Calm your farm! How to overcome interview nerves

Ever heard rap god Eminem’s Lose Yourself?

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the hit 2002 song, the opener goes like this: “If you had one shot, or one opportunity, to seize everything you ever wanted in one moment, would you capture it, or just let it slip?”

While Eminem was rhyming about his rise to fame, the same can be said about fronting an interview for the job of your dreams; it’s your one opportunity to tell your potential employers why they simply must hire you. But if you let your nerves get the better of you, forget it!

Unless you’re an alien, most candidates will get nervous in the hot seat. You know the score; sweaty palms, rapid heartbeat, dry mouth, etcetera.

When we perceive the stakes are high, our body can’t distinguish the high stakes of a job interview from the high stakes of running from a bull in Spain.

The body reacts the same way, sending out the fight-or-flight response which would make complete sense if we were running from a raging bull, not sitting opposite a panel of four.

This fight-or-flight response makes it difficult to think clearly because our focus is on hiding our anxiety, therefore our attention is divided. When this happens, people’s thoughts move faster so they feel they need to rush into an answer without thinking it through, while others just draw blanks.

Whether you are nervous by nature or nonchalant, it’s imperative to remain cool, calm and collected during the interview process. After all, it’s your one shot to shine!

Here are our top three tips for keeping it together during an interview:

Tip 1: Be prepared

The more time you spend preparing for your interview, the more confident you’ll be. Candidates who have done their homework and can articulate how their skills and qualifications align with the position will be better prepared. Rehearsing what you'd like to say in advance can help you recall important information when anxiety strikes. When preparing for the interview, it also pays to plan your outfit in advance so you don’t feel frazzled before you even get there.

Tip 2: Get a head start

In the case of a job interview, there’s no such thing as fashionably late. Feeling rushed when you arrive at the interview by not allowing enough time to get there, or by getting lost or not finding a park, can all increase nervousness, not calm us down. Bottom line – map out your route prior to the interview and leave home with plenty of time to negotiate the traffic and find a park. You might even want to do a dress rehearsal in the days leading up to the interview so you’re super prepared.

Tip 3: Change your mindset

With a panel of four people sitting opposite you, firing away questions, it can begin to feel like an interrogation. But it’s important to remember you’re also interviewing the employer to see if what they’re offering is a good fit for you. If you think of a job interview as an exam or a test you’ll only become more nervous. Instead, try to imagine the interview as a knowledge exchange between two people who are getting to know each other. This will alleviate the sense of pressure and help you feel less nervous before and during the interview.

At the end of the day, if you let nerves get the better of you, you won’t come off as a confident contender. Employers want to hire the best and brightest, so if they see someone who perceivably lacks confidence, they will question your ability to do the job, which means you might miss out.

Interview, Job Search

Questions to avoid during an interview

“Do you have any questions?”

By this stage of the interview, the formalities, tough questions and good impressions are over…. right? Well, not exactly! The interview isn’t over, until it’s over (AKA you are out of the door), so what you say, do or ask at this moment of the interview is still being considered.

Here are some questions you should NEVER ask! And some alternatives for those of us who are extremely curious and need some answers.

1. How many hours are involved in this role?

These days, we do have flexibility within our jobs for out-of-office work, and the pleasure of working from home. So, it is understandable you want to know if this position accommodates your lifestyle. But if it hasn’t already been confirmed in the interview or the job advertisement, and it isn’t labeled ‘part-time’, it’s safe to assume you will be working 9-5. Asking about the hours can translate to “I don’t like to work too many hours” or an image of that employee who is always checking the clocking and counting down ‘till home time. 

For an alternative, you could ask:

“What does a normal day in this role look like?”

2. How often do you give promotion opportunities?

It is an important question to ask; obviously career aspirations are an opportunity to move up the corporate latter and grow professionally. However, asking this question (in this way) can be interpreted as you are not happy with the position or the salary of the role you are applying for and want a promotion ASAP. It can also seem like you think you have earned a promotion, which doesn’t set the best image for yourself and your potential future boss. There is an alternative though. Try asking, “Are there opportunities for professional development?” This question appears more professional, thoughtful and highlights your career aspirations and desire to grow in your career.

3.  What is the turnover rate?

A high turnover rate is usually a prime indicator of a problem with the company’s culture and environment. So, obviously wanting to know the turnover rate is a great way to determine what the company is like, and what the company will be like to work for. Yet these types of question can potentially ‘touch a nerve’ with the interviewer. To avoid causing any awkward feelings or pauses within the interview, try asking “How long have you worked here?”, or try, “How long has the team been working here for?” You will get the answer you are looking for without seeming offensive.

