Pushing Past Your Job Interview Fears

Earlier this year, we asked what worried tech professionals most about the job interview process. Solving problems on a whiteboard came in first, while “feeling dumb” ranked third (with 22 percent). Between the whiteboards and “feeling dumb,” it seems that 64 percent of tech pros are worried about looking foolish in some way during the interview process, especially any technical portions.

But letting fears of embarrassment hinder your performance can actually make things worse. Here’s how to manage psych-outs and overcome self-doubt before, during and after a job interview.

Escape from Thinking Traps

Your thoughts or beliefs are the beginning of a self-perpetuating cycle, noted leadership coach BJ Gray: “Your thoughts turn into feelings, which turn into actions and determine the results you get.”

Poor interview performance often starts with thinking traps. For instance, if you think you can’t solve difficult algorithm questions, you’ll feel insecure. As a result, you may have a hard time thinking clearly during whiteboard evaluations, which reinforces your belief that you are really bad at algorithm problems.

“To overcome feelings of fear and insecurity, disrupt the pattern.” Gray said. “When you change your thoughts, you generate positive outcomes.”

To find out how you perceive things, try envisioning the results you want, and then work backwards to determine which thought is driving the feeling. Research shows that 70 percent of our self-talk is negative or self-critical. Replacing negative messages with more affirming ones (examples here) can have an enormous impact on your performance.

Maintain Perspective

You’re likely to feel more confident if you view an interview as a conversation between equals and not a contest or power game to see who knows more, said Marie McIntyre, a workplace psychologist and coach with years of experience in HR.

It’s easy to forget that job interviews are a two-way street. An interview is also your chance to determine whether or not a company and technical environment is a good fit for you. Remember that if this one doesn’t work out, another one will.

Frankly, if you knew every answer, you’d be bored in that role, Gray pointed out. You’ll feel more in control and relaxed if you give yourself permission to explore, ask questions and learn.

Knowing that you don’t need to make an immediate decision will reduce the pressure. Stay calm by giving yourself 24 hours to reflect after an interview, noted Bill Cole, performance psychology coach and author of “Interview Mistakes You Don’t Even Know You’re Making.”

Never admit that you are nervous. The more you master your emotions, the more you’ll feel in control of the situation. “Don’t even try to figure out the interviewer’s intent or mindset or you’ll lose focus,” Cole said.

Suspending judgment will help you stay engaged in the conversation, show that you’re listening, and find opportunities to inject the points or examples you have prepared without sounding rehearsed.

(As Eleanor Roosevelt once said: “Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent.”)

Focus on Your Strengths

Strengths coaching is a technique used by specially trained career coaches to help clients identify their best tendencies, traits and successes. You can achieve similar results by reviewing your résumé, work history, past projects and performance evaluations to identify your greatest assets and achievements before an interview.

Turn the information you uncover into a career narrative, as well as a list of accomplishments and talking points. “Reviewing all of your strengths before an interview will not only help you put stories together, it will help you see yourself as a successful person, not a failure,” McIntyre said.

When you believe in yourself, you’ll feel confident and perform better. Of course, thorough preparation and practice under stressful conditions (and quieting your inner critic) can help you hone your inner game, as well.

Finally, there’s no point in dwelling on what went wrong after an interview. Focus on the positive, because ultimately there’s no rhyme or reason why candidates get rejected by employers.