Interviews can be tough. They’re nothing short of nerve-wracking when you consider all of the preparation and practice that's required to pull them off. But I had a couple of recent experiences that did not reflect the kind of preparation or practice one might expect when conducting or attending an interview.
Let me provide some context. A few weeks ago, I worked with a group of my colleagues to interview candidates for an open role. We were so excited to meet the applicants and hear why they were interested in participating in the work we do. But, the interviews went horribly. By the end of the interviews, we were cringing, and I just remember thinking to myself “do the candidates not realize how they are presenting themselves?”
That led to think about some of the best and worst ways to present oneself. By identifying the most cringe-worthy moments from these interviews, I found there are some serious dos and don’ts that can be applied in various situations. Whether it’s meeting new people, attending networking events or performing better at future interviews, here are some ways to ensure you present your best self.
LESSON: NOTICE YOUR SURROUNDINGS
One of the most uncomfortable things that can happen when interacting with someone — especially someone you just met — is if they lack awareness. When in an interview, or any other circumstance where you have to be your best self, be sure that you’re taking notice of your surroundings. What’s your body language saying? What is the other person's body language telling you? Are people listening to what you have to say, or are they tuning out? Fine-tuning your awareness of others and of yourself will help figure out how to adjust as you go if people aren’t responding well to what you’re saying.
LESSON: DON’T MINIMIZE YOURSELF OR YOUR ACCOMPLISHMENTS
Don’t use words like “but,” “just,” or “only” when discussing your accomplishments. There’s a reason you were selected to be interviewed. Do not invalidate the strength of your work by using words that minimize it.
LESSON: TRIPLE CHECK you have EVERYTHING YOU NEED BEFORE YOUR INTERVIEW
This is especially important for any type of video call or webcam interview. Make sure you check if the tech you’re expected to use is working properly. Then go back and check it again. Test the audio, adjust the lighting, check the wifi connection — do whatever you need to do to ensure you have the best possible image and aural quality possible. There’s nothing worse than trying to talk with someone and their audio is cutting in and out. And for something as important an interview, poor audio quality can easily break your confidence.
LESSON: NEVER SAY THAT YOU’RE SHY (EVEN IF YOU ARE)
It’s extremely important, even if you are shy, to project confidence. Interviews are already nerve-wracking, and I can imagine they are infinitely more difficult for someone who is introverted. However, being “shy” is considered a negative quality. The word “shy” indicates you’re timid when dealing with people and easily frazzled, which is not something any job or other kind opportunity is going to find favorable.
If you are more of an introverted type and you’re nervous for your interview (that’s okay! We all get nervous for things like this), find little ways to project confidence. Indulge in your favorite activity before the interview. Dance to some Beyoncé or your favorite band. Talk to yourself in the mirror. Anything that makes you feel strong and happy, do it. That energy will carry into your interview.
LESSON: WATCH THE CLOCK
There is nothing, and I mean nothing, worse than someone who talks too long when answering interview questions. It demonstrates a lack of self-awareness, poor time management skills, makes you look careless and will cause you to run out of time at the end of the interview. Keep an eye on the clock when answering questions so that you don’t take up too much time for any one individual question. The best way to avoid doing this is to practice your responses to some standard interview questions. There are tons of resources for finding interview questions, but one of my favorites is checking Glassdoor to see if there any questions available that are specific to the company that will be interviewing you.
LESSON: ASK GOOD QUESTIONS
They say there’s no such thing as a stupid question, but there is. Any question you can answer through a Google search is not going to be a good thing to ask during an interview. Do your research prior to the interview to make sure none of the answers to your questions are public information. Then, use that information to form the questions you will ask on the big day.
LESSON: KEEP PUSHING THROUGH
If you realize the interview isn’t going well, keep pushing through. You still have to finish the interview, and no one benefits if you start to crumble while the interview is still taking place. Use some of the lessons listed above — especially noticing your surroundings — to adjust as best you can to the circumstances. And if you totally blow an interview, it’s okay! You’ll kick ass at the next one.
Interviews can be difficult, but there are ways to manage the anxieties that accompany them. Hopefully, the lessons I’ve learned from my experiences as both the interviewer and the applicant can help you crush your next interview.