These are just a few questions to avoid during the interview process to allow for positive results and potential employment. Keep these in mind and you'll be able to get through the interview from start to finish. Good luck!


How to Talk About Your Strengths and Weaknesses

When gearing up for a job interview, there are many types of questions you can easily prepare for. You know who you are, your aspirations, and your career history to date. The most dreaded of all interview questions however, will ask the candidate to analyse their strengths and weaknesses, and on the surface this style of question can seem like a trap. While self-analysis may seem intimidating, the interview panel is really just interested in getting to know you better, finding out more about the way you think and seeing whether you are able to learn from your experiences.

How do I talk about my strengths?

There are probably lots of things that you are good at, but in this situation you need to choose a strength that will help you win over the panelists. Have a look at the position description, and see how  the most important elements of the role align with your own skills. If they value communication skills, find a way of talking about your own without parroting their exact language back to them. You could talk about the way you interact with clients, or your passion for writing. Remember that an interview is all about presenting the best version of yourself, so take this opportunity to really show off your skills. Talk about your strengths, times when you have used them, feedback you have received and any efforts you have made to progress in this area.

Example of a good answer:

“I would say that one of my strengths is my ability to work well under pressure. In my most recent role we often had to deliver products to our clients within very narrow time frames which meant that there was the potential for a lot of stress in the workplace. I came up with a great system for managing these projects which is used by the entire office now, and my boss actually  asked me to talk to my colleagues about some of the other methods I use to keep calm in the face of a deadline.”

How do I talk about my weaknesses?

Talking about your weaknesses can be a little more difficult. Many people will try to mask a strength as a weakness such as being a “perfectionist” or “caring too much”, however you won't find many interviewers who haven't heard these answers hundreds of times before. Try for more sincerity, think of something which you may not be amazing at, or a skill you may be missing, which will not directly impact your abilities in this particular role. Demonstrating that you are aware of this weakness and have been taking steps to better yourself will also impress the panel, much more than if you appear to be acknowledging the weakness for the first time.

Example of a good answer:

“I've actually spent a lot of time working on my public speaking skills.  I used to be quite shy in front of crowds, but I have had to speak at several conferences in the past two years so I started taking advantage of any opportunity to practise with lower stakes. I spoke in front of several staff functions and then moved on to speaking in front of bigger crowds. I am still working to combat my nerves and hone my skills, but I'm actually starting to enjoy it.” 

Interview, Job Search
How to deal with nerves

How to Deal with Nerves Before Your Interview

We all get nervous from time to time, and sometimes it can feel like your nerves are holding you back. With a job interview just around the corner it is important to understand how to rein in your nerves and present yourself in the best light.

Look after yourself

Start your day in the best possible way, have a good night's sleep, eat a healthy breakfast, stay hydrated, and wear professional clothes which make you feel confident and comfortable. Allow yourself plenty of time to get to the interview and remove as many stressors as you can in the lead up. It is amazing how much anxiety can fade away if you are in control of your environment, and if you are feeling good in yourself this will be reflected in your interview style.

Understand yourself

Have a think about what it is that is making you feel nervous. Think about the times you have felt confident in the past, and how you can replicate those circumstances now. Some people use exercise as stress relief, others mediate or listen to music. Figuring out what works for you, and getting into a routine which calms your nerves can be an important tool, and many of the most confident people you meet will have their own methods to combat and mask their own nerves.

Prepare yourself

If you feel like you are unprepared then taking action to rectify this will make you feel much better. Research the role, find out as much about the company as you can, read about similar roles and what might make you stand out from the crowd. Make a list of questions you might be asked and practise your responses in front of a mirror or with a friend.

Be kind to yourself

It's easy to feel like you are the only one who has to deal with nerves. The structure of an interview will often see you on one side of the table with two or three panelists, already at ease in their surroundings, already acquainted with each other, and with nothing to lose, all focused on you. Try to remember that anyone who is interviewing you has been in your shoes before. They felt exactly the same way, and have probably beaten themselves up about their own shortcomings at some stage. Yes, you need to impress these people, but they understand that this is a high pressure environment and won't hold your nerves against you. If you are well-prepared, well-presented and make an effort to engage with the panelists, you are already well on your way towards making a good impression.


Last minute interview tips

Congratulations, you have a job interview! What are some last-minute, quick tips to make sure you give yourself the best chance at success?

During the job-hunting process it’s not uncommon to become disillusioned and frustrated by the number of hoops you need to jump through before you even reach the interview stage. You’ve probably already spent an hour responding to the key selection criteria and tailoring your resume, figuring out public transport routes and maybe even buying a new outfit to wear.

