A slight up-tick in your heart rate; a quickened, shallower breath; a tingling sensation in your gut.
This is the familiar combination of anticipation, anxiousness and excitement, that we’ve cutely labeled as getting “butterflies”. It’s a confusing mix of “I can’t wait to get started” and “am I ready for this?”.
There are times when getting butterflies is a very good thing: falling in love, buying your first home, or embarking on a great, long-awaited adventure. Other times, that feeling – also known as anxiety – can really knock us off our game.
Unfortunately for job seekers, interviews tend to be one of those experiences where anxiety runs amok. But, before we wage war on anxiety here, it’s important to remember that not all anxiety is bad. Feeling a manageable amount of anxiety can actually prime us for improved performance. The right amount of anxiety works like a wonder drug to make us sharper and more focused. However, there is a curve for anxiety: a little is good, a bit more is better, but too much is disastrous.
If you’ve participated in competitive sports, you’ve likely experienced this phenomenon first hand. As a runner, I consider a little race day anxiety a very special gift. Having “butterflies” has powered me to multiple, personal best finish times that I’m sure wouldn’t have been possible had I arrived completely calm and unworried. At a couple races, I questioned the accuracy of the race clock because I had so dramatically outperformed my training. That little boost in anxiousness (and adrenaline) can have a seriously strong impact.
Just like race day for runners, anxiety is inevitable at a job interview. It’s natural to feel pressure to impress in your interview and to give perfect answers. But you need to keep your anxiety levels from crossing over into that danger zone. The trick is to find the precise balance: one where anxiety is advantageous, but not so overwhelming you become frozen with fear.
The best strategy for keeping your anxiety at a manageable level is to prepare, prepare, prepare.
Preparation breeds confidence; and confidence can help keep your anxiety in check.
Here are my 5 top tricks for elevating your confidence and managing anxiety before a big interview – ensuring an impressive, top-of-your-game, interview day performance.
5 Tricks to boost your confidence before an interview!
- Map it out
Author and business guru, Suzy Welch, tells a great story about choosing an executive assistant based on the amount of preparation the candidate did before the interview. Among other research, the candidate she hired looked-up the location of the office on Google Maps, drove to the office the day before to understand traffic, and scoped out the parking situation.
Getting the lay of the land, literally, can be a huge confidence booster. Knowing where you’re going, where the parking is, and what the office and environment is like, is like getting home-field advantage. It will also help eliminate any unforeseen stresses, like struggling to find parking and worrying about being late.
- Dress to impress
We are all sensitive, to some extent, about our physical appearance. I don’t believe in the old “the clothes make the man (or woman)” saying, but I do know that what we wear can have a very real, tangible impact on how we feel about ourselves.
I (unfortunately) have an intimate understanding of just how quickly you can fall into a pit of self-consciousness when you’re struggling to find something to wear (my closet has been privy to many fallen tears). Protect yourself from an interview morning melt down; select your interview clothes in advance (at least the night before). Try the outfit on, see how you feel, and make adjustments as necessary.
One of my favourite personal hacks is to take a selfie. I’m serious. You don’t always see the full “picture” when you look in a mirror. It’s easy to lack perspective and see nothing but flaws. Taking a picture, and assessing an outfit from that vantage point, can change everything. Likely, you’ll realize you look better than you thought.
- Write out your answers
Absolutely, 100%, compose your answers to common interview questions before the interview. Write them out. Read them. Practice saying them. The more comfortable you are with the questions you expect to field, the more confident you’ll feel. It’s easy reassurance for yourself; no matter what, you’ll have rock-star answers for at least some of the questions.
This interview preparation is also invaluable for questions you may not have predicted. You’ll likely be able to use and adapt your scripted answers to respond to other questions. All interviewers are generally looking for the same information, they just may ask different questions to get there. The more you try to anticipate and prepare answers, the better your performance will be.
- Expect the unexpected
Even with all the preparation in the world, you’re bound to get thrown a curveball. Expect something weird to happen. Expect that your interview will not go flawlessly. Maybe you’ll be interviewed by a panel, when you expected a one-on-one session. Maybe you’ll be interviewed by someone you didn’t expect to meet. Maybe you’ll get a completely bizarre question. Be ready for anything to happen.
Last year, I was contracted by a private college to deliver job search training to students. During my interview, the interviewer decided to try something she had never done in an interview before. She left the room, found a random student, invited the student into the interview, and asked me to deliver career coaching to that student on the spot. Of course, I did, and I’m sure my ability to go with the flow and rise to the occasion is part of why I got that contract. I brought this “bring it on” attitude that worked in my favour that day.
Try to go into the interview open and ready for a challenging situation or question. Pro tip: you can still have prepared answers for completely unexpected questions. Try something like, “that’s a great question; give me a minute to think about that”, to buy yourself a little extra time to think through an answer, instead of rushing and giving an answer that doesn’t truly reflect your value or abilities.
- Bring a talisman
Or a totem, or a lucky charm, or whatever you want to call it. I’m not suggesting that superstition works or that the object you choose will have magical powers; but bring something that will trigger a sensation of calm or empowerment. This can be incredibly useful in a high-stress situation, like an interview, especially if you have some nervous habits or tendencies (like fidgeting, nail biting, or teeth clenching). Select something small, like a ring, or a watch, or a tie clip, or even a special pen, that will remind you to breathe and smile. This strategy can be incredibly grounding and help you feel safe in the interview.
These 5 strategies are all about simply preparing your body and mind for the stress that’s bound to crop-up during a job interview and keeping your anxiety at a helpful (not harmful) level.
Feeling better already? I want to hear which one of these strategies is your favourite, or which trick you use to boost your performance in interviews. Comment below!
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