There was this one interview I had that I remember so clearly. Not because I aced it but because I was an anxious wreck! It was for a role within my field at the time, a one-on-one counselor with the Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Hamilton. I wanted the job so much as I would be working within a camp that focused on creating a safe and fun space for children to enjoy their summer.
The funny thing was, I knew I was qualified – I had worked in camps before and I had worked with individuals needing mental health and life skills support. But that didn’t matter, I was straight up nervous.
I got into the interview and while I was able to answer the questions, I just could not calm my nerves down. In fact, my hands were shaking so badly that one of the interviewers even paused the interview to say I was doing great and that the role was pretty much mine and that I didn’t need to be so nervous. Talk about embarrassing!
I was lucky that they saw past my nerves and gave me the job but I know many Hiring Managers who wouldn’t be so kind. They would be concerned that you wouldn’t be able to handle the stress of the job, that they would need to hold your hand anytime something challenging came up or that they could never depend on you to be the face of a role (with internal or external clients, management/senior leadership, etc).
So while nerves are a completely normal part of the interview process, it is vital that you are able to calm or redirect those interview jitters! Here are 9 tips to do just that.
1. Practice makes Perfect
I am a big believer of foundational preparation for interviews. Before you begin your job search you probably have a sense of the types of roles you will be interviewing for. So at that point think of all of your stories, such as your Tell Me About Yourself answer.
If most of the work is done before an interview request comes in then that initial flood of panic and anxiety won’t happen (or be as strong at least) and you can just do a quick review and tweak of your stories and spend some time preparing for why you want to work there.
2. Prepare for the Worst
I constantly prepare myself, my clients, even my loved ones for the roller coaster of life. That includes the interview. No interview is ever perfect and that is OKAY.
Spend some time reflecting on what normally happens during an interview when your nerves get the better of you.
Do you go on a rambling spree? If yes, prepare for how you will handle it (apologize for going off topic, blame your excitement or passion and then come back to answering the question and please don’t forget to state the result!).
Do you clam up and freeze? If yes, how will you handle that? (take a sip of water, ask them to repeat the question, say you need a few seconds to think it through, even ask to come back to the question).
Now think about the interviewers’ behaviours – what if they seem distracted? Or displaying negative body language, or asking very direct and unnerving questions? How will you handle that without it impacting your performance? You don’t know what is happening in their life – maybe they can’t stand interviewing, or got some bad news right before, aren’t feeling good or simply just having a bad day. Their behavior could have NOTHING to do with you! So if you prepare for how you will handle it, then you are more likely to still shine in the interview.
3. Get your ZZZ’s
Sleep is so incredibly underrated, and I can go on and on about it but I’ll save that for another day! All I’ll say is to have a good night of sleep the night before – go to bed at a reasonable hour, aim to get 7-9 hours of sleep (which means go to bed 7.5-9.5 hours before you want to get up). This will ensure you are feeling your best which means you are less likely to feel nervous.
4. Move Your Body
Plan to get to the interview with some time to spare and then go for a quick walk. Fresh air and movement are proven to help you calm down as it releases those wonderful endorphins!
The morning of or evening before do some exercise that will bring you value – run, strength workout, yoga. Do the one that you know will leave you feeling strong, confident and ready to take on the world!
I think I’ve already talked about how meditation can help you get ahead in your career. It will help you slow down the nervous mind, recognize the spiral of thoughts that accompany it and help you notice when you are slipping into bad, nervous habits during the interview faster allowing you to self-correct.
6. Put on your cape
A few years ago a TED talk by Amy Cuddy introduced the world to the concept of the power pose before important meetings. Amy has since backed up her original findings with a new study that continues to show that effecting a power pose can impact brain chemistry which is amazing!
Find a place where you won’t be disturbed (bathroom stall?!), put your hands on your hips and stand there like Wonder Woman or Superman for 30 seconds to 2 minutes. Imagine yourself, no one can stop you, you got this. Take a deep breath and go show those interviewers what you can do!
