In the last couple of weeks three of my clients admitted that they had been avoiding looking for a new job because they were afraid of going on interviews. These clients had significant reasons to go after new jobs (e.g., financial distress, an unsupportive boss, being in the wrong industry) which they recognized, yet they were allowing their unexamined fears stop them. So we examined their fears.
Simple Interviewing Fears
“Adele” has been out of work for several years. At first it was a choice, but after her husband died it became harder to continue her same lifestyle. Lately she has found herself really pinched with unexpected health problems. She realizes she would do much better if she went back to work, she enjoys her profession, and she knows she is good at what she used to do. But in spite of all that she hasn’t been able to bring herself to look for a job.
When I asked why, she said it was because she was afraid of going on interviews. I got her to relax and think about being in an interview. Then I had her finish the sentence “The worst thing about an interview is . . . .” She surprised us both by answering “none of my clothes fit.” We had a good laugh, she said there was an easy fix to this problem and that she was ready to get started.
That wasn’t the end to the problem, though. It turns out that Adele is also afraid that she will perform badly in any tests she is given during the interview. Why? She keeps thinking of an interview she went on a few years back where she was out of practice and got so flustered when asked to perform that she couldn’t do what she had done for years. The pain and embarrassment she felt was intense. She has convinced herself that this will happen again so she avoids putting herself in any situation (such as an interview) where it might.
So what to do? First, Adele has to address the deficit in her closet by buying an outfit that feels comfortable and appropriate. Second, together we will work on that memory to take away the emotional sting. Third, Adele will look for volunteer work at an organization she respects that will allow her to practice her old skills until she feels she is ready for that interview (or gets hired by someone who observes her in action).
Fear of Failure In an Interview
Meanwhile, “Brynne” was feeling stifled by her current situation. Her boss wasn’t giving her any of the stretch projects she was seeking to grow and move up in their company. On top of that, the boss’s personal style was to mention only the mistakes, never giving recognition for Brynne’s many accomplishments. Brynne needed to move to a new position with a more compatible manager. Brynne had realized a year ago she needed that change, yet here she was with an out-of-date resume and all the excuses in the world why she couldn’t start her search now.
When pressed, she admitted the real reason she was avoiding her job search was that she was afraid of going on any interviews. So I got her to relax, then asked her to finish the same sentence I asked Adele: “The worst thing about an interview is . . . .” She thought about it and answered “I won’t be good enough and the interviewer will judge me.”
While this sounds logical, look at it more closely. Why should she care what the interviewer thinks, really? The interviewer is not going to report back to Brynne’s family, friends, or even her boss on her performance in the interview. They are not going to decide who Brynne marries, what college her children go to, or whether she gets into heaven. At most, all they do is decide whether to hire Brynne for the job or not. Big deal. Even if she really wants the offer, it will not be the end of the world if she doesn’t get it. There are other jobs out there, and Brynne (if she’s smart) wants one where they want her and she wants them. Figuring out whether there is that kind of fit is really what the interview is about. If the interviewer doesn’t want her, then — HURRAY — they’ve figured out there isn’t a fit before any harm is done.
With a little thought, Brynne agreed that it wasn’t about whether the interviewer would judge her as not good enough but whether she will judge herself as wanting. Brynne is a perfectionist, and the fear of not being perfect has been a stumbling block we’ve worked on before. Half an hour later, we’d eliminated that block to interviewing and Brynne was smiling at the thought of finding her next job. (If you have that perfectionism block, check out my earlier post on how to get past it.)
Fear of Succeeding and Getting the Job
“Clarice” was in a panic. She had done the unthinkable, applying for her dream job on a lark and suddenly finding herself scheduled to fly out for an interview. If she had thought she would actually get that far she never would have applied. What would she do if she got the job?!
First things first. We had to get her to calm down so she could actually think. I had her tap on acupressure points that work as a powerful relaxation technique. (If you want to know what they are, you can see them in this post.)
When Clarice was breathing again, I got her talking about what was so alarming. While she continued to tap, I had her start with “The worst thing about the interview is . . . ,“ and it all came out. What if she got the job? She’d have to move to a city where she didn’t know anyone, leaving behind the friends she’d made and groups she belonged to (not to mention a certain ex she still had feelings for.) And she’d have to stop playing small, doing a job that was easy and safe. She would no longer be a big fish in a small pond. She’d have to stretch and prove herself to the hiring manager, someone whose accomplishments she really admired. What if she couldn’t do the new job? And ultimately, she would have to find out if the dream she had been holding onto for so long was really what she wanted. What if she hated the work after all?
By relaxing her body while getting out all the fears she had about this job, Clarice was able to start thinking about them rationally, putting them in perspective. She didn’t completely lose her fears, but they became much more rational. She left looking calm, thoughtful, and — yes — a bit excited.
How to Lower Your Interviewing Fear
So what do you do if fear of going on an interview is stopping you from going after a new job? First of all, relax. Remember, just thinking about interviewing cannot hurt you! If you are having trouble relaxing, try the tapping exercise above or one of the techniques from this post.
When you are relaxed, finish this sentence “The worst thing about an interview is . . . .” What’s the first thing that comes to mind? Write it down. Relax again and fill in the blank again. Keep going until nothing else comes to mind. Next, go through your list one by one, keeping your body relaxed throughout.
You should notice a few things. First, usually just getting clear on what it is you are afraid of can bring your overall fear down. Second, some of those fears just won’t bother you anymore when looked at in the light of day. (Remember Adele and her interview outfit?) Finally, just staying relaxed while thinking about your fears may allow your mind to come up with ways to fix the problem. (Adele could work as a volunteer to practice her skills. Brynne doesn’t really care about the interviewer’s opinion. And Clarice can make plans to join groups where she’ll get to know people in her new town.)
