How to Stop Worrying About Interviews and Learn to Lessen Your Stress

July 10, 2018

Many people stress out about interviews and experience stress in interviews. The reason for this is many people treat interviews like performances, as though by interviewing they're performing some sort of one-person show. And so, to prepare for these solo performances, they try to memorize all sorts of lines (answers to questions such as the "strengths and weaknesses" question) and even long monologues (the "tell me about yourself" and "walk me through your resume" questions). People stress themselves out by thinking they need to nail these lines and monologues, believing that one false word or one mumble or fumble means their "performances" will be unworthy (and their job candidacies will be over). What's more, and worse, some people treat interviews not like performances but auditions, as though they're one of hundreds, if not thousands of people all vying for a single role. This type of pressure causes even more anxiety and stress—before, during, and even after interviews.

That's the bad news. The good news is with a minor shift in attitude, all this anxiety (or, at least, most of it) will fade away. The gist of this shift is this: Instead of looking at interviews as performances or auditions, look at them as conversations. Which indeed they are. And to look at them as conversations requires you to do just a few simple things, not one of which is stressful or stress-inducing.

1. Ask questions

Like any good conversation between two people, questions must come from both parties involved. If one person is asking all the questions and the other merely answering, then it's not really a conversation. In fact, it's usually pretty boring, taxing, and uninteresting for the person asking all the questions. And so, beware that you don't just return all of your interviewer's questions. Get into the conversation. Engage with your interviewer. Find things that interest you about what your interviewer is saying and that you want to know more about. But don't stress out about this! Just remember, during your conversation, to ask a question if you haven't in a while. Just like you would in any conversation. 

You've no doubt heard that people like to talk about themselves, which is true, but what they really like to do even more is to talk about things that interest them. That could be themselves, but it could also be a part of their job, a division or product of their company, or something more directly connected to the position you're applying for. Also, you've probably heard that you need to prepare questions to ask your interviewer at the end of your interview, which isn't terrible advice, but here's the thing: if you had a conversation, a real conversation, and not just a one-sided interview, by the time your conversation is over, you've likely asked all of your questions (or had them answered without you having to directly ask them), and so you won't need to just rattle off, awkwardly, stuff like: Can you tell me about your company culture? What do you like most about your job? What does an ideal candidate look like? Also note that "intellectual curiosity" is often a desired, if not required trait for many jobs, so by not asking questions along the way in your interview you could come off as someone who's not all that curious.

2. Stay positive and remember you have nothing to lose

This is easier said than done and can take practice, but in time, getting into a positive mindset will serve you very well in interviews. When you find a place of positivity within yourself, you tend to speak more confidently, calmly, and honestly. You aren't on guard, you don't worry that They're going to find out that I don't know how to X, Y, or Z. Instead, you believe in yourself and your experience and qualifications, and you also believe that, if for whatever reason, your conversation doesn't lead to another conversation or to a job offer, then the job wasn't the right fit for you. As simple as that. You went into the conversation without the job and you left without the job. Your life doesn't depend on this conversation (or job) and there will be many other conversations and many other jobs. Again, this is easy to say and another thing to accomplish, especially if your default interview-mindset is anxious, worrisome, and afraid. So go easy on yourself, and treat each interview/conversation as a challenge to be more positive and calm. Just being a little calmer each time out, a little more positive, is a win.

And if you're looking for methods to get into a positive mindset, try this: Take five minutes before your interview to collect yourself (either before you enter the building in which you're interviewing or in the waiting area). Try to quiet your thoughts and worries, telling yourself there's nothing to worry about, you're just about to have a conversation, meet someone new, which will be enjoyable. Then tell yourself you're qualified for the job, you're talented, you have experience, and you're just here to learn, you're just here to challenge yourself (if you enjoy challenges), and so this is an opportunity to grow, no matter what happens. Remember: it's brave to interview, to meet and talk with someone new, and each time you do it you should walk away from the experience with pride.

3. Listen

No two interviews (conversations) are alike, and so you have to be ready for anything. Which, yes, means you need to be prepared to talk about yourself, your resume, your experience, your strengths, your weaknesses, your qualifications, why you think you're going to be good at this job, etc. But don't forget that you're already qualified if you're asked to interview; your resume has been vetted. And so, the likely aim of the interview/conversation is to gauge how personable and genuine you are, if you can hold a normal conversation with someone, and if you'll get along with the team you might be hired to work with.

Which is where listening comes in. Listening is a skill, and one that's necessary to be successful in most roles. How it serves you here, in interviews, is it focuses your mind on the conversation, not on re-rehearsing your canned answers or worrying about them. This allows you (forces you, really) to concentrate on whatever is asked or required of you in the present moment and to give an appropriate human response, as opposed to a robotic one where you're just spewing out all sorts of canned answers. In other words, if you go into an interview and tell yourself that you're just going to listen and respond and engage and converse as though you're talking with anyone (well, maybe not your best friend to whom you often complain), then you won't be so anxious or stressed out, and chances are you'll come across as the genuine human being that indeed you are. 

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by Derek Loosvelt

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