7. Power Up with Power Songs
Do you have power songs? You know those songs that pump you up and lift you up? I have tons, in fact I have a whole playlist of them that I play whenever I feel like a need a boost. Like Sia and David Guetta’s Titanium or Forever by Drake, Eminem – which are two of my go tos.
On your way to the interview, play a couple of them and let them excite you and fill you with power and confidence.
8. Food for Thought
I remember in first year Biology, our professor telling us to eat a mini chocolate bar right before all exams. She said the combination of caffeine and sugar was a sure way to activate our brain allowing our sense of recall to be quicker. I’m not sure about the science behind it but who is going to say no to that!
For the longest time I did that, but in the last few years I’ve begun having bananas before important meetings or presentations. It started because that was what I would take before a race (running, triathlon, obstacle course) and I really felt a positive impact. For me, it provides me the energy needed and it also calms me down.
So while you are on your quick walk or on the way to the interview grab a mini chocolate bar, banana or other small snack.
9. Fake it til you Make it
After that disastrous interview I decided to really focus on channeling those nerves into excitement. I re-framed those feelings. You know what I’m talking about: your hands are slightly shaking, your heart is racing, you are sweating. The same feelings happen when you are amped up and excited to go, so I tell myself I’m just super excited instead of super nervous.
Before going in, I would do is bounce on my toes a bit, give myself a pep talk and use that adrenaline in a positive way. I know others who make funny faces in the mirror, who do a full body shake or just repeat “yes, yes, yes” in their heads.
There is something to this idea, as one thing I’ve learned over my 15 years is that Hiring Managers love to hire people who are excited and enthusiastic to work for them.
At the end of all my preps, I always say “Good Luck. Have Fun. Be Yourself.” After all, I want the interview to be an enjoyable experience!
I do understand that nerves can be debilitating, and if none of these tips help then maybe customized interview training and prep will – reach out to me and we can work on this together.
They say to Never Say Never. Well I’m saying never to these 7 things that people do in interviews which leads me and hiring managers to say NO. Want to make sure you don’t fall victim? Read on and I’ll help you get a YES.
As a recruiter who has interviewed thousands of individuals over my 15 years, I have truly seen it all. I know what it takes to make a great impression. I also know what it takes to ensure you NEVER get the job and I want to help you to avoid the mistakes that I have seen time and time again.
1. Never Go in Unprepared but Never Over Prepare.
Honestly there is nothing more uncomfortable in an interview then someone who either didn’t prepare or who prepared too much, it becomes real awkward real fast.
Have you ever shown up for an interview thinking you could just wing it? Time for some real talk – what were you thinking? Why are you wasting your own time by even going in for the interview because I guarantee you won’t get the job. So if you aren’t going to prepare then just decline the interview.
The basic prep for an interview only takes 10-20 minutes tops. It all starts with some research – research the company, the job and yourself. Figure out why you want to work at this company, why you want this particular job and how you would be a great match (skills, knowledge and experience). Obviously a bit more prep is better but if you are strapped for time or produce your best answers/work under some pressure then just do the above!
Have you prepared for hours but go in and have a melt down? I have seen it happen. The interviewee freezes, they can’t think of the best answer. Or they talk too much, just long answers that ramble on and on. They get stuck in their own head and just can’t get out! My recommendation – if you are actively looking for a new job do a lot of interview prep before you even get an interview. Then just spend 30-60 minutes tops tweaking your prep for this particular job and company. The night before make sure you get some time to relax in and maybe in the morning glance at your notes but again focus more on being relaxed.
Moral of the Story: Prepare, not too little, not too much but just enough!
2. Never get cagey but never tell elaborate stories when discussing why you left a job
When I’m interviewing people it is really important to go through the reasons for why they left each job – a line of questioning classified as “motivation questions”. My main purpose for asking these questions is to determine someone’s motivations – what is important to them in a career, company and job. I’m not looking to trap people. But, honestly, I am looking for red flags. And red flags come from people who get really cagey or who go into too much detail.
By cagey, I mean they are evasive – avoiding answering the question at all costs. I make assumptions from this kind of behavior – I assume that they got fired due to poor performance. The thing is that probably isn’t the case! Don’t make an interviewer think you have something to hide – be honest with them.
