We’ve all been there. After days, or maybe even weeks of bated breath, there it is. The message arrives. It’s a huge relief and so exhilarating…until the anxiety sets in. How personal is too personal when it comes to topics to raise? Which outfit says “I care about this” without trying too hard? Should you practice in advance, or just let the conversation flow? How should you respond to those dreaded questions about the long-term?
Is this a first date? In a sense, yeah. Those who have worked with me in the admissions and recruiting space know that I love comparing the process to dating. It almost never fails me. In the world of recruiting, interviews are your first date. You’ve built a “profile” through your application or your resume, and then you make yourself feel totally vulnerable by submitting or posting it for consideration, and you wait – and sometimes, wait and wait – until someone says, “Yes, you! Let’s meet. I’d like to get to know you better.” And finally that exhale you’ve been holding in escapes in a wave of relief…until you realize that you actually have to do the interview, and the anxiety sets in again. Funny how that works, isn’t it, that anxiety circle? Good thing you’ve got some tricks up your sleeve by now for making your way through it – namely, your breath and as they taught you in preschool, your “listening ears.”
First of all, interviews are a good thing. They’re a thumbs up, rooted in the hope that you may have what it takes to be successful as a part of the organization that wants to meet you. Of course, not everyone who receives an interview gets an offer (darnit, reality!), but generally, the person or people interviewing you want to like you. They want you to do well. They didn’t wake up that morning with the intention of cross-examining a hostile witness. They want to have a nice conversation with a fellow human being who truly answers their questions. Have you ever had a conversation with someone before? You have? OK, whew. Looks like you can handle this.
So where does mindfulness come in? Well, first, there’s that anxiety factor I’ve mentioned a few times. The waiting, the preparation…it’s all riddled with uncertainty and self-doubt. “They’re not going to invite me…Oh, but they did!….What if I totally mess up, though?…Do I really deserve this opportunity?…” Ugh, that voice! Who ever said that zen is achieved by listening to your “inner voice” was delusional. That narrative running through your head is often full of a lot of unfriendly (and untrue) noise. I love how comedy goddess Amy Poehler talks about this in her memoir, where she suggests you “take your brain and put it in a drawer…you may still hear [it]…but at least it will be muffled, and just the fact that it’s not in your head anymore will make things seem clearer.” ABC News reporter Dan Harris nearly called his book, 10% Happier, by the title The Voice In My Head Is… well, a not so nice name instead. Point is, that annoying little doubter in your head is not invited to your interview.
So, it’s not an accident that I’ve talking about “bated breath” and “exhaling with relief” in the preceding paragraphs. Step one to managing those pre-interview nerves is finding your breath. If you’ve established even a 2-minute or 5-minute mindfulness or meditation practice, keep it up. If you feel like it’s tough, no problem. You’re awesome. Keep trying. Use some free guided resources to help you along. If you haven’t ever tried it even once, start now. All you need is your breath. Close your eyes, take an inhale and actually notice how it feels in your body, and then let it go. Fully exhale and notice how much lighter you feel as you release your breath. That voice in your head might even be enticed to exit with it. Pretty cool, huh? Maybe try it again. There you go…nicely done. Goodbye, “fight or flight;” hello, here and now.
Now that you are no longer preparing for your interview in the same physiological state as a person who’s just encountered a grizzly bear, let’s talk about the interview itself. Obviously, you’re going to prepare. Do your research, read some good notes, and practice out loud before the big day. On top of these very important requirements, adding some mindfulness to your repertoire can help cultivate clarity of mind during the interview itself. A great technique for keeping yourself present during an interview, or any conversation, is mindful listening.
Mindful listening is pretty straightforward. No matter how interested you are in a conversation, at some point your mind will wander, just like it probably does when you try meditation. Depending on whether you get “caught,” this can be inconsequential or totally humiliating. An innocent “What you think?” leaves you staring like you’ve just been asked to comment on the tension between realism and romanticism in Dostoevsky’s works. Now, you’re probably not going to check out of an interview like that, but you might find yourself formulating an answer to a question before it’s even really been asked, and maybe not exactly answering it as a result. In an interview, this is a problem. In a relationship, it is, too, but we’ll get to that.
So, here’s the plan: during the week before your interview, try a little mindfulness – whatever approach works for you. The morning before the interview, try a little more, if you can. If that pesky “voice” tries to join the party, don’t get mad; just gently escort him or her out, and come back to your breath. When you walk into the interview, pay attention. Listen carefully to what’s being asked of you. If you find yourself jumping ahead and tuning out to mentally gift-wrap your responses, bring yourself back to this simple point: “Listen.” Breathe. You’ll not only respond better, but when you’re offered the chance, you’ll ask better questions as well.
There’s a fun side effect, too. People love to be listened to. When we sense that someone is really, truly paying attention to us in a conversation, you tend to like them more. Wouldn’t you like your interviewer to like you more, in addition to finding you brilliant and insightful? To quote our girl Ms. Poehler a second time, “Yes, Please.”
One more point, while you’re still mindfully “listening” to me. Back to my original analogy – if you think this works wonders in an interview, try it on that next date, too. Obviously, right?! You’re welcome.