Walking into an interview can be one of the greatest times of self-doubt for even the most seasoned professional. In a short hour or so, there’s not enough time to really get your personality across and yet plenty of time to screw up with wrong answers or mistaken humor.
The good news is that interviewing is a skill — just like managing spreadsheets or selling a product. It can be learned. It just takes a few changes in your mindset. Here’s how to mentally prepare for your in-person meeting with a recruiter or your new boss— because after all, your success depends not only on proving to someone else that you’re the best fit for the job, but believing it yourself.
Remember, the recruiter wants to hire you
When we walk into an interview, one of our biggest fears is rejection. It can get us so worked up that we see the recruiter or hiring manager as an adversary instead of a future ally.
Here’s the bright spot: It’s not usually you versus the company.
Allison Hemming, CEO of The Hired Guns, told the New York Post about how job candidates should feel during interviews in a recent article.
“Walk in the door with a good attitude…Most people think that recruiters are trying to eliminate them, but in reality, they are hoping that you’re the one,” she told the publication.
We all know that confidence is important in job interviews; companies want to hire someone who knows what she or he is doing. It’s also true that our confidence can slip if we feel we’re being judged. One easy way to convey confidence is to let your body do the talking.
Louis Efron wrote about “body positioning” in a 2013 Forbes article.
“You can naturally adjust your body for confidence by asking, ‘If I was really interested in what my interviewer was saying, how would I sit?’ You will be surprised how often you need to readjust your body and how much more confident you feel afterwards,” Efron wrote.
At the very least, keep good posture: sitting or standing upright, with no slumping or leaning right or left. Many people lean in chairs to rest their elbows on the armrest. It’s also not impressive if your posture is too stiff as if you’re in the principal’s office back in school.
Sit up straight and easy and think “light,” as if a string is pulling you up from the top of your head.
Skip the ‘humblebrag’ and deliver the results straight
Talking about ourselves can be hard. Nailing the right tone in discussing your successes — without sounding obnoxious and arrogant — doesn’t come easy to everyone, especially those who see themselves as humble.
As a result, many people can overcompensate and execute the dreaded “humblebrag.”
A 2015 working paper from Harvard Business School defined this concept as “bragging masked by a complaint.”
Why is it dreaded? Simply because no one is fooled. Everyone knows when you’re paying yourself a compliment in the guise of self-deprecation, and it reflects badly on you — making you look both self-promotional and a phony. People also rarely give humblebraggers credit for their work.
The Harvard research found, for instance, that “humblebragging has both global costs – reducing liking and perceived sincerity – and specific costs: it is even ineffective in signaling the specific trait that that a person wants to promote. Moreover, humblebragging is less effective than simply complaining, because complainers are at least seen as sincere. Despite people’s belief that combining bragging and complaining confers the benefits of both self-promotion strategies, humblebragging fails to pay off.”
Where is humblebragging the biggest risk? In the most dreaded interview question: “what is your biggest weakness,” when we rarely want to turn the spotlight on our flaws.
The Harvard researchers examined how 122 college students would answer the interview question, “What is your biggest weakness?”
Then two research assistants rated the answers in terms of this metric: “To what extent would you want to hire this person?”
The results weren’t positive.
Still confused about what counts as a humblebrag and what sounds sincere?
Here’s an example of a humblebrag, as featured in the Harvard paper: “I am a perfectionist at times, it is so hard to deal with. “
Now take a look at the corresponding “real weakness” example: “Sometimes I am so confident that I’m right that I don’t allow others to work through their opinions.”
You’re better off bragging outright, in fact, than pretending to complain about your accomplishments. The research found that bragging or complaining were better options for communicating with interviewers than humblebragging was.
Learn how to tell your ‘story’
It’s a common problem: even if were a total star at your last job, you might not be the best at telling the story of your career during your next job interview. Arguably, however, storytelling is one of the most important parts of selling yourself for a job. The human brain is wired to prefer narratives that have a clear middle, beginning and end, and if people know your story, they will bond better with you.
In short: Interviewers will remember you better if they can remember the story of your career in a coherent way. And if they remember you positively, you’ll stand a better chance of landing that job.
Here’s how not to tell your story: reciting your job experience and titles with no color. Interviewers already have your resume; they don’t need the audible version. They want to know what’s not on your resume: how you overcame challenges, handled major obstacles, achieved great results, and helped other people. That’s what makes you special — not your titles or where you worked.
Barbara Safani explains how to tell your story so in a 2016 Forbes article:
“Memorable stories of success explain a challenge you faced, the actions you took to address that challenge, and the corresponding results. Whenever possible, frame your results to show impact and use dollars, percentages or time values that demonstrate the difference you made in a situation,” she writes.
She adds that a good way to start off your answer to interview questions with this method is to say, “‘I’ve dealt with that situation often. For example, last year I worked on a project… .’ Or, ‘As a matter of fact, just last month I was dealing with a similar issue… .’ This language helps you connect with the interviewer and set the stage for the story to follow,” Safani writes.
Set your inner personality free
It’s tempting to want to be on your best behavior during a job interview — and you should do that. But many people become so panicked about screwing up that they shut down their personalities in interviews, making themselves bland and forgettable. Your interviewer should see your work-appropriate, genuine self — someone they’d like to work with and spend time with. Here’s why.
Kathryn Schipper, a senior human resources consultant with Seattle’s King County Superior Court, told the Chicago Tribune in 2015 about why you shouldn’t try to be someone you’re not during an interview.
“If you’re at your best and you are who you are and they don’t like you, it’s absolutely better for everyone…If you’re fake and you try to fake your way into a corporate culture, you can’t do it for the next 30 years. If you’re in it in the long haul, you have to work somewhere that’s going to want you as you are,” Schipper told the publication.
Be sure to put your best foot forward by remembering who you are and everything you have to offer your next employer.
Oh, and and one last thing: breathe.