BUT the interviewer doesn’t need an essay on why you left either. When someone goes into a long elaborate story it same raises those same red flags. I think that you are overcompensating for something bad. Which again, probably isn’t true. You are probably just nervous, was shocked or hurt if you were let go and the long explanation has been a way that you have personally handled it. Which is great. But as an interviewer, I don’t need it.
Moral of the Story: Short and sweet is the way to go. If you were laid off, that is all you need to say!
3. Never show up late but never show up too early
Honestly, nothing angers me more than a person sauntering in late to an interview. Like the people who don’t prepare, I get the impression that they just don’t care or are interested. Not the right first impression to make that is for sure!
I get it, there are times where being late can’t be avoided, like an accident on the highway. If that happens to you, pull over and call the interviewer to let them know. Better to take that 5 minutes and update them.
On the flip side you would think to avoid that you would show up early. But the problem with that is that sitting in the lobby waiting for the interviewer will just make you more nervous and increases the likelihood of you having a meltdown in the interview (similar to over preparing). If you do get there early – go grab a coffee, read in the car, go for a walk.
Moral of the Story: Show up 5-10 minutes early.
4. Never be to modest but also never get too braggy.
It is hard to sell yourself, I totally get that. But remember the whole point of the interview is to determine whether you have the skills, experience and knowledge to do the job so you must talk about your accomplishments so that they walk away knowing that you are the perfect fit. Hiding them by undermining yourself or by sharing the win (using “we”) won’t get you the job. If you need help with this, check out my article Selling Yourself, I’ll give you 4 tips/reminders on how to sell yourself without feeling icky.
There is a fine line though. I can’t stand the people who walk in and feel like they own the place. That is a trigger for me and the whole interview is me knocking them off the pedestal – it isn’t pretty! But it is more than the arrogance. It also showcases a lack of self-awareness, meaning can this person identify and correct any obstacles (internal or external) that may get in the way of their success. This is a skill that is becoming more and more important in this world – most managers just do not have time to provide hands-on management and they need people who can essentially manage themselves. A person who is cocky and arrogant comes across as someone who can’t recognize their own shortcomings. In order to own your strengths, you also have to own your weaknesses.
Moral of the Story: Be ready and willing to talk about the good, the bad and the ugly.
5. Never act desperate but never play hard to get
I know if you are actively searching for a job and really need one to pay the bills that it is hard not to have that seep into an interview. I get it, the pressure is on and these people need to hire you and you want to make sure they know that! But when you are desperate you tend to forget to sell yourself since the focus becomes “I need this job!” instead of “I would do amazing at this job!” If this sounds familiar then you need to spend some time focusing before an interview. Instead of focusing on how you need this job, focus on who you are, what accomplishments you bring to the table and how you could benefit this company and team. Be careful though not to swing the other way though and start playing hard to get!
If you aren’t actively searching for a job and a recruiter reaches out to you, it is common to play hard to get. I come across these candidates all the time – they want to be wooed. The thing is though in most cases that backfires because it comes across as disinterested and people want to hire people who want to work with them. Now, I’m not saying you can’t be picky – in fact I want you to be picky about making any career moves – but I want you to have options. And if you act disinterested you may never even get the chance to make a choice, you are taking away that option.
Moral of the Story: Be excited about the opportunity and about what you bring to the opportunity.
6. Never forget to follow up but never become a stage 5 clinger
The easiest thing you can do is to send a Thank You email as a follow up including a quick summary of why you are a great fit and how interested you are. It shows off your professionalism, your level of interest and reminds them of your skill set. But I am amazed at how few people actually do this! They are missing out on such an easy opportunity to shine.
Then there are those that become too clingy – sending constant follow up emails and/or phone calls. I know you really want this job, but this shows a potential manager that you don’t deal well with uncertainty and that you need your hand held during tough times. Instead of making a hiring manager want to hire you this makes them want to decline you!
Moral of the Story: Send a thank you email. And then maybe just ONE more to follow up. That’s it.
