Years ago, just as I was about to begin a presentation to a group of job seekers, I realized I needed something from my office nearby in order to begin. I rushed back, searching quickly to grab what was needed. A colleague sensed my high level of distraction and hurry, and told me to ‘Stop for a minute’. Getting my attention, when my mind was whirring with all that needed to take place, was no small feat.
She then proceeded to instruct me to ‘Breathe in deeply to the count of seven, then breathe out slowly to the count of seven. Now, do it again.’ Breathe in – 1,2,3,4,5,6,7, breathe out. It was astonishing to me how centered and focused I became, how my mind was able to let go of all the crazy hurriedness I was feeling and relax. Rather than worrying about not being as prepared as I had wanted to be, I walked into the presentation with confidence and clarity, ready to focus on meeting the participants’ needs. I have never forgotten the immense calm that this simple technique brings, and have passed it on to numerous, grateful job seekers as they prepare to walk into interviews.
Some stress going into interviews is natural and beneficial. It revs up our energy and can increase our level of alertness. Too much stress and we become highly distracted and flustered, or we ‘shut down’ thereby not allowing our best selves to shine through. Here are some additional tips to reduce stress before an upcoming interview:
Know what to expect: When called to schedule an interview, it is your right to ask who and how many you will be meeting with. Find out their names and position titles and take time to look them up on LinkedIn or Google to know something about them. Recently a professional at the top of his career was going in for a third interview with a well-respected organization. By this point, he felt that it would just be a perfunctory meeting to finalize hiring details. To his great surprise, he had to meet with 4 additional people and the meeting was quite intense. The interview did not go well. Surprises are not to your advantage!
Be aware of dress code expectations: The caveat for interviews is to dress at least one level higher than you would on a regular work day at the same company, and this is a good rule to follow. Remember however, to take good advice when it comes to you. A woman was recently being interviewed by a small 4 person company for an accounting position and was told to wear jeans to her interview. She was flabbergasted but did as she was told. She recounted how hard it was for her not to go back home and change to something much more business-like, and also how immensely grateful she was that she had followed their instructions. As soon as she entered the premises, still wearing jeans, she knew she fit right in. While this is a highly unusual example, the take away is to know and follow your prospective employer’s expectations.
Timing: You know this one. Always, always, always arrive 10 minutes early for every interview. If being early is not natural to you, figure out how much time you need to give yourself to get to the location of the interview then build in extra margin by adding 15 to 20 minutes or more to the anticipated travel time, and stick to it. If you are one of those who are naturally 30 minutes early to everything (and are quite proud to say so) be sure to wait until 10 minutes prior to the interview before entering. Arriving 30 minutes ahead may signal desperation, and can often generate unease for an interviewer who may feel that you are expecting him/her to re-arrange their schedule to accommodate you. If you arrive too early, take a brief walk around the building and gather your equilibrium. Going in 10 minutes early always signals a good start.
Visual Check: Once you arrive at the location, locate a restroom and go in for a last minute visual check to ensure that your hair and clothes are just right. Once done, you can release any concerns in that regard and focus on the content of the interview – for which you already prepared well.
Focus on the Present: Breathe in – 1,2,3,4,5,6,7, breath out 1,2,3,4,5,6,7 – and again, and again. Don’t rush this. Centering yourself will help you calm your thoughts and focus on the moment, allowing you to walk in with assurance. Adopt this for any situations where you feel there is too much coming at you, or you can’t focus. It is oh so simple, yet remarkably effective.
Visualize: Plan ahead what your initial entry is going to be like. Visualize yourself entering and greeting your interviewers. Bring your winsome smile, a solid handshake and positive energy into the room.
Turning stress into useful focus and positive energy will serve to start any interview off well. In addition to solid preparation including being confident in your research of the company and responses to anticipated questions, leveraging stress into focus will enable you to confidently engage throughout the interview with a winning level of assurance.
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