In my last post I wrote about steps you can take before an interview to get yourself calm and focused going into an interview. But what do you do if something happens after the interview has started that throws you for a loop? I’ll give you a few suggestions here.
1. Can’t remember the answer? Get more time.
Sometimes the block that comes up is just a temporary blip. For example, if you get a question you haven’t prepared for and your mind goes blank, you can say something like “I haven’t thought of that. Let me get back to you on that later in the interview.” Now you’ve bought yourself some time to let the adrenaline get out of your system so you can think.
Of course, you do have to give an answer before you leave. The only time it would be acceptable to get back to the interviewer with the answer after the interview would be if the answer were something which you reasonably needed to look up somewhere else.
2. Mind goes blank? Breathe in a way that triggers relaxation.
If you are in a situation that is more extreme—say, your mind goes blank, your heart races, and you can’t focus on what the interviewer is saying—you need something stronger to calm you down and get you back on track. The first thing to do is breathe.
I’m not making a joke. When we are threatened we go into flight, fight or freeze mode, which is the perfect response if you are being stalked by a tiger in the jungle. Since tigers rarely attend interviews, however, that response is counterproductive when you are trying to land a job. You need to shift your body away from survival mode where blood is leaving the thinking parts of your brain (to go help the big muscles in your arms and legs fight off the predator or run away) back into calm, rational mode. Deep breathing is a quick way to relax your body. Once your body is relaxed, you can access the parts of your brain that went off-line while you were looking for the exit.
Now just any old breathing won’t do in this situation. You need to do diaphragmatic breathing. Singers learn to breathe this way. So do people meditating. In fact, I’ve heard that at least one branch of the military teaches their folks to do this, too. They call it something tough like “power breathing,” and they teach it so their recruits will be able to think and do what they need to while under extreme pressure. If it works while bombs are exploding nearby or while you’re under attack by a sniper, it should work in an interview.
Here’s a great exercise to learn how to do it. Think of a tube going from your nose all the way down to your bellybutton. You are going to breathe in through that tube, sending the air all the way down. Don’t let your shoulders or chest move. (If you breathe up into your chest, you can actually make yourself more tense.) Breathe in through your nose on a slow count of three, hold it for a slow count of three, then breathe out of your mouth and nose on a slow count of five. That’s one breath. You can play with the numbers – maybe you breathe in for a count of four, hold it for three, and out for six. The point is, use a count that feels comfortable for you.
To do the exercise, do ten of these breaths. Great, now do it three times a day. A good way to remember to do it is to do the exercise whenever you have a meal. By the way, if you feel light-headed while doing this deep-breathing exercise, that means you are hyperventilating and getting too much oxygen. Just breathe normally for half a minute, then finish the exercise.
Why am I having you practice all this breathing? Well, it accomplishes two things. First, it relaxes your body. The more you teach your body to relax, the more it stays relaxed. That’s good for interviewing, right? Second, if you practice this breathing regularly, it will be easy to remember how to do it in an interview when you don’t want to have to think about it.
Of course, in the interview, you don’t want to be counting to yourself. You also don’t need to switch between breathing through your nose and your mouth. You just want to be taking deep breaths to calm yourself down in a tense moment. You should only need a handful of these deep breaths to notice that you are starting to calm down.
The beautiful thing about deep breathing is you can do it anywhere and no one is going to notice. You are just breathing. So is everybody else. It’s the ultimate stealth move in an interview.
3. Need to get more relaxed? Use invisible acupressure points.
Another great relaxation technique you can use during interviews without anyone likely to notice is pressing or rubbing on certain acupressure points (like acupuncture, it’s a way to use body-brain triggers but without the needles). There are number you could use, but I’ll give you the sneakiest one. Take your thumb, place it on the side of the index finger next to it at the base of the fingernail. Don’t go all Twister on me here. This is not a contortionist move. It should look like you are making an “O” with your thumb and forefinger, with the rest of the fingers gently curved and resting comfortably. Now do the other thumb and forefinger the same way. Place your hands in your lap and gently rub your thumb slightly in a tiny circle or back and forth. That’s it.
If you are sitting across from an interviewer with a desk between you, he or she is not likely to notice such a small move. But if what’s between your interviewer and your hands is a glass topped table, you might want to just hold your thumbs and forefingers gently but firmly in that “O” shape. That will give you some relief and there will be nothing for the interviewer to notice at all.
What’s happening is you are sending a signal to your brain that you are safe. It should relax you. I had a client who used to freak out in meetings and not be able to follow the thread of the conversation because she was so worried about what she was going to say. I had her do this little trick, and she started to relax and be able to contribute to her group. Not bad for one simple move.
Be sure to practice this several times beforehand so that you don’t have to think about how to do it when you are in the interview. You might also want to just start doing that “O” at the beginning of the interview even if you aren’t feeling stressed. That way you can reinforce your calm mode, and you won’t have to think about starting it if you do get a disturbing question.
But what if these aren’t enough?
These are great in-the-moment stress relievers for those times you are caught up short. They may be all you need to sail through your interviews. If you find that they aren’t enough to bring your stress down to manageable levels, you might consider working with someone to get rid of the triggers that are setting off your stress.
> If you would like to talk to me to see if we can work together to get rid of your interview stress triggers, please email me to set up a time to talk by phone or Skype.