7. Never act too uptight but never be too casual.
Hiring Managers don’t just want to know that you can do the job. They also want to be able to see themselves working with you which means that they have to like you. If you walk into the interview treating it like it is a funeral – meaning you are tense and uptight – it is really hard to create a connection. Relax a little. Before the interview, do some raspberries or a couple of jumps or a full body shake. Anything that loosens you up!
Hiring managers do want to be respected. So don’t walk in like you are walking into your friend’s house. This is still a professional workplace. And by too casual, I mean don’t tell stories that seem to go on forever. Don’t go into too much detail about your personal life. And, please I beg of you – DO NOT SWEAR! The interview is a business meeting so treat it as such, like a business professional.
Moral of the Story: Be relaxed but professional.
Have you fallen victim to the above and need more than an article? Or are you still not getting an offer even when you don’t do these? Let’s work together to help you CREATE CONNECTIONS by mastering the interview.
Your resume worked and you got an interview. You are a little bit excited and a lot nervous. You go into the room and are anticipating that first crucial question.
“So, why don’t you tell me a little more about yourself?”
You freeze. Running through your head is a jumble of thoughts. What do they want to know? Should I tell them where I grew up? What I’m doing now at work? What I ate for breakfast?
You open your mouth and a flood of words come out, a rambling, run on sentence kind of answer. You don’t know what to do, do you shut up or do you try and dig yourself out of the hole? You keep talking trying to salvage the answer before finally stopping in the middle of a thought.
Does this sound familiar to you? I wouldn’t be surprised since as a recruiter I see the above all the time! I have also had interviewees go on for 10 minutes, describing every little detail of every job. I have had interviewees give a 1 sentence answers, giving me no clarity as to who they are. Honestly, I have seen it all. But sadly the one thing I don’t see too often is a great answer to this seemingly simple question!
The “Tell me about yourself” is a classic ice breaker question, it is a great way to open up an interview allowing a recruiter or hiring manager to get a sense of who you are and evaluate your fit.
Having a great, thought out answer to this question gives an excellent first impression to the interviewer and really sets you up for success in the rest of the interview so investing a short amount of time is worth it in the long run.
The key to success in answering this question is to go from the scattered mess answer you may normally give to a structured and organized answer. Having a good plan guarantees this and my 3 step plan is an easy one to follow.
Step 1: Where you are right now
Tell them a little bit of who you are and what you are doing currently, or in your most recent job. If the role is in the same field highlight your job title and relevant industry related experiences. If you are in the midst of a career change, highlight your skills that are relevant to this job.
Do not get into your life history, focus only on your current/most recent role to start with.
Step 2: What You Have Done
Outline how your mix of experience, skills and education will bring value to this job. Like I wrote about in The Secrets to an Engaging Cover Letter, be sure to summarize talking about patterns of successes with some highlights of hard data (ie my ability to analyze data, recognize inefficiencies and create new process improvements has led to a cost savings of $100k at this job and $500k at this job) rather than listing a ton of accomplishments. If there are 1-2 accomplishments that really line up with this job then definitely highlight them without going into details (the rest of the interview will allow you to do that).
Step 3: Where Are You Going
In your final section of this answer, you want to outline how where you are right now and what you have done has lead you to this job, this team and this company. Focus on what you are moving towards with this role instead of leaving behind (bad boss, long commute, etc) and showcase your enthusiasm and excitement!
Depending the company and the interviewer, you may want to throw in at the end – “in my spare time…” As a recruiter, I like to see someone who has a whole life, not just a work life. Especially if some of your side hobbies are relevant to the job at hand.
The “Tell me about yourself’ is generally considered to be one of two dreaded questions – dreaded because they are almost always asked. The other one is “Why do you want to work here?” – if you have an interview coming up read that article and you will WOW the interviewer within the first couple of questions giving them a great first impression.
Have an interview coming up but not sure if you can create the connection you need to get that job? I can help with that with my customized Master the Interview coaching.
Sara Curto, Career Management Specialist. Working with you towards Career and Job Search Success.