Nobody really likes job interviews. They’re stiff, stressful and it can often feel like your entire future is riding on a dozen impossible decisions. Should you wear the black pants, or the blue? Should you revamp your resume one more time? Switch the font? Get a new headshot?
All that worrying, of course, can have the opposite of its intended effect, if you’re so wound up that it shows in the interview. Here’s how to shake off those pre-interview nerves and make sure you show up on game-day in prime fighting shape.
- Go for a Walk
How many times have we all heard that exercise relieves stress? You know why that is? Because it’s true. Studies have shown that even a short workout releases a flood of feel-good chemicals which translate directly into a more-relaxed mood. In an interview, that conveys an impression of health and confidence.
The day before your interview, go for a two-mile walk. On the day of the interview, take a quick spin around the block and do a pushup or two. By forcing your body to get rid of all its excess nervous energy, you’ll go a long way toward settling down and setting yourself up for success.
- Get Plenty of Sleep
If this one sounds painfully obvious, that’s because it is: Lack of sleep has been directly correlated to increased levels of stress. When you don’t sleep enough, your body reacts, and your cognitive performance is impaired to a degree that’s even worse than being drunk.
Would you show up drunk to a job interview? Of course not. So turn off the Internet and get some sleep, hotshot. Twitter will still be there in the morning.
While we’re on that note …
- Avoid Stimulants; Eat a Banana
The temptation to down a travel mug of coffee or Red Bull before an interview is understandable, but misguided. Interviewers are looking for passion and interest, not an artificial level of excitement. Overindulgence in stimulants – particularly caffeine – can cause hand-shaking, muscle-twitching, increased heart rate, increased breathing rate and elevated anxiety. Do those sound like hirable qualities to you?
If you do need a cup of coffee or two to get going in the morning, take the advice of baristas on mitigating the negative side-effects: Eat a banana.
- Do Your Homework
There’s nothing more stressful than blanking on a question. It makes the interviewer feel awkward, it sets a bad tone and it can lead to a kind of internal panic which ruins the rest of the interview.
The best way to nip that problem in the bud? Do your research ahead of time. Get to know the company. Develop a sense of its mission and corporate philosophy, so you have a better idea of what you’re walking into. To paraphrase Mr. Lovecraft: The only real fear is fear of the unknown.
- Role-Play It
“Role-play the interview with a friend” is a piece of advice often found in job-related blog articles, and it can produce a lot of skepticism. Role-play? Honestly, who actually does that?
Science bears out the logic behind it: In a 2013 study weighing the effects of tabletop role-playing games on cognition, researcher Tsui-Shan Chung found that of the 170 participants, those who had played tabletop role-playing games for “eight hours or more” scored better in all categories on creativity and personality tests. They showed increased language fluency, flexibility and stronger divergent thinking.
Pop quiz: Do you know what personality traits more than 400,000 professionals say they’re looking for in an interviewee?
Answer: High energy, confidence and intellectual curiosity – skills that have a lot of overlap with those highlighted by Chung.
Role-playing doesn’t have to mean an awkward kitchen-chair interview with your spouse, or an evening of basement D&D. All it really entails is the exercise of visualization. Using skills of creativity and empathy to put yourself in the shoes of an interviewer, imagine the questions that would be asked and the answers you would give if you were at your best.
- Prepare Smart Questions
“Is there anything you’d like to ask me?” asks the interviewer. “Nope,” you say, blinking stupidly at him. “Great,” he says, “I hate questions. You’re hired! Do you want a Ferrari or an Escalade?”
That’s not a conversation you’ll ever have in the real world, because most interviewers actually like a few questions. Don’t take it from me: Mira Zaslove, vice president of recruiting at Quora, writes: “A good interview is a conversation, where both sides are engaged. The purpose is to discover if the position is a match. If the candidate asks no questions, it’s a red flag. It appears that either they aren’t interested, or believe they already know everything to know about the position.”
Asking good questions – say, about points of concern in negative reviews from past employees or customers – shows that you’re engaged and thinking about the job in a serious way. It gives interviewers some fun mental legwork, and it puts them in a position where they’re pitching the job to you.
- Think About Your Personal Brand — But Don’t Be a Jerk
Listen carefully now: Hiring managers are not marks. You’re not trying to sell them a car. You are not a car. You are a person. The job of a hiring manager is not to judge your safety features or net-worth; it’s to find the person most suited for a particular job. As a result, an interviewer’s bread-and-butter skill is to detect and weed out canned responses.
A canned response is the blandest possible answer to any given question, equivalent to not answering the question at all. Ask yourself if these sound familiar:
Q: What’s your biggest skill?
A: I’m a fast learner.
Q: What are some of your hobbies?
A: Reading and hiking.
Q: Do you prefer working alone, or as part of a team?
A: I like one, but I can also do the other.
Getting away from those kinds of responses requires you to do some serious introspection. Figure out who you are, what you can do, where you’re at in your career, where you’re headed and how this job fits in. Once you’ve done that, strong off-the-cuff answers to interview questions will bubble to the surface on their own.
- Don’t Plan for an Interview, but a Conversation
The format of an interview can lead you to prepare like you might for a Q-and-A session. “If they ask X, I’ll answer Y.” However, good interviewers ditch that format and do their best to engage you in a conversation, where the topic just happens to be your employability. The best interviews are those which flow the most naturally, where neither party is particularly concerned with ticking check-boxes or watching the clock.
Treat a job interview like you would treat meeting your significant other’s parents: Be polite, be professional, but relax.
- Get There Early
This one goes without saying, doesn’t it? Showing up late to an interview is about the worst faux pas you can commit, and stressing about your tardiness is a recipe for disaster. So don’t let it happen. Plan your route ahead of time, get gas the night before and give yourself time to account for traffic.
- Work Out Vocal Tics
My dad used to have a saying when I got too overexcited: Stop, think about what you want to say and then say it.
Speech and communication instructors agree, and that’s why they generally target vocal tics first. These are the ums and ers and other filler words that populate the speech of most Americans – even our president.
We use these words and sounds to avoid the dreaded awkward silence, but there’s a difference between an awkward silence and a pregnant pause, implying something more is to come.
Practice avoiding filler words. Don’t panic if it takes you a couple of seconds to respond to a question. Get good at taking a moment to think before you reply, and you’ll be light years ahead of most other applicants.
Above All, Remember: Be Honest
Employers get it: The job-market is tough right now. People are hungry for work, and it makes them nervous in interviews. When your job is terrible, or when you don’t have one, an interview can feel like your entire life is on the line.
Here’s the thing, though – it’s OK to be nervous. It’s even OK to briefly admit or apologize for your nerves. What’s important is that you don’t let nerves get in the way of what you’re there to do: Demonstrate that you can hold a simple conversation, and explain to someone interested in hiring you exactly why they should.