Does the prospect of going to a job interview fill you with trepidation? If you're like most people, the answer is "Of course!" In a recent survey of more than 1,600 people by staffing firm LaSalle Network, 81 percent reported getting nervous before job interviews. Sixty-five percent reported that they start getting nervous the day before the interview, and an unlucky 5 percent say they start getting stressed a whole week ahead of time.
But you can eliminate or dramatically reduce pre-job interview jitters, says Sirmara Campbell Twohill, LaSalle Network chief human resources officer. The secret, she says, is thorough preparation that can mitigate the most common concerns people have before arriving at an interview.
Here are the things survey respondents most worried about, along with suggestions for what to do about them. Try some of all of these preps before your next interview and you'll find yourself walking in with a whole new level of confidence.
1. How to avoid saying the wrong thing.
This was the biggest worry for survey respondents, with 58 percent saying they fretted about a foot-in-mouth incident. Twohill's prescription is simple. Step 1: Don't do anything obviously stupid such as using profanity, saying something offensive, or talking trash about a former employer. Step 2: Be yourself.
"Be truthful and use previous experience to make the argument as to why you're the right fit for the role," she says. "If the right previous experience isn't there, own up to it and say what will be done to gain it." Don't try to present yourself as someone or something you're not, which will just lead to frustration on all sides if you do wind up getting the job.
One last piece of advice: Hiring managers typically invite candidates to ask questions at the end of an interview, and you can downgrade your chances by either asking bad questions or no questions at all. Bad questions are clueless ones whose answers can easily be found online, so make sure to research the company and come up with some intelligent questions before the interview.
2. How to make a good first impression.
The second-highest worry of survey respondents, at 43 percent, was making a bad first impression. Again, just being yourself, in an upbeat and pleasant way, is a better approach than straining to put on a persona that isn't you.
Twohill adds a bit of inside info: Your first impression may take place earlier than you think. Such as in the elevator. "Start conversations with people there," she says. "You never know who you're in the elevator with." (Here are some suggestions for how to start a conversations with a stranger.)
Once you arrive, make sure to smile and introduce yourself to the receptionist. "Hiring managers often check in with them after the interview to see how they were treated, and whether or not the version of the candidate they got in the interview was real or fake," Twohill warns.
3. How to find out exactly what they're looking for.
Not having this information was a worry for 41 percent of respondents. Needless to say, you should do as much research as you can about the company and the position. But if that doesn't give you a clear picture of the role, there's a simple solution--just ask!
"It's not taboo to ask," Twohill says. "Hiring managers will appreciate that you want clarity." And if the answer gives you a different picture of what the job requires than you had coming in, use that information in your follow-up email. Make the argument as to why you're a fit based on what you learned in the interview rather than what it says in the job description.
4. How to sell yourself effectively.
Selling oneself feels unnatural to many people, including 35 percent of survey respondents who listed it as one of their causes for worry. And indeed, to perform effectively in a job interview, you will need to be able to describe your accomplishments and why you're a good fit for the role, and do so in a confident, natural, relaxed-seeming manner.
The good news about this is that practice makes perfect. "Practice saying accomplishments out loud," Twohill says. "Study your resume and pick two highlights from each position to sell." And then say those words out loud, in the shower, to your mirror, to your dog, or to your family and friends.
Her further advice is to look at the company's mission statement (we hope it's clearer than these) and make a list of ways you could contribute to that mission in your first 30 days on the job. Bring a portfolio of your previous work or assemble it into a presentation. "Hiring managers rarely say a candidate did too much preparation," she notes.
5. How to make sure you're on time.
Showing up late to a job interview was a worry for 35 percent of the respondents and for good reason. It can ruin your chances even if you'd otherwise get the job. I know--I once eliminated a promising job candidate on this basis alone. But of all the worries people have, it's the easiest to avoid.
To be on the safe side, Twohill recommends leaving at least one hour's extra travel time to a job interview than you normally would. Bring a laptop or tablet and plan to work or relax in a nearby coffee shop--or even in your car if necessary. And if the interview is in an area you're not familiar with, doing a drive-by the day or the week before might be a good idea as well.
6. How to make sure you're completely prepared.
Being unprepared for a job interview worried 28 percent of the survey's respondents, but--like showing up on time--being fully prepared is entirely within your control. "Think about being back in school, and studying not only one night for a midterm, but probably starting a couple of weeks ahead," Twohill says.
If you were a good student, you likely also reviewed the material the week of the midterm, the night before, and perhaps the morning of the test. Job candidates should put that kind of time into interview prep, she argues. "People study in school to get the degrees that will help them build a career, but then they don't study for the jobs themselves."
Exactly what research should you do? "Don't just look at the company's website," she advises. You also want to read up on the industry, look at the company's competitors, review its press and achievements, and its social media feeds. Look at the leadership team and the press around them and their social media as well. Perhaps most important, don't forget to learn everything you can about the person or people you'll actually be meeting with.
Not only will it make you a more appealing candidate; it will make you feel better as well. As Twohill notes, "Preparation helps reduce nerves."