I don’t mind going on job interviews. Of course, being human, I still experience some anxious excitement as I prepare to walk in, but not fear. One reason for my general lack of anxiety is my careful preparation. The other reason is my mindset.
There are thousands of resources that help you prepare for the types of questions you should be ready to answer in an interview, so I won’t cover too much of that. My goal here is to help you get your head in the right zone for maximum success.
In my adult life, I have never gone on a job interview that did not result in at least a second interview. Many led to job offers, some of which I turned down because they weren't right for me. I hope some of what I have discovered about making job interviews more enjoyable and successful will be helpful to you.
First, try to have fun with this. View it as an adventure. Everyone wants to work with happy people who are comfortable in their own skin. Presenting yourself this way is your challenge.
Be early. Make sure you know where you are going and how to get there. Nothing adds stress quite as well as running late. Sometimes I drive by the day before to be sure I know how to get there and to check the commute. I like to arrive 30 minutes early and just relax in the car for 15 minutes getting my thoughts together and then check in about 15 minutes early. Breathe deeply and slowly before you enter and after you arrive, because calm looks like confidence.
Bring a professional looking binder or journal and two pens. Take notes. This will be useful when composing your thank you letter and remembering your visit. It also gives you something to do with your hands.
Leave your phone in the car, or turn it off. You need to be completely focused on what’s happening here and now.
Remember that you are awesome. You have had jobs before, you will have jobs again. You are good, and smart, and they would be lucky to have you. Maybe you don’t completely feel this way, but you can pretend for an hour, right? You need to get a little psyched up about yourself as a candidate if you want someone else to do the same. Think about times in your life when you’ve been successful, when you’ve done well, and meditate on them. This exercise will be handy since you’ll likely be asked to describe such times in your interview.
Think about how much you have earned in your life so far. Actually sit down and calculate it. You might be amazed at the total. You could earn that amount several times over in the years to come. This job is just the next page in your book. Let these thoughts inspire confidence and calm.
Learn all you can about the company. Technology makes this easy. You don’t want to walk in spouting statistics, but be prepared to demonstrate that you took the time to investigate if it comes up.
As a person of faith, I pray. During my last job search, I went to a chapel before or after every interview, and asked for blessings and wise discernment. In that sacred space, the right decisions became clear and anxiety faded. If you are not a believer, meditation can also help you to access your own inner peace and wisdom.
Be yourself, but be your best version of yourself. If you are feeling nervous, it’s OK to say so if you put it in context. Say something like, “Wow, I’m surprised to find myself feeling nervous. I guess I’m just excited about this opportunity.” It is OK to be human, it makes you relatable and the interviewer might make an effort to put you at ease.
Understand that the job interview is a two-way street. They are interviewing you, you are interviewing them. Each of you gets to make a choice. An interview is like a first date, everyone is hoping for a love connection, but you can’t force it. You need to decide if you want to be there, just as they are deciding if they want to have you. If they see you as a professional who is doing your own decision making rather than as an “any port in a storm” candidate, it will reflect well on you. When they ask you if you have any questions, make sure that you do.
If the interviewer is a jerk, or inept, that is no reflection on you. An interviewer who is mean, unpleasant, unorganized or disengaged is doing you a huge favor. Assuming they are the hiring manager, do you really want to work for someone like that? No, you don’t. Better to find out now. I recently had a disastrous interview. I did well, but the interviewer was clearly in over her head, and it seemed to me she hadn’t interviewed anyone in years, if ever. She asked me only one question, and then talked about herself for 90 minutes. I went home and sent her a polite email letting her know I had decided to take my job search, “In another direction.”
Give complete answers, but don’t over-talk. This is a listening time, too. If you need a minute to think after a question is asked, take it. To buy time for your mind to find the answer, say something like, “Ooh, that’s a good question, let me take a minute to match it with a good answer.” I find that interviewers love when you occasionally tell them that they have asked an interesting or provocative question.
Be prepared to answer these questions:
- “Why should I hire you?”
- “What do you have to offer that the others don’t?”
To the first question, you could reply, “I have the skills you need. My years of relevant experience will allow me to make an immediate impact. You will never regret hiring me.” If you are a less seasoned candidate, you can say something such as, “I’d really love to work here, and after learning more about the position, I know I can do a great job for you.”
To the second question, you need to choose one of your personal traits that define you that would also be of interest to the employer. I usually talk about my “commitment to personal integrity.” If you have a personal motto or creed, this is the place to share it. If you don’t have a motto, creed, or professional mission statement, get one. It shows that you have a sense of who you are and helps to convey your personal brand. Examine your personality for traits an employer can appreciate; examples include attention to detail, enthusiasm, loyalty, energy, tenacity, insight, commitment, drive, flexibility. Choose one, and find some strong examples in preparation for this type of question.
