Interview Jitters?

Published on Friday, July 10, 2015

Interview Jitters?

Here are some tips to calm you down before that meeting.

Nervous about an upcoming job interview? Well, you’re in good company. You’re in the hot seat, and you want to do your best. Here are some tips to help you do your best—and stay calm through your time with a prospective employer.

Before the interview:

Research the company. Read the web page thoroughly. Be prepared to ask 4 – 5 questions about the job and the company (especially the corporate culture) you’ll be working for. These might include questions like, “What kind of boss are you?” Or, “What is the greatest challenge that this department/company is facing in the next year, and how can I help?” These kinds of questions show that you’re eager.

What to wear:

It’s tougher to make up for a poor first impression than to lose the benefits from a good one. The first five minutes in the office are critical. Secretaries and receptionists are often asked for their thoughts on a candidate.

You dress for the job you want, not the job you have. For a professional position, men should wear a suit and tie if possible. Sports jackets are OK if a suit isn’t available. You may dress less formally once you’re been hired if that’s the corporate culture.

Things that make a horrible impression, and are almost always noticed, are:

  • Needing a haircut
  • Soiled shirt cuffs and collars
  • Needing a shave
  • Too much perfume/aftershave
  • Too much makeup, unusual colors, or glitter
  • Badly knotted tie
  • Scuffed shoes
  • Slacks/skirts too short
  • Bad breath/poorly maintained teeth

What to bring with you:

Bring a binder with you that contains:

  • Several copies of your resume
  • Names of references
  • Samples of your work—special projects, or a sample of your writing.

Be prepared for different styles of interviewing and interviewers.

When setting up the interview, ask if you’ll meet with one person, a group, or a board. There are different styles of interviews as well:

  1. A non-structured interview expects candidates to take the initiative when answering. You can expect open-ended questions, and you’ll want to give complete replies. These interviews encourage creativity and thinking outside the box.
  2. A structured interview proceeds with a well-defined pattern of questions, looking for direct, concise answers. You can expect mostly direct, closed questions, and the interviewer often has a clear or predetermined idea of what an acceptable answer to the question should be. Here, they’re looking for conformity, not creativity.
  3. Tricky interviews may put you on the spot, asking tough, uncomfortable questions, like “Why wasn’t your GPA higher?” There may be odd questions as well, such as, “How many gallons of paint would be needed to paint the moon?” Or, “If you were an animal, what would you be?” Obviously there’s no one right answer for some of these questions. The interviewer may want to see how you handle pressure. The trick is to stay calm and composed while addressing their concerns. It’s also possible they’ll sneak in an illegal question.

Monitor your non-verbal behaviors.

Remember, you’re being watched all the time, so be aware not only of what you say but what you’re doing.

  • Speak confidently, gesture.
  • Look directly at the interviewer—not at the floor, table, wall, or out the window.
  • Provide feedback to the interviewer of your interest in the job by nodding your head and smiling often.
  • Lean or sit forward in the chair; that way you’ll look interested in the process.
  • Don’t fidget and do NOT text—these show you aren’t paying attention.

Listen carefully!

Make sure you understand the question that’s asked. When someone asks you if you can multi-task they don’t mean “can you work and talk on the phone at the same time.” They want to know if you can juggle multiple projects with competing deadlines.

You can always re-state the question to make sure you understand it. And when you answer the question, you can re-state it then as well:

Q: Tell me about your greatest accomplishment in your last job.

A: My greatest accomplishment was…

Unlawful questions

Potential employers can only ask questions that are job related. They must also ask the same basic questions of all applicants. Companies cannot be forced to hire unqualified candidates, but they also must not use race, age, marital status, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or national origin to determine a candidate’s qualifications. The only exception is when the information is relevant to a job. If an employer is looking for a teenager to model clothes, it’s perfectly appropriate to ask the applicant’s age.

If a question is uncomfortable, turn the focus back to the interviewer by asking, “Why do you ask?” The most practical response is to address the fear behind the question. Let’s say someone wants to know if you have children. The best answer is, “I have never missed a day of work because of a problem or difficulty at home. Why do you ask?”

Ineffective answers to these questions are silence or defensiveness. Don’t say, “That’s illegal! You can’t ask that!” By the same token, don’t ignore the illegal question—they’ll keep asking.

Miscellaneous tips

  • Don’t dismiss concerns about lack of experience with a breezy, “I can learn anything.” A prospective employer will be much more appreciative if you can assess the challenges realistically and have an honest conversation about how you’d approach them.
  • Don’t be overly “salesy”—that’ll turn an interviewer off. An employer wants to make sure that you are a good fit for the company and the position. Similarly, don’t be cocky. Showing an overly inflated sense of your abilities and value will make an employer wonder what you’ll be like to work with. Just be yourself.
  • Be positive. Sounding angry or bitter about a previous employer or the job search or anything else will scare an employer off. They want to hire people who are upbeat and pleasant.
  • Don’t lie about anything—not your last job, your salary, or any other detail. If you don’t show integrity in the hiring process you won’t show it on the job, either.
  • Address the person you’re interviewing with by their title and last name. Stay formal unless/until you’re invited not to. Don’t assume a familiarity that doesn’t exist!
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