People always tell me that it’s okay to be nervous for a job interview. That’s totally normal, they say, and I nod along because I don’t feel like explaining to them just how hard it is for me. I get flustered talking to people in a grocery store — never mind with people paid to judge my every word and action — so yes, the idea of spending twenty minutes in a room talking about myself with the people I want to work for is nerve-racking.
Actually, it’s nightmare-worthy material.
But because this isn’t some fantasy world where capitalism is dead and all people are free to live their lives chasing their dreams rather than the next paycheck, even introverts with crippling social anxiety have to endure job interviews for one, two, or maybe three positions. Me? I experienced two last week and there were many moments during the interviews when I found them to be just as challenging as my first job interview six years ago. I stumbled over my words, panicked about how I was presenting myself, and hung onto my interviewers’ every social cue and vocal tone hoping it would give me some clue as to how I was doing.
It’s not healthy. I know that. But it’s something I can’t help. Even if the position if a great job for introverts, the dread of an interview starts to build up inside me the moment it is scheduled. I lose sleep over it, get stomach cramps, and act out towards those I’m close with. How do you cope with something like that?
I don’t have the answers. If you do, please let me in on your secrets. Although I don’t have a solution, I do have some tips for making it easier.
In other words, this is how I manage.
A day before your interview, take the time to write down some standard interview questions you expect the interviewer will ask you, such as:
- Can you describe your past experience?
- Why do you want this job?
- How will you better our company?
Then write down your answers. I try to keep my typed responses conversational, so when it comes time to actually interviewing, my thoughts sound natural and not rehearsed. Doing this helps my mind focus on the material I need to know. It gives me a chance to run through my past experiences and to present myself in the way I want to present myself. It’s almost a case of memorizing lines in a play.
Get a feel for the material and keep it at the front of your mind. If there’s one thing the socially anxious can’t do, it’s wing it. Practicing will help you feel prepared, therefore boosting your confidence.
2. Do Your Research
This is a tip you will find in any advice column about interviews, but that’s because it’s too important to overlook. I once applied to a social media associate position for this company I had never heard of, and I received an unexpected phone call the next day asking for an interview. I was obviously thrilled for being called, but my paralyzing fear of interviews did not elude me as the interview started. She said, “What would you say the tone of our social presence is?” I froze. I had never looked at their Twitter or Facebook. So I stumbled through a sloppy answer, trying to be vague without coming across as vague, and…well, it was definitely the most awful thing I have ever experienced.
Also, I didn’t get called back.
To avoid question paralysis, do your research. Learn about the position you are applying to. If you want to be a writer at a magazine, READ the magazine. If you’re going for a copyediting position, learn what style the publication uses. The interviewer is going to ask you questions directly about the position. Be prepared for those questions, and come along with suggestions for improvements. It shows just how interested you are in the role. And, it’s such a good mood booster when you actually know the answer to an interviewer’s question. Your stress? Instantly gone!
3. Reduce Outside Stressors
Aside from the interrogation, there are other stresses that add to the anxiety of a job interview. There’s the fear that you’re going to be late, that you’ll have trouble finding the office, or a door will be unexpectedly locked. There’s the fear of technological failure, that your Skype program won’t have sound or your wifi will decide to fail. And there’s the fear that you actually got the time and date mixed up, and my god how awful would that be?!
To make yourself feel better, be prepared. Quadruple check the time and date. Have your friends Skype with you the night before to make sure you know how to run the video program. Use Google Maps to figure out your best route, and give yourself plenty of time to get there.
Prior to an in-person interview, I usually like to arrive a solid thirty minutes early. That gives me time for any travel issues and a chance to scope out the area (to see if I would feel safe working there). Then, when I have time to kill — because I always end up having time to kill — I pretend I’m on a phone call and run through my potential interview responses. (Yes, I know that may seem silly, but it really helps.)
If you can think of a worst case scenario, prepare for it. Knowing how to handle a potential “gone wrong” situation will give you the confidence to actually handle it, should things go belly up.
4. Breathe Deeply
The worst part of an interview, for me, is always the actual interview. Even when I have my responses at the front of mind, there is always one question that trips me up, throwing me completely off my game. My heart hammers in my chest, I feel my face flush, and I panic. I think about how I must appear to the interviewer rather than focusing on the question I need to answer.
I’ve learned that the best thing to do when this happens is to take a breath. It’s sounds too simple to work, but it does help. When you’re in an interview, things feel as if they are moving fast, but if you take a moment to breathe, it’s not going to reflect poorly on you. In all actuality, your interviewer probably won’t even notice.
Though it may feel like you need to get all your answers out fast, it’s totally okay to take time to think. Gather your thoughts, then say what you need to say. Your interviewer will appreciate a thoughtful response.
5. Reward Yourself
Once the interview is over, release all that tension you have. You did it, you interviewed! You faced your fears and talked to someone, professionally. Congratulations!
Maybe it went well, maybe it didn’t, but don’t spend those first moments after the interview worrying about how it went. I know all too well how easy it is to overanalyze every word your interviewer said and to panic about how you acted. In the past, I’ve freaked out about the way I pushed in a chair and about the way I misunderstood the phrasing of a question.
The truth is you can’t do anything about your interview once it’s over. It’s scary, I know, but whatever happens next in the interview process is beyond your control.
If you can’t stop the anxious thoughts, do something to distract yourself from them. Give yourself a treat. Go for a relaxing walk or see a movie. Head home and play your favorite video game or read your new book.
You deserve a little payoff after all that hard work and stress.
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