From some of my other musings, you may have picked up that I’ve lost a couple of jobs in my time. Two due to my mental ill health, but I’ve also been made redundant. I’ve been to a decent number of job interviews, and have worked out some ways to survive them and maybe even do well.
It seems prudent to share my experiences in the hope that maybe it’ll help someone else. It might not, but job interviews are extremely anxiety-provoking and every little helps. Anxiety can crop up and derail us even when we’re qualified and completely competent. Well, I’m here to say ‘Not today, Satan,’ and shove it aside like some sort of job-seeking superhero.
That may be a slight overstatement. It may be through sheer practice and belligerence, but anxiety rarely gets the better of me at interviews these days. That being said, not everyone has had to apply and interview for as many jobs as I have. It’s not always easy to put anxiety to one side. There are some things you can do to ease it up a little, though, and these are mine.
You know what they say. Failing to prepare is preparing to fail! Honestly, when I was younger I’d do a little interview preparation and pretty much just wing it. Not any more.
In order to perform my best and keep my anxiety at bay, I like to prepare myself properly. Full disclosure, I’ve been in situations where I’ve been the one asking the interview questions as well. Having exposure to that gave me a little more insight into the types of things people may ask.
The way I prepare is to firstly do a little research on the company. Not a whole history, but enough to know their background and any important contracts or projects they may have. If the role is for a specific project or projects, I’ll do some research on those too.
This just helps show that you know what you’ve applied for, and you know what you’re getting into. It never hurts to take an interest, and if you like what you find out it could make you more enthusiastic about the process.
Look over your application
If you don’t know where to start in terms of preparation, look at your application. They’ve offered you an interview for a reason. Find out what that is. If you sent a CV and cover letter, what did you highlight? If it was an application form, what did you say?
When I fill in applications I work alongside the job description and person specification and make sure I can include as much relevant information as possible. If you’ve got an interview, go over it again. Pick out the things that match the specification.
Think of examples from your career history that match the specification and what you’ve written on your CV or application. It’s great to be able to say you can do something, but can you prove it? It helps me to have these things written down in note form because it brings it to the front of my mind.
What might they ask?
Based on the job description and what they’ve asked on the application, what might they ask you at interview? If you’re going for a job that involves dealing with customers, for example, they might ask you how you’d handle a certain situation. Maybe they’ll want to know some real experiences from your previous jobs.
If you work with a lot of data, they might be interested in how you’ve analysed it or programmes that you’ve used. You can never really predict it, but it doesn’t hurt to prepare some answers and have things fresh in your mind. I always do this, and it definitely helps me to have scenarios written down.
Remember your achievements
Funnily enough, interviewers often want to know what you’ve done well and how you’ve been successful. When you have anxiety, or are so inherently British that self-praise is nigh on impossible, take some time to think about what you’ve achieved. If you’re anxious or depressed, it’s hard to think of positive things on the spot.
Do yourself a favour and get some positive things written down. You can even ask someone you work with or used to work with if you’re not sure. What have you put on your CV? What are you proud of? It’s hard, sure, but it’s a lot easier to think of it beforehand than stumble over it on the day.
Plan your route
Alright, so you’ve done your preparation and are feeling a little better about the whole thing. I don’t know about you, but I can’t just set off somewhere and assume I’ll find my way. No. I need to know what transport I have to take, what time precisely I should set off, and where I need to go.
Take the time to find out where you’re going, and how you’re going to get there. If you’re driving, do a test run so you know what to expect. Find out train times or bus times and if there are any disruptions.
What about when you get out of the car or off the train? Smartphones and Google maps are a gift, but if you’re likely to be feeling anxious then don’t leave it to chance. Have the address and postcode to hand. Before you set off, look on a map to see the best way to get from the train or bus stop to where you’re going. Don’t just wander off without a plan and you’ll probably feel better. Have the phone number to hand as well, just in case you do get lost.
Give yourself time
If you’ve done your travel planning you’ll probably know how long you need to get there. Give yourself plenty of time to get there and to get ready beforehand. If you’re currently in a job, take the whole or half day off. Don’t be rushing from one place to another and rushing to get back afterwards.
Okay, so you don’t want to arrive an hour early. I’d advise ten to fifteen minutes is fine. Take the time beforehand to get ready, go over your notes, and calm down. Make sure you’ve eaten something and had some water – you don’t want a rumbly tummy or dry mouth!
I’m chronically early to things. Whilst waiting around for an interview isn’t exactly fun it’s much more pleasant than running in at the last minute. Full disclosure again: I once interviewed someone who was half an hour late. It wasn’t her fault, but it didn’t scream ‘professional’.
Take your time and ask questions
Once you’ve arrived on time, fully prepared and undoubtedly still feeling anxious, what do you do in the actual interview? Well, the best advice I have is to be yourself, remember your preparation, and take your time.
They’ll be asking questions, of course. Rather than answering what you think they asked, if you’re at all unsure, just ask them to repeat the question. I’d always much rather someone did that than rambled on for five minutes about something irrelevant.
Allow yourself a second to formulate an answer before rushing in. Other things may come up when you’re talking, which is great, but don’t rush from one point to the next. Finish your sentence, then talk about something else. They’ll usually provide some water, so don’t be afraid to have a sip whilst you think of an answer or gather your thoughts.
In the end…
At the end of the day, it’s just an interview. If you mess up you never have to see these people again! They’ve asked you in because they were impressed by your application. They want to hear what you have to say. Unless you’ve told a shitload of lies on your CV, there’s a good reason for you being there.
If you’re offered an opportunity to ask questions, do so. I always like to ask what people like about their job or the company. I’ve had that pulled on me, and I thought it was a great question.
Remember, you’ve had an interview but that’s not a binding contract. If you didn’t like the vibe or the job sounded different to the advert, you don’t have to take the job. You don’t owe them anything. It’s about what’s best for you. Hopefully it’s a good fit, but if you have doubts then listen to them.
Being in a situation where we know we’re going to be judged is horrible. It’s not like everyday life where you just think people are judging you – here, they actually are. They’re judging your career and achievements, though, and it’s not personal. Well, not unless you walk in and start insulting them all.
As I said, if things go slightly awry then you never have to see them again and you can use it as a learning experience. Preparing yourself and taking your time should ease up some of the anxiety, but it’s natural to feel it. Don’t beat yourself up for being nervous.
Finally, remember it’s an hour or a day out of your life. The more you do it, the easier it gets. It’s unpleasant but it’s not permanent. Give yourself a treat afterwards, like a nice coffee or a trip to the shops. It’s a big thing, especially if you live with anxiety or other mental health issues.
It might seem like I over-prepare, but it’s one thing I’m thankful to my anxiety for. Avoidance doesn’t make a situation better, and this is once scenario where preparation is a great help.
If you’ve got an interview coming up, good luck! You’ll be fine, and if you’re not, that’s okay too. You can try again another time. It’s scary out there, but you don’t have to go in unarmed.