I can think of only a few rituals that encase my body with adrenaline and sweat: running a race, struggling through Bikram yoga, having that dream where I'm still in junior high and I've completely forgotten about a huge project that's due in less than an hour, and interviewing for a job.
A job interview is the perfect storm of anxiety for most job seekers. You're put through a battery of questions. You're expected to exude all of your good qualities without revealing your bad ones. You also need to get a feel for the company. Oh, and try to keep your nerves to a minimum -- a jittery candidate could suggest someone hiding something or not qualified for the job.
Basically, interviews are like first dates with a bigger impact for your W-2s.
Few job seekers walk into an interview without a considerable amount of anxiety in their bellies. While you can't get rid of it all, you can learn how to control it so that you can give your best interview and get the job.
Start with homework
Your work begins once you have an interview scheduled. Hopefully you researched the company before applying for the job so you have some understanding of what the company does and stands for. But you still want more, and now is the time to dig deeper for relevant information.
"Know the mission or vision statement of the organization," says Nancy Dachille, director of career services at Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia. "Read the annual report, especially the CEO or president's message. The more familiar you are with the organization, the more comfortable you will feel, especially at the end of the interview when the dreaded 'Do you have any questions for us?' question comes up."
Anticipating that question and others is vital to your preparation. If you haven't thought about what the interviewer will ask you, you're liable to panic once you hear the question come out of his or her mouth. You'll be so concerned with how you'll answer that you might not even hear the entire question. A little planning can make the process easier, according to Helen Cooke, managing director for Cooke Consulting.
"Have some great accomplishments [at the top of your mind]. If you've practiced -- without overdoing it -- so that you have some succinct and compelling stories ... you will walk in psychologically pumped up," she says. She suggests that you choose specific examples to include in your stories so that you can point to cases where you improved a situation or brought in revenue for your employer. Not only are quantifiable achievements easier for employers to appreciate, but they're also good talking points to have in your mind to keep you from panicking.
Cooke also encourages job seekers to look at previous job hunts for help with this one.
"Recalling past interview situations, I'm betting you can think of one or two interviewers who intimidated you during the interview and later, after you'd landed the job and been there for a while, you couldn't believe you were intimidated by such a great, down-to-earth person," she suggests.
The big day
You can prepare all you want, but when the interview is only hours away, another set of nerves kicks in. Your best defense is more preparation with regard to the logistics of the day, says John Thieman, a career development specialist at Stratford University in Falls Church, Va.
The night before the interview, he suggests getting your interview clothes ready and putting all your important documents near the door so that you can just grab them and go. This will eliminate as many potential delays as possible.
"Plan to rise even a little earlier than usual to prevent a nervous and rushed leaving the house and trip to the interview," Thieman suggests. "Check the traffic reports and plan your route to avoid traffic surprises."
Although you might think staying cool depends on your preparation for questions and body language during the interview itself -- and it does -- the fewer distractions you have getting to the interview will put you in the right mood. If you're stuck in traffic, not sure where you're going and wearing a wrinkled shirt, your confidence level is going to be pretty low when you arrive.
During the interview
The most important part of staying calm during the interview comes with preparation. Of course you have to answer plenty of questions and worry about body language -- that never goes away. But if you've practiced your answers, thought about your posture and eye contact, and done your research on the company, the hard part's over. Now you're just answering questions that you've prepared for.
"Realize that a little nervousness is expected and that you only need to be calm enough to look competent and confident of your abilities," says Sandra Naiman, author of "The High Achiever's Secret Codebook: The Unwritten Rules for Success at Work." "If you find yourself feeling overly anxious, stop to think a question over and take a few deep breaths." After all, the interviewer knows you're anxious and a hint of nerves shows that you care about the job.
Do all your pre-interview homework and let the rest just happen, suggests Naiman.
"Surrender to what is out of your control. You cannot make someone hire you," she reminds. "Trust the interviewer to know what he or she is looking for, and be willing not to get the job if you are not the right fit. This attitude will ensure that you come across at your best."
Anthony Balderrama is a writer and blogger for CareerBuilder.com. He researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.
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