As exhausting as the lead-up has been, when it comes to your interview it’s important that you’re in the zone because you don’t want all the hard yards to be for nothing. Job interviews never seem to get any easier, but if you follow our last minute interview tips you might just land the job you’ve been wanting.

  • When to arrive
    The best time to arrive is five to ten minutes before your interview.  Any earlier and you become annoying, putting pressure on the interviewer and leaving them unprepared, any later and you’ll leave them waiting which reflects very badly on you.
  • Know who to ask for
    When standing at the reception desk, don’t go flicking through your phone trying to find the email from the recruitment agency containing the interviewer’s name. Know who to ask for and ask with confidence – introducing yourself.
  • Make a great first impression with everyone, including the receptionist
    Often employers will talk with their staff about you after you leave.  While the interviewer is primarily interested in how your skills relate to the job at hand, everyone else in the office will want to know what you’re like to work with as a person.
  • Answering interview questions
    Feel free to take your time and breathe.  Answer confidently and wherever possible, use a specific example.  If you need an extra few seconds to think of an example, rather than get flustered and say “um...”, tell them “that’s a great question” then go into deep (and confident) thought.
  • Focus on your body language
    Smile, make eye contact, have good posture and listen actively. Don’t fidget!
  • When they ask if you have any questions?
    This is an ideal opportunity to find out about the culture of the workplace. You could ask the interviewer to describe the culture of the company, how many staff it employs and how long it has been in operation. This is also the moment to sell yourself and let them know how interested you are in the position. Be careful not to sound scripted – you want to use this as a catalyst to turn a structured interview into a friendly discussion and put your best foot forward. A great example is: “I really love what you guys do here and it seems like a role I would be perfect in. Can you tell me where you see the company going in the next 12 months so I can start thinking of ideas on how I could contribute?”  You’ll score bonus points if you can think of some great ideas on the spot.

Good Luck!


The ins and outs of (behavioural) interviews

After the initial excitement of being selected for an interview passes, panic soon sets in. But once you experience a few interviews, you’ll realise they usually follow a specific formula depending on the type of job, organisation and person conducting the interview. 

Casual/conversational interviews are the kind of interviews where you will likely go for a coffee with the manager, who will then ease you into the interview by having a general discussion about the organisation and the position it has to offer. You will then be asked to outline your career history, skills, experience and what you can bring to the role.

Stress interviews take on a much more formal tone from the outset, and are usually conducted by a panel of three or four. Questions will be fired at you from all directions and you should brace yourself for very direct questions such as ‘why are you applying for the job’ and ‘what experience do you have’.

Behavioural interviewing is a common interview technique in Australia, particularly in salary, management and government positions. In this type of interview you will be asked a number of specific scenario-based questions to establish how you act in various situations and circumstances that are likely to occur within the organisation.

STAR – Situation, Task, Action, Result – is the ideal method for responding to behavioural interview questions. In a STAR interview, the candidate will provide an example of a specific situation, explain the task they had to perform, outline how they actioned the duty and describe the result. The key is to provide a specific example of how you responded to a specific scenario from your work history – it’s not a textbook answer or a ‘what you would do in that situation’ response.

Behavioural interview questions usually relate to the job you’re applying for so look carefully at the job ad for clues to what duties the role includes. If the role is a customer service role, for example, expect to provide an example of how you have provided customer service.

Case study:

“How do you deal with angry customers?”

A typical, vague answer from a candidate not using the STAR format is –

“I will be patient and find out the customer’s exact problem, and help them to come to a resolution.

A good answer using the STAR format is –

“I follow a system for dealing with angry customers, which begins by thanking them for letting me know their concern, and recognising that I understand how their particular problem must make them feel. I then let them know that I will work to resolve the issue and take appropriate steps to do so. As an example of this, I was working at a pizza shop and had a customer complain that their pizza was cold on delivery (situation). I recognised that it was my job to help turn this customer’s experience into a positive one (task), so what I did was (action) say: “Oh no that’s terrible, there is nothing I hate more than cold pizza! I am terribly sorry that this has occurred and I know how frustrated you must feel. Unfortunately I can’t heat that pizza up for you now so I can do one of two things. I can send you another pizza right away and personally watch over the process to ensure it is piping hot when it arrives, or I can send you a voucher for a free pizza with a note to make sure you receive a much better experience next time, on us”. Once I said that, the customer was happy that I was genuinely interested in them having a great experience and was happy to heat their pizza in the microwave and let us try better next time (result).

By following the STAR format, the prospective employer will have a clear picture of how you manage a specific situation, and what behaviours you utilise to reach a desired outcome. Some interviewers will require you to answer in this way, but many won’t. Regardless of what type of interview situation you find yourself in, the Institute of Careers recommends using the STAR format to respond unless you have been told to answer in a different way.