Have you ever wondered why some interview advice is great in theory and doesn’t work as well in practice? Here I'm going to share some thoughts on what might be going on in the mind to influence your performance and what can help you to give a better impression of yourself.
As a recruitment consultant, for many years I helped people prepare for interviews I arranged for them with my clients. Some people were difficult to help though. Either they were way too nervous for me to present to a client in the first place or others looked great on paper and were fantastic when I met them, but for some reason they just couldn’t get it right in front of a client.
Since I trained as a Career Coach and combined this with Cognitive Hypnotherapy, I have been able to understand so much more about what may be going on. More importantly, this means I can help more people to overcome what holds them back, so they can go into interviews in a better frame of mind.
Obviously you need confidence based on positive self esteem to do well in an interview but this isn’t as straightforward as you might think. This is because our self esteem grows out of a complex set of stories (or memories) about ourselves and the way the world works. Our stories are based on how we’ve our interpreted our experience in the past, which will also have been moulded by many different influences (including gender stereotypes, our culture and messages we also pick up from friends and family). The good news is, if we accept that our self-esteem is a made-up story; the ‘you’ of yesterday in an interview doesn’t have to be the ‘you’ of today or tomorrow.
More often than not there can be something from way back in the past, which you’ve forgotten about, that gets in the way of your doing your best in an interview. Like most people, you may have had an unpleasant or even traumatic experience at school, which your mind connects with performing in public (maybe reading out loud or performing in a play). The mind then subconsciously links that with interviews. Self-limiting beliefs grow out of the link made and you can end up thinking ‘I’m no good at interviews’, ‘I won’t be taken seriously for a job like this’ or ‘I won’t be able to think on the spot’.
When I'm helping clients with their interview technique, often I will combine this with cognitive hypnotherapy (with a client's consent of course) to help them uncover what their original belief-forming experience or experiences. Usually this will involve using a timeline or another kind of visualisation to represent the past. Clients can be surprised by what the original memory forming experiences have been and what a difference re-interpreting them makes. This can really help to take the ‘pain’ out of interview experiences in the future because a link to the old unhelpful story has been broken. I reinforce the effect with bespoke positive hypnotic suggestions and create bespoke MP3 recordings for clients to listen to between sessions to help to continue building the changes we are asking your mind to make.
Sometimes the unhelpful stories we tell ourselves about interviews are about the people we meet in there or who are involved in the process. Usually as a result a subconscious desire to protect us from being ‘judged’. The problem is if you expect interviewers to be antagonistic, you may behave in line with that and answers can come across as defensive. When I’ve interviewed people myself, some have come across across with a ‘why the hell are you asking me that stupid question?’ vibe, which made it very hard to build a rapport with them.
I’ve also come across a fair few people who are unwilling to play the interview ‘game’ and have a ‘take me as you find me’ approach. This can show up in reluctance to expand on answers to questions or wear something appropriate. In today’s competitive market, this can be a risky strategy. So I help clients to learn how to play the ‘game’ better and appear less prickly and defensive.
Being aware of the story you tell with your body language is also important. Often there are things we do that get in the way of appearing confident and are in response to the perceived threat of an interview. Some people struggle with eye contact and others jiggle, fiddle or blush. Often without being aware of it. There are many ways I can help you to tone down or stop these happening using stress-reduction techniques.
Some people really struggle with their voice in interviews. Stress and poor breathing can make you sound squeaky or weak with a tight throat. Learning to breathe from your diaphragm, which helps you to project your voice, can be transformative. Reading a story out loud in front of a mirror, singing or recording yourself on your mobile are all great ways to practice using a more positive, relaxed and bigger voice.
As well as your own ‘stories’, sometimes you may also need help with how to handle the stories your interviewers put across. It can really help to learn how to be more attuned to looking out for opportunities to shine, rather than reacting to perceived threats.
Being more aware of what could be going on in an interviewer’s mind can be incredibly helpful. If you are primed to consider your interviewer as a fellow human rather than an all-powerful inquisitor, then you’re more likely to feel confident. It’s worth remembering that sometimes interviewers are more nervous than you are because they are unsettled in some way. Perhaps they lack interview experience or training and sometimes they may have had your CV given to them at the last minute.
Once you recognise there may be other explanations for what could be going on, your mind can be more at ease. Perhaps, you could stop interpreting a stony-faced HR interviewer as a threat, instead consider them as a professional trying to be objective because a lot is at stake for them too. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development estimates the cost of hiring the wrong person being up to £12k (1) and I think this is an incredibly conservative figure – Oxford Economics cited £30k as the average cost of replacing a member of staff (2).
You may also need help with how to answer the kinds of questions most professional interviewers use these days, especially if you haven’t had an interview for a while. Most use well prepared behavioural or competency-based questions to uncover evidence about you. These will go something like, “Tell me about a time a customer wasn’t satisfied with what you sold them”. Unless you understand what this kind of question is really about you are likely to come unstuck. A low performer will talk about an awkward customer and how awful it was. A high performer will talk about what they did to turn the situation around and will have several examples to talk through of how what they did benefitted the customer and the employer. With coaching, you can look forward to these questions as an opportunity to sell yourself. Similarly, when you understand more about tuning into the language people use (eg are they wanting big picture or detail), you are more likely to do well in your interview.
So with the coaching and reframing mentioned so far, you can be in a much better position to prepare ahead for your interview. It’s also important to learn a few things you can use ‘in the moment’ if your nerves start to get the better of you. An interview puts us under pressure to perform, so it’s no surprise our mind interprets this as a scary situation that we need to get away from. Cue the fight or flight response with your heart beating faster, pulse racing, sweating, butterflies, stomach emptying and all sorts of horrible feelings.
In response to stress, people can react in different ways. Some may freeze and stumble over their words, while others may rush their words desperate to finish and get out. Some people can even become aggressive. As more blood is needed for the muscles to get ready for fight or flight, the blood drains away from your ‘thinking brain’, which can ruin all that careful preparation if your mind goes blank.
There are lots of ways to tame this response. I say tame because it’s good to have a certain amount of nervous excitement to respond with energy to the opportunity – you’re there to give your best not ‘zone out’! Tweaking how you breathe to relax is one of the best and easiest ways to do this - I created a free audio download on my hypnotherapy website which talks you through how to do this. I’ve also had great success with teaching people how to ‘embody’ a more confident interview persona. Meditating or using self-hypnosis also work really well to enable you to ‘detach’ and observe thoughts and feelings rather getting caught up in too much emotional hijacking.
So I hope this helps you to recognise that there’s so much you can do to manage your interview performance better. Interviews, like our self-esteem, are all about telling stories and I love helping you to create your own more positive story, ideally with a happy ending. This means coming out of your interview feeling like you’ve done the best you could have in the circumstances and I truly believe most people can do this – you may need a bit of help – but you can do it.