The two things I hear most often when working with clients on career development coaching are: I’ve never been good at job interviews. and I’m hopeless at selling myself.
My first response is usually ‘Guess what, you’re not alone!’ Unless you’re a narcissist, no-one feels they’re good at selling themselves, and guaranteed, the last person who got offered a job following the interview went in with some feelings of anxiety and self-doubt. Unfortunately these beliefs are often a classic example of self-fulfilling prophecy – believing you’re terrible at job interviews can become consuming and distract you from doing the preparation you need or get in the way of you performing well at the time it counts.
So how do we manage these ingrained thought patterns so we can perform at our best and maximise our chances of success? This often forms a really key part of a coaching program, when a client is looking for support to advance their career, take a sideways move into a new role, or where they have found themselves involuntarily in the position of having to apply for new roles. I try to frame my job interview coaching around six Ps, spending more time on those Ps most significant for that client.
Performance is the fifth of the six Ps, and is often the most challenging for clients. Performance is the term I use in recognition of the fact that a job interview has many of the elements of other performance tasks such as a musical recital or sporting performance, that require not only aptitude, but management of one’s emotional, physiological and mental processes in order to do well.
The feelings, thoughts and sensations that come up for people in the context of job interviews, including anxiety, self-doubt, unworthiness, and comparison to others, can be at best highly intrusive and at worst overwhelming and completely debilitating for the interviewee. The key is identifying how and when these sensations show up and learning techniques to minimise their negative impact on your performance. Here’s some suggestions:
- Accept that most people feel nervous, you’re no different to other candidates in that respect (in fact, you might even have a competitive advantage since you’ve learnt some techniques for managing nerves!)
- A degree of nervous energy is productive – it stimulates your system into a state of arousal which can keep you sharp and focused
- Practice a relaxation technique in the lead up to, and just prior to the interview, for example a deep breathing exercise, a progressive muscle relaxation, mediation or visualisation
- Notice and challenge your negative self talk – if you find your inner critic constantly reminding you you’re hopeless at interviews, what could challenge that belief? For example, you might say to yourself I used to be bad at interviews but the last few I’ve done I’ve felt better and better about how I did
- And a corollary to this one – it could be helpful to remind yourself that just because you didn’t get the last job it doesn’t mean you did badly at interview – you may have done well but missed out to an applicant with more skills; now might be a good time to check in with your own or the panel’s perspective on what went well in your last interview
- You don’t have to sell yourself – you need to be able to clearly and accurately describe the best evidence you have of your knowledge, experience, skills and attributes, and how these will add value to the potential employer
- Run your own race – you’ve done the preparation and you have the ability to do the job, your focus now has to be on yourself, and conveying evidence of your suitability to the panel – mentally comparing yourself to other applicants (either actual or perceived) is not helpful once you get to interview, as it can exacerbate feelings of self- doubt
- If you do nothing else, before stepping in to the interview strike your best power pose (preferably somewhere private!) then take 10 slow deep breaths to calm the nervous system and ground yourself in the present
- Don’t forget to reflect after the interview on what went well – wait a couple of days and take some time to notice what you were happy with, what you improved on, and what you want to keep doing at your next interview.
Remember, not too many people wake up in the morning relishing the idea of a job interview. But you don’t actually have to love them to do well and be successful in getting the job of your dreams. Apart from working on your Performance, there’s five other P’s that will also make a difference:
- Panel perspective – put yourself in their shoes
- Preparation – learn as much as you can about the company and the role
- Product – that’s you! What features and benefits can you offer?
- Presentation – what impression do you want to create and leave?
- Persistence – how do you sustain your resilience to keep putting yourself out there?
Please get in touch if you’d like to know more about managing nerves and negative self-talk, or how the other five Ps can enhance your interview performance.