So there you have it — a simple way to bring down your fear of interviewing so you can go after a job you really want.
Nancy Linnerooth has been helping professionals, executives and business owners for well over a decade to get rid of their internal blocks so they can meet their career and business goals.
These internal blocks often show up as repeating patterns of behavior that undercut what they’re trying to accomplish, like procrastinating; avoiding public speaking, cold calling and networking; choking in interviews; and becoming overwhelmed and losing focus.
Nancy comes to the world of coaching with a diverse background as a practicing psychotherapist of many years and a recovering attorney who got her JD from Harvard Law School. So she understands the demands of working in a high-pressured, high-stakes world.
One of my clients, “Angie,” is making an important presentation this week. It’s high profile, and she would like to impress a number of higher-ups in her company who are attending. This is a great opportunity, and it comes with a lot of stress. Now I know Angie. She will come through this experience with flying colors, presenting her information in a clear way, fielding all the questions with ease, displaying her knowledge and ability beautifully. She thrives in high-stakes situations.
Compare her experience with that of another client I spoke to this week. “Barbara” told me about a high-pressure opportunity she had two years ago to show what she could do. She took the LSAT, the test would-be lawyers take before applying to law schools. She’s smart, motivated and really will be a good lawyer in time. But when she took that test she was too stressed to demonstrate any of that well, and her score showed it.
Do you stress-out preparing for important events? Don’t. Do the opposite.
What do you do right before an important “performance?”
Do you pore over all your notes just before stepping up to the podium? In the car on the way to the sales presentation do you rehash all the possible objections your potential customer may have and how you can respond to them? Do you reread the interviewer’s LinkedIn bio for the twentieth time while waiting for the receptionist to take your name? If so, you may be shooting yourself in the foot.
If you want to do your best in a high-stakes situation, the worst thing you can do is get yourself stressed. Don’t get me wrong, you have to do your prep work. Practice your powerpoint presentation. Learn the answers to customers’ objections. Research the company you are interviewing with. But do those things before the day of the event. When you cram the day of you increase your stress level. As I’ve mentioned once or twice before, the more stressed you are the less of your brain you can access. So cramming right before an important event, whatever that event is, will actually lower your performance.
So how do you get yourself in the right mindset to succeed? Just follow the immortal advice of Bobby McFerrin: Don’t worry, be happy. I mean it. If you aren’t happy already, get yourself there. When you are happy, you actually have access to more of your brain so you can think faster, be more creative, keep focused — everything you want and need in a high-pressure situation. So when going into such a situation, it’s in your own best interest to be happy.
How do you do this? Coming right up—but I couldn’t resist linking to the video, first.
How can you “get happy” when you want to?
It doesn’t have to be hard to do this. There are a lot of different ways that can work. One simple way to get happy is to think about one of the best moments of your life. Really try to relive it. Think about what it looked like — the colors, the light, the expressions on everyone’s face. Remember the sounds and how it felt physically. Go through all the senses, bringing up as much detail as you can. Take your time. The more detail you call up, the more you will be able to really feel the happiness you felt at the time.
Music is also a great way to bring up certain emotions. So listen to music that makes you want to dance. Heck, actually dance if that makes you happy. (Okay, don’t do either of those things in your office if they will get you fired.) I know people who swear that meditating raises their mood. For others, it’s looking at a baby picture of their kid. Still others go for a walk in the park. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as whatever you do gets you feeling good.
Let me be a bit clearer. When I say do whatever works to feel happier this is not license to take drugs or alcohol. Remember, your goal is to access more of your brain. Drugs and alcohol have the opposite effect. Instead, I’m encouraging you to use natural ways to improve your mood. Think of what usually puts a smile on your face. Maybe it’s remembering swimming with your best friend in fifth grade, or planning a dream vacation, or watching old clips of the Marx Brothers. Give yourself some time to really think about this. Then pick one that you know really works for you.
You will need to schedule time right before the event to do whatever it is you’ve chosen to feel happier. The activity doesn’t have to take a lot of time. Thinking of the happiest day of your life could take less than a minute. Just be sure you don’t get yourself stressed out trying to take a ten-minute walk in the park if you only have three minutes. That would undo all the good you are trying to achieve.
Can’t get happy? You might have some unlearning to do.
I realize that some issues can’t be fixed with this quick tip. For example, problems like fear of public speaking will need more work to root them out. Barbara believed that she couldn’t take tests well. I know she can—once we break the old connection she has in her mind between taking tests and stressing out. So we’ve scheduled some time to “unlearn” that belief and get rid of the stress she feels around retaking the LSAT. Then she’ll be ready to take that exam again. And this time, she’ll get happy before walking into the testing center so she can really show them what she’s got.
Of course, if you’re like Barbara and have something big holding you back, you’ll want to work on it to level your own playing field. But for every other high-pressure event you have, just remember to get happy. Your performance will peak, and maybe you’ll get that promotion, or sale, or recognition that you’re ready for.
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.
Interviews can be stressful for people under the best of circumstances. But with fewer jobs out there, the perception that no one is hiring, and the very real possibility of going months before getting even one interview, many interviewees are putting added stress on themselves. Ironically this added stress is likely to undercut their performance at interviews, even for people who used to sail through the interview process in the past.
So if this sounds like you, what can you do about it? Actually, there are plenty of things you can do.
In this post we’ll look at what you can do before the interview to set yourself up to walk in feeling ready for anything they throw at you.