Last week a Vault poll asked readers to rate various job-related duties on a scale of scariness. A third of respondents (33 percent) told us that "going to an interview" was the scariest. This means that there are a heck of a lot of fearful interviewees out there who could probably do with a lot less fright.
It's likely that most interviewees already know the interview basics: thoroughly research the company and job you're interviewing for, know your resume backwards and forwards and upside down, and have ready-to-go answers for basic interview questions such as what are your strengths, what are your weaknesses, how do you work on teams, how do you feel about working late nights and weekends if need be, explain to me how you've learned and grown from a certain mistake, etc. But what most interviewees might not know is that even after having completed the basics, "interview fright" can still haunt them like a recurring nightmare from their childhood about a wicked six-foot-four witch who lives in an orange telephone booth in their driveway and who's watching and waiting for them all day and night and who wants to devour their intestines like bag of miniature Mr. Goodbars. That is, even basic preparation can still cause a healthy amount of fear to creep into an interviewee's bones.
However, with the following three tricks, interviewing doesn't have to be so fearful anymore, and it can almost, I dare say, be as tasty as a treat.
1. Get physical. If you've ever felt runner's high, yogi's high, or even the burn after a weightlifting workout, you know that your state of mind is completely different after your session of physical exertion than before. After, you're typically calmer, less anxious, and less prone to create large problems out of small ones. To boot, you feel pretty great. Of course, getting in a run, stretch, or workout might not be possible before your interview (if, say, you already work another job, or you just don't have the time) but if you can find even 30 minutes in which to get physical on the day of your interview, and you only do something as blood-pumping as a long walk in the park, you'll find that you're cooler, more collected, and a lot loss nervous when you're being bombarded with inquiries while seated in a suit at a large wooden table.
2. Listen. This trick comes from the handbooks of Strasberg, Meisner and other acting teacher greats. As they knew and taught, "listening" is perhaps the most important part of any interaction. And this goes for interviews as well. There's a big difference between waiting until someone (your interviewer, in this case) is finished speaking so you can recite your lines (give your stock answers) and actually listening to what your interviewer is saying before appropriately responding to what you've heard. So, sure, you need to do your homework as alluded to above, but most important you have to pay close attention to what your interviewer is asking and, of course, be honest when giving your response. (I've been a part of too many interviews where an interviewee responds with an answer or fact that he or she had, it appeared, worked on beforehand and thought I had wanted to hear, instead of giving me an actual answer to the question I had asked.) How does this lessen your interview fright? If you've been asked to interview it means that, on paper, you're qualified for the job; the interview is simply a chance for the interviewer to see how you present yourself in person. And chances are if you can just be yourself and carefully listen to questions and answer them truthfully, there will be very little, if nothing at all, to fear.
3. Breathe. When all else fails, and you find your brow beginning to perspire, your palms moistening, remember this: to breathe, and to focus on your breathing. This is another trick that actors and actresses have employed for decades in order to improve their presence in the moment (in their scenes); it's also a technique used for centuries by men and women to calm the waves of their anxious minds and allow something, they believe, greater than their own rambling thoughts to enter. In an interview, the main result you will find if you remember to breathe and focus on your breath is the falling away of all anxiety-causing, second-guessing, fear-inducing internal dialogue. And "interview fright," you will find, does not exist, and can not exist, when you strip away the internal chatter*.
*For a good illustration of internal chatter, check out the two-page story "Chatter" from Sam Shepard's latest story collection entitled Day Out of Days. Here's an excerpt (via a Los Angeles Times review of the book): "I now have an almost constant swirling chatter going on inside my head from dawn to dusk. I never could have foreseen this when I was five, playing with sticks in the dirt, but I guess it's been slowly accumulating over all these sixty-some years; growing more intense, less easy to ignore. I wake up with it. I feed chickens with it. I drive tractors with it. I make coffee with it. I fry eggs with it. I ride horses with it. I go to bed with it. I sleep with it. It is my constant companion."