Job Interview Anxiety (advice)

Today I took the train from Cambridge to King’s Cross, London. Normally I relax on the train: views of wide open fields, plenty of leg room, and a nice tidy iPod session with a freshly-made playlist. But today I couldn’t do that. Not because there was some fat sleeping fuck next to me snoring so violently he was waking himself up, and not because I was thinking about the cress I’ve been growing to go in my sandwiches which is starting to turn brown. I couldn’t relax because I was heading for a job interview.

I don’t know if you know but job interviews involve a person, you, meeting one or more potential employers asking fiendish questions like, “If the world was going to end tomorrow and you had £1 million to spend, what animal would you be?” It’s a dizzying experience in which you’re expected to sell yourself as a person far more perfect than you actually are whilst simultaneously pointing out your weaknesses AND not coming across as arrogant.

It stresses out even the most laid back, carefree person,  yet it’s a step almost all of us have to navigate many times during our lives. So how to counter the anxiety that inevitably stalks us for the minutes, hours, and even days leading up to that fateful thirty minutes? As a sufferer from social anxiety, albeit an undiagnosed case of it, the symptoms are worse for me. And as there’s precious little useful advice for those afflicted by SAD, I thought I’d try and help a few of your poor souls out there.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user bpsusf

First, I should say that unless you have medication to hand (whatever your doctor prescribes I guess) or an ill-advised plan for last-minute alcohol consumption, you are going to feel anxious. It’s unavoidable. But here are some hopefully useful tips for getting through this monumental issue relatively unscathed.

1. Just don’t think about it. Ha, only joking. That’s fucking useless advice and anyone who gives it should immediately be stripped of their Advice Giver tag and sentenced to a life in solitary confinement. “Just don’t think about it,” my arse.  You’re going to think about it. You can’t stop thinking about it. You’re probably weighing up whether going to this interview is a better or worse life decision than losing a finger and then giving that electric saw in the garage a keen eye.

2. Do plenty of preparation. When the anxiety first kicks in, probably a day or two before the big event, start preparing. Write down directions to the address and take a practice run there if you have the time and funds. Look at the company website and Google them to see what they’re about — reviews, news articles perhaps, what their USP is (if they have one) — and maybe make a few notes.

3. Get lots of sleep. I’m lucky in that I can sleep; a lot of people in these situations struggle, and might lay awake all night. Take a sleeping pill if you can, or rest up as best you can. I’m sorry, that’s not great advice, but it’s the best I can offer.

4. Wear comfortable, appropriate clothes. Everyone knows first impressions count most at interviews, and even from an anxiety point of view feeling like you’re dressed for the occasion makes can alleviate some nerves. Employers, infuriatingly, never specify what you should wear, but you should be able to get a fair idea from the type of company and role you’re applying for.

5. Eat something for breakfast. You won’t feel like it but it’ll help. Force a few Shreddies down, or a piece of toast. Don’t go overboard with the caffeine; in fact, maybe skip your usual cup of coffee altogether. Go for a glass of orange juice instead. Or some ginger beer, because that stuff’ll settle your stomach a bit and you won’t feel quite so sick. Grab a banana for the journey.

6. Promise yourself a treat for later. Schedule in some Xbox time, go out for a meal, or maybe go direct from the interview to the nearest pub and down a few pints and a shot of tequila. Nobody’s judging, and even if they are, fuck them, you’ve just had the most stressful afternoon for months; you’ve earned this.

7. Occupy yourself on the journey. This is easier if you’re taking public transport because you’re free to read a book or get a notepad out. If you drive, cycle or walk, you’re likely to be running over permutations of what might happen later. You’ll think about your first smile, trying to make a good impression but being too nervous to do it right, wondering whether you look like a nervous job-seeker, or a confident job-seeker, or whether it comes across as the creepy smile of someone who had sleazy, sordid office sex with your last boss. Best thing to do is actively think about something different: play games in your head, plan the rest of the week, plan the perfect kill in Modern Warfare 3, mentally write a blog post about job interview anxiety, anything really.

8. In the minutes before you step through that door, listen to inspirational music — something to psych yourself up. The key is to steel yourself for what’s ahead. Think over what you want to say in greeting, practice your smile, and think ahead to what you’re going to do when this is over. Deep down you know it won’t come off perfectly but playing it out in your head will increase your confidence and decrease those growing anxiety levels. Whatever you do, don’t walk away. I’ve been guilty of this a few times in non-job interview situations; I’ve lost the battle with myself and given up on that particular party, not answered my phone for the rest of the night, and made up a lame excuse to post on Facebook the next morning from the comfort of my bed. Don’t do it. You’ll regret it. Besides, you’ve come so far, don’t give up now.

9. Lastly, as a general point, remember that it will not be as bad as you think. These anxieties are almost always irrational and you can’t help but think the worst, but it’s you, well-prepared, well-rested, and well-nourished, in a room with one or two people who are looking to employ someone with your skill set. Remember that last point: these people already know you’re qualified enough for the job, so now you’re just trying to show you’re a nice guy who people will want to work with.

10. Be yourself. This is that kind of horrible, vague advice that seems pretty useless, but what I’m getting at here is: don’t act like someone else. Sure, by all means do your research and rehearse answers to a few questions, but if you’re quiet by nature, don’t try and fill every silence; and if you’re prone to making jokes, slip one in (just make sure it’s not too risqué) if the moment presents itself. Then again, if being yourself means bumping fists, pinching cheeks and saying, “hi-hum and toodle-pip, matey” when you first meet someone, you might have to wait till you get back to the train and have a stranger to weird out.

All right buddy, now you’re on your own. Good luck, and if you do fuck up, hey, there’s always another job out there, despite what everyone says. Short of even that, the weather’s warming up a bit so the tramps strut around the streets with a smug little smile creasing their faces. You can always join ’em.

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