Conquering Interview Fears

posted by Dilip on November 6, 2017

Your mind will answer most questions if you learn to relax and wait for the answer. –William S. Burroughs

The recent surge of hiring in the job market has resulted in increased traffic in my coaching practice. Most of this added traffic comes from prospects seeking a job change. Although some want help, starting with their positioning, résumé, and other basic job-search preparations, the majority of this traffic comes to me from those who want to understand how to ace the interviews and how to get that offer to land the job they’re after. Again, because of the strong job market some of these prospects, who have been at the same company—often in the SAME job—for 10 years or more, are eager to learn about the today’s interviewing and, more importantly, how to deal with the telephone and face-to-face interactions—to have the right responses; understanding body language; timing of the exchanges; and finally, learning how to close. These reflect some new interview paradigms most prospects are curious to learn about.

These new interview paradigms now include responding to the screening tests and submitting written narratives even before anyone calls for a phone screen to check out their bona fides. For software and programming jobs they include writing code and submitting it for review before the target employer decides if they consider you as a worthy candidate to start the formal interview process, beginning with a phone call. Then there are myriad questions people want to know how to answer them so that they are able to protect their options to keep themselves viable for the next step in the grueling selection process. Overall, the interview process has now become more involved and has more screening steps to them than how it was even 10 years back!

Although I do not focus in my coaching and interview preparations on the technical aspects of their expertise, I’ve enough understanding of what their expertise entails and how it fits within the business context of their target company that I am able to structure my mock interviews and coaching sessions to make them useful for clients to up their game in almost any field of their profession: From lawyers to marketers to physicians to engineers to software pros.

So, why am I writing this blog on dealing with interview fear?

One main reason for this blog is that in almost 60% of cases that come back to me with or without my coaching them and helping them through mock sessions are about their failure to clear the interview process. Almost all of them report back with the single most important failure on their part: their bad response to some interview questions stemming from their interview anxiety and fear of failure.

In almost all cases they knew the answer to the question(s), but fumbled their response because they did not clearly think through how the question was asked, how to frame their response to serve them in their hour of need, and had the presence of mind to lay out their answer to make that response flow with confidence. In extreme cases of interview paralysis they froze mid sentence and could not complete the rest of their response and ended up leaving the interview half finished, crestfallen because they knew the answer, but could not get it out. In some other cases they had encountered a situation somewhat familiar to them—but not identical to what was presented—and yet they were unable to leverage that experience to deliver a response to ace the situation, again stemming from their fear and diffidence. Their mind was paralyzed because their brain was swimming in the fear-induced hormones!

So, what are some of the ways you can help yourself deal with their existential fear of interviews and the anxiety that stems from the possible failure that stems from that fear? Here are some tips:

  1. Shift your mindset: First and foremost, remember that the entire process of selection through rounds of interviews is to help both sides to get an opportunity to check each other out and to provide a platform to explore if their working together will benefit each other in an equitable way. For many, having this perspective helps defuse much of the anxiety around “who is in charge”? Once you understand that you have some control—equal control—over the process it is comforting to know that you can manage the proceedings on equal terms. Most do not know how to empower themselves with this simple shift of their mindset before entering into the interview process. Just imagine your having the power and presence of mind to ask your interviewer this question: Now that we have concluded this interview process can you tell me why I should select your company and not some other employer as my next career move? Everyone takes for granted a hiring manager in the final round asking such a question!
  2. Preparation+ Practice: Preparation is the key to acing any interview. This preparation entails delving into both the technical aspects of the interview and the general aspect of your candidacy. The former entails showing your subject matter expertise (SME) throughout the interview process and latter, about how you are able to function in an environment that is typical of the target company’s ethos. This includes understanding their business, knowledge of customers, competitors, and others within their ecosystem.
    It is impossible to know every aspect of your SME. But, knowing the fundamentals of your profession are key to being able to develop a response to an unfamiliar question in your field of expertise. I’ve yet to see someone getting rejected merely because they had to logically derive the response to a difficult question using basic knowledge of their profession. Where people fumble this is when their own fear gets in the way of logically synthesizing a cogent response based on the knowledge of their basics. When dealing with fear your mind becomes less effective because your brain is consumed delivering instinctive responses; logic and thinking go out the window!
    When it comes to responses to general questions practice helps you better prepare how to respond without making your responses betray you. For example, if the question is what was your biggest failure? The response is much better if the interviewer narrates their story of such a failure with learning that helped them avoid even a bigger such failure later on and one that is delivered by taking ownership of the failure, without blaming others. All of this requires careful preparation, an ability to quickly recall the right experience, packaged and delivered to serve you and to put you in a positive light. This cannot happen by winging it during the interview, so practice and script are important before blurting out responses to such critical questions.
  3. Calming down: When fear and anxiety start creeping in your body it reacts by releasing hormones that are designed to help you survive. This process is a cycle that results in progressively more fear and more release of these hormones that further block your logical and rational thought process. Your responses become more instinctive—flight or fight—which is what the body was designed to do. In such situations we instinctively do things that put us in greater jeopardy. If, instead, you calm down and relax, your mind is able to logically think through the responses that will allow you to deal with the dangerous situation and give you the means to deal with it constructively.
    Secondly, once fear takes root, it grows with passing time. So, if you fear that you’d be stuck or even devastated if the interviewer asks you that dreaded question, the longer it goes during your interview without being asked that question the longer your fear is working on you with that “what if,” and the stronger its hold on you. So, to break that cycle either ignore that thought or confront that question in a way that forces you to deal with it early on.
    One way to deal with such a dreadful encounter is to preempt it. For example, if you dread being asked why you left your previous employer (you were fired), early on, say, “the situation with my team got progressively worse, as the team refused to follow the key actions required to complete the project. Once I realized that my management did not support me in getting the team to follow my plan, I realized that continuing in that mode was not fruitful for either of us, so we decided to part company.” In a recent case with a client where she was fired in a situation similar to this, she was able to overcome this fear by preempting her reasons for exit this way. It worked!
  4. Delivery rhythm: It is not merely enough to know the answers to such questions—including the tough technical and trick questions in your profession—but you must also know how to deliver them with finesse to help your candidacy. Practicing these answers furthers your ability to deliver more compelling responses—where content and delivery become partners in apposition. So, practicing in mock interviews helps refine your delivery and increases your confidence in how you can stack the deck in your favor.
  5. Visualization: is yet another technique of dealing with your fear issues. Visualizing an interview when you are in control of its proceedings and where you are doing well can help you see yourself as someone who can. Such visualization can help you calm your fears and help you develop positive interview habits that can help you deal with inevitable glitches that are common in any interview. If you visually practice—in addition to doing a mock interview—doing a successful interview that results in your taking it to the final stage and getting an offer can help you radiate that confidence during the interview session. This may be just enough to tip the scales in your favor to ace the interview and to get the outcome you so badly deserve!

Getting through an interview and getting a job offer are both practiced skills, so if you follow this guidance presented here your next interview is likely to result in the exact outcome you’ve been waiting for!

Good luck!