for interviewers to push you hard, especially if you are doing well. For example, you may receive negative feedback from the interviewer such as “I don’t think you have the skills for this job” or “Why did you not do better in your bachelor’s degree?” or get criticised for a presentation you did.

Responding well to feedback is a key skill in today’s organisations. Demonstrating that you are coachable yet able to stand up for your opinions without getting defensive is imperative. Interviews are a mini view into how you will handle such developmental feedback on the job and as such will be probed by a skilled interviewer.

Being curious can also minimise any defensive responses. Find out from the panel what concerns they have and try to allay their fears.

Reflect on your performance

We are our own worst critic. How many times have you heard someone claim to have nailed the interview? Not many. Instead, what we do is torture ourselves by replaying everything we said against what we should have said.

Be constructive and take a moment to make notes of your interview performance. Write exactly what happened; what you thought, felt and said. Note what you did well and what to improve on for next time.

Be genuine

While recruiters are looking for a professional and confident employee, they are also looking for an authentic one. Being a little nervous is actually not a deal-breaker and recruiters are often trained to set the candidate at ease so that they can see the best possible version of the candidate.

Recruitment is a costly and time-intensive endeavour. If you have been selected for an interview, the desire of the recruiter for you to succeed is high. A best possible outcome is that there are too many qualified candidates to choose from rather than too few. Should nerves get the best of you, remember, the person across the table is on your side. This goes a long way to help moving those interview jitters into an enthusiastic vibe with your potential future employer.

Leigh Gauthier, acting director of recruitment and admissions for the full-time MBA, University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management in Canada.

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