Keep It Positive
Never talk badly about previous employers, managers or coworkers. If forced to by the questions you are asked, keep it positive and turn it into a story about how you learned to work well with a difficult coworker or how you stayed professional and effective in a less than ideal environment. Perhaps you've had bad jobs and bosses straight out of Dilbert, but this is not a time to vent.
For those without a college degree, technical school certificate, or other formal training: Do not worry about your credentials once you have been invited to an interview. If they cared that you don’t have a degree, they would not have asked you to come in. Don’t bring it up if they don’t. If they do mention it, you could say, “Since you brought it up, do you offer tuition reimbursement?” That changes the conversation a bit by implying that you value education, but just haven’t got around to it yet.
Show Me the Money!
Unless you are independently wealthy or a missionary, working is all about earning money. During the interview process you sometimes have to pretend it isn’t. It’s just part of the game. For that reason, never ask about money at the first meeting.
While I believe it is poor etiquette for a potential employer to ask you what you are currently earning or wishing to earn at the first interview, these days many hiring managers will do just that. They don’t want to invest their limited time and energy into someone unlikely to take the offer. If this happens, stay cool. Try not to let them use your salary expectations to disqualify you. Try to answer in generalities and ranges. If they press for details, always be honest, because if you lie it could disqualify you when they find out.
Remember, what you earn now is not necessarily connected to what they will have to pay to get you. Perhaps you are underpaid because you failed to negotiate in the past? Don’t make that mistake again. If pressed in this way, I respond, “Right now I am earning ‘X’ however with my skills and experience I know I am prepared to move to the next level in my career. I’d be pleased to negotiate a salary once I have learned more about the position, the expectations and responsibilities, and how I can add value in this role.”
Write down what you think would be a fair salary for the job based on reality, research, and the value you can bring. When I am looking for a job or anticipating an offer, I write the minimum amount of salary that I'll accept on a card and put it in my wallet. This helps to insure that I don't sell myself short under pressure by accepting less than I am worth. Also, it could be useful in negotiations; if you bothered to write the magic number down before you arrived, they'll know you are serious. If an employer is unwilling to meet my magic number, then I walk. Declining offers that don’t measure up is a firm commitment I’ve made to myself. It can be terrifying to turn your back on a real job offer, especially if you are unemployed, but I’ve never done it without soon after receiving a magic-number-beating offer someplace else.
Stick the Landing
At the end of the interview, ask some version of this question: “Have I said anything today that would disqualify me from remaining a viable candidate for this position?” Why ask that?
1) It is a gutsy question! It shows confidence and insight. You don’t even work there yet and you are already trying to learn from the experience. It shows that you have courage and you are not afraid of the truth.
2) If they answer, “Yes” you will know where you stand and you can take one last stab at addressing their disqualifying concern. You can also be sure to address the perceived weaknesses again in your thank you letter.
3) If they say, “No” then you have forced them to recognize, admit (and state out loud) that you remain a contender for the job. I asked this question at the interview for my current job, and the interviewer was visibly impressed. Their, “No” let me know I was still in the running.
|Survived the interview? |
Good! You rock!
Always send a thank you note, even if it was a terrible interview and you have no intention of pursuing the opportunity (see above). If you write it by hand, mail it on the ride home so they get it the next day. If you send an email, do it within one business day of your meeting. If there are two candidates of equal qualifications, the one who sends the best letter will win.
In the letter, be sure you summarize the meeting, what you learned, and how you are equipped to address the needs of the organization. Confirm that you remain interested in the role, if that is the case. If you are not interested, politely say so. That will allow the hiring manager to move on to other candidates. Don’t forget to check spelling and grammar; this is not a good time for sloppy mistakes.
Take a Deep Breath
Once you've sent your follow up letters, take a deep breath. You've done your very best, an that's all you can do. If things don’t work out, don’t despair. It is not necessarily a reflection on you if an offer is not made. Business has many moving parts; maybe the funding for the position was revoked. Maybe the timing is wrong. Maybe the CEO’s nephew needs a job. Maybe it is the wrong job for you. Maybe God has other plans for you. Maybe something better is right around the corner. Try to learn from the experience, and move on with the confidence of knowing you survived! Worst case scenario, you’ve had an opportunity to practice, and you’ll do better next time.
Good Luck! If you are facing job interviews soon, I hope that these tips will help you to overcome anxiety, relax, enjoy the process, and reach a better outcome.
If you have any interviewing questions I have not covered, I'm happy to answer them. I invite your comments below, or email me privately at