Recently, I was helping a client practice his interview skills. During the session, he suddenly stopped and said, “I am physically here, but I feel like my mind is outside of my body. I am finding this stressful and I can’t focus.” His sudden disassociation between mind and body is a classic example of how stress can derail the interview process.
When we experience stress, on a basic level, the core issue is safety. As human beings, we are programmed to protect ourselves. When we don’t feel safe, our brain may take over for us and send us in a more primal response of fight, flight or freeze. It’s important to recognize the stress cues that the body is giving so that you can take steps calm down before and during the interview.
Stress cues could be: feeling disassociated from the body, losing language or the ability to be articulate, feeling blank, sweating, rapid breathing, shortness of breath, fumbling, forgetting how to read social cues or using protective body language.
If you find yourself demonstrating these stress behaviors, try using these 9 calming strategies to help you manage interview stress.
1. Prepare, but Don’t Script: Preparation is key to succeed in an interview. The more you prepare, the better you will do. Before your interview, be clear on your key points and practice adaptability to responding to unexpected questions. However, straight memorization of answers might get you in trouble when you are under stress since one common stress response is a blank mind. If your mind does go blank, see if you can remember even one of your key points and then try to work it into your answer.
2. Grounding: If you feel disconnected from your body during an interview, trying a modified grounding technique to bring yourself back to reality by focusing on a certain colour or shape in the room. For example, you might ask yourself to look for one red item in the room. By bringing your awareness back into the room, you can re-build your mind-body connection so that you can manage your stress response. Another grounding technique is put your feet flat on the floor and press them into the floor as hard as you can for a few seconds.
3. Breathing: Intentionally focus on your breath. Try holding your breath for a few seconds and breathing out a little longer than normal. Repeat a few times. You have to be subtle in an interview, but even just bringing your awareness to your breath might be all that you need to get focused again.
4. Admit Nervousness: Most interviewers understand that you may be nervous. Some job seekers find it helpful to verbally acknowledge this.
5. Ask For a Repeat: If your mind has gone completely blank, you can ask the interviewer to either repeat the question or come back to it later.
6. Create a Safe Space: Remind yourself that you are in a safe situation. Mentally tell yourself, “You are here, you are safe. You are here, you are safe.” You may also choose to acknowledge that this is a stressful situation and find a way to offer self-compassion yourself in the moment. In an interview setting, this might be as simple as telling yourself, “This is hard, but you are doing the best you can.”
7. Make Small Tweeks to Non-Verbal Communication: Using positive non-verbal communication is important in showing engagement. But it can be hard to focus on all the elements of non-verbal communication when you are also trying to keep track of everything else that happens in an interview setting. Instead of trying to improve everything, focus on just one element of non-verbal communication that you want to improve and tweek it positively during your interview. For one person, it may be maintaining stronger eye contract, while for someone else, it might be trying to insert more enthusiasm in their intonation.
8. Try Power Posing: Researcher, Amy Cuddy, has found that doing power poses before a stressful interview has a positive psychological response on the body’s stress hormones. By putting your body into “high power” poses before an interview, it is possible you may feel more confident during the interview.
9. Visualize the Positive: Walking into an interview, believing that you are not good enough to get the job can result in exactly that…not getting the job. You can not underestimate positive thinking, but beyond that, it is well-worth your time to visualize how you could see yourself fulfilling the duties of the position and then practice ways of communicating what you could offer.
These strategies do work. Every day, I see clients who find healthy ways to cope with their interview fears and anxieties before and during the interview. And the client I mentioned at the beginning? He attended two interviews and was offered both positions!