As you can tell from my profile photo, I am not a fellow-manly man. I actually stumbled across this website when I was doing some research on how I can help people overcome anxiety and nervousness when interviewing.
I then trawled through these posts and soon discovered there's a really great bunch of supportive and intelligent manly men here. So I signed up, hoping that I'd get accepted despite my non-compliant gender.
I would be infinitely grateful if any of you could provide me some feedback on my article (though I appreciate interview-related anxiety/fears is not something that everyone experiences). I would like your thoughts on if the "problems" I describe in my article ring true or not, and if these solutions sound like something you would want to learn.
Many thanks in advance!
3 Tips to Overcome Anxiety when Interviewing – no selling required!
Interviewing can be crippling. The thought of having to go into a room with strangers and talk about ME for an extended period of time, telling “fake” stories to impress people I don’t even know, used to make me want to pull a sickie (...for the rest of my life). What made it worse was telling my friends and getting advice like “Just be yourself” or “Imagine they’re naked” or “Just be confident”. Are you serious? Maybe those techniques worked for them but they were useless to me.
It didn’t matter how much I prepared “tell me about…” examples or practiced talking about my strengths and weaknesses, every time I got in the room, my mouth would dry up, my hands would shake and my mind would go blank.
It took me years to get over my fear of interviewing, so if you want to fasttrack your way to beating the interviewing nerves, here are my top 3 tips.
Tip 1: Understanding what happens during an interview.. and WHY.
One of the things that used to give me nightmares was not knowing what would happen during an interview, I felt like I’d be ambushed into this scenario where there so many eyes on me and I had to perform. It was only until I went to so many (and eventually be on the other side of the table) that a pattern emerged.
Contrary to my initial beliefs, an interview is actually a predictable process. Firstly, by the time I was actually asked to go into the interview, I’d passed the initial screening stage, ie. They’d read my CV and knew that on paper, I should be able to do the job. In some cases, I’d also passed the phone screen, which meant that on the phone I sounded like a decent human being who could vouch for what was on my CV.
During the interview, it generally went something like this:
- Arrive at the interview location, sit in the waiting room feeling self-conscious, maybe read through my prepared questions, wonder about what the interviewers are going to be like.
- Get greeted by someone in HR and led into a scary room where there’s at least 2, usually 3 people ready to grill me.
- There’d always be awkward small talk, I might get asked if I had any trouble getting there or if the weather was nice.
- Then I’d get asked some questions like – what interests you about this role/company, tell us about your experience, what are your strengths and weaknesses, what do you think you can bring to this role.
- Then they’d ask me some “tell me about a time” questions (or behavioural based interviewing), the ones that felt like would last forever.
- Then I’d get an opportunity to ask some questions, and then the interview was over.
Since being on the other side of the fence, I understood what they were looking for during the interview.
So by the time you’re invited to an interview, those initial screening stages were to check that you had the right skills to do the job. The purpose of the interview was to meet you in person and ascertain if you’re the right PERSON for the job. In other words - are you the right “fit”, and interviewees (that’s you!) are assessed on things like:
- Do you wear the right clothes or possess the right “image” to fit in?
- Do you talk, or act, in a way which will fit into our company?
- Do we think that you’ll get along with the people in our company?
- Are you going to piss people off, or will people like you?
- Can you actually do what you’re saying you can do?
Once I knew the format of interviews and how to prepare for them, I was no longer afraid of what was going to happen – because it’s actually a structured, and predictable process. I also knew that the small talk was actually an OPPORTUNITY for me to make the interview work to my advantage. I learnt why they were asking me these questions and what they were looking for and that I could actually prepare for by knowing where, and what to research.
Tip two: Interviewing is a TWO-way process, not one-way.
I’ve figured out that interviewing is kind of similar to dating. They’re assessing if I’m the right kind of person for the company by wanting to figure out my ‘cultural fit’.
And although it took me a little while to realise this, it was incredibly empowering when I discovered that that during an interview - I’m also assessing if THEY’RE right for me.
WE WERE TESTING EACH OTHER!
Sure, there were times when I was desperate to leave my current job, or when I first graduated and I had to land my first job regardless of where. But with hindsight (and learning the hard way that jumping to any other organisation isn’t going to solve my problems because I’d find myself in the same situation months, sometimes weeks later) I learned that, just like it takes time to find the right partner in life, it takes time and research to find the right company where I can enjoy my work and the company of my colleagues.
I remember going to an interview and the first “tell me why” question they asked me was “Tell me about a time when you made a mistake which impacted a lot of stakeholders and you needed to rectify this without damaging your reputation or the reputation of your department”.
As an inexperienced junior professional, early on in my career, I felt like I totally messed up that interview because I couldn’t answer that question. Wise me now knows that, that company actually wasn’t the right one for me – I mean, who asks that as a first question? Not only was it a glass window into what kind of people I’d be working with, who would ask a such a brutal question as an opening to an interview, but that question is also really telling about the culture there. It would have been the total wrong fit for me.
Now I know that I can do my upfront research to figure out, even BEFORE I apply for a role, if it’s somewhere I want to work at. I also know how to interview a company so I know if they’re right for me (and sometimes even impress them by doing so!).
Tip Three: Getting to know ME better so I don’t need to “sell”
To truly become comfortable with interviewing, I had to overcome to anxiety to “sell myself”. Talking about myself was something I was just not comfortable with. I didn’t do anything extraordinary, I’m not a Nobel prize winner or a famous actor. The last thing I wanted to do was sound like that Executive in Marketing who’s so full of themselves and never says anything tangible or real.
But if you asked me to talk about something I knew I was good at, or that I liked, I could talk for hours. Didn’t matter who I was talking to, it wouldn’t cause the crippling fear I felt when talking about myself.
Why? Because talking about Vikings (or Game of Thrones, or Ray Donovan, or [insert TV show name]) or how I use tools like my inbox system or my calendar to increase my productivity, was something backed by facts, figures, and examples.
This is when I realised that what scared me so much about “selling myself” were things like:
- That I couldn’t really see what I was good at, I mean I knew I could do my job, but everyone can right? (wrong!), what I was doing at work was just keeping things afloat, delivering my targets;
- If I prepared answers to questions, I’d sound like a scripted and fake and surely people will know I wasn’t being real because it’d so obviously be me trying to sell myself;
- I needed to sell myself to fit into the position I’d applied for and that at times, I felt like I was trying to fit a round peg into a square hole.
Once I got to know ME better – what I was good at, how I was good at those things, what techniques I used that helped me get my job done, what kind of people I wanted to work with and at what type of company, I no longer felt like I was selling myself. Because I was simply telling the truth, I wasn’t boasting, because what I was saying was backed-up with facts and figures - just like how Ray Donovan is so badass because he gets rid of people in his way, like what he did to Dmitri.
Confidence comes with preparation. Know who you are, why you want to work there, and why they should want you to work there before you walk in.