There’s nothing worse than knowing you bombed a job interview. The boredom on the hiring manager’s face. The vague promises of hearing back within the next few weeks. The sinking feeling that comes with knowing you could’ve done better. I’d known those feelings even before I’d stepped into an office for the first time. These professional missteps were just another manifestation of the kind of underwhelming, awkward interactions I’d been having for years as a deeply shy person.
When you are as socially anxious as I used to be, you get to know your flaws intimately. Mine: I either speak too concisely or ramble on forever, I never seem happy or excited (even when I am), and I still drop the ball when it comes to small talk. I’ve spent my entire life unraveling these habits, and while I have experienced immense progress over the last several years, there’s nothing quite like an interview to bring those anxieties roaring back.
The first jobs I ever interviewed for were on-campus positions and jobs within the service industry. Since these jobs didn’t require prior experience, hiring managers relied on the charisma of the candidate to determine if they’d be a good fit for the workplace. This reality made my rejections doubly embarrassing, since it became clear that personality was what was being evaluated, and mine wasn’t passing the test. I found myself losing out on jobs I knew I could succeed in because I thought I could just “wing it.” I wanted to rely on my “instincts,” which I now recognize hadn’t been developed yet. Practice makes perfect, et cetera. But things got better. I eventually got my first part-time job, then several internships in my field of study (advertising). I learned in my college years that confidence comes from preparedness, and luckily, I am a damn good planner. So many of my problems had been rooted in this nebulous fear of what I was going to say that it had never occurred to me that I could practice what I was going to say.
Once graduation was on the horizon, I started taking my career search seriously by preparing my own personal “study guides” for each company I applied for. I filled these spreadsheets with my research, main talking points, and everything I would need to feel comfortable in such a high-stakes setting. I am a creature of structure, so this self-imposed homework was the best thing I’ve ever made myself do. Not only has it helped give form to all the ideas floating in my head, it’s also vastly improved my confidence and outlook on the job search as a whole.
Below are my three tips for vanquishing shyness and preempting your worst tendencies in an interview:
1. Become an Expert in the Job Description
To feel fully confident going into the interview, you must know the job description like the back of your hand. Start by dividing the responsibilities into sections. You’ll start to notice broad themes, like data analysis, management, thought leadership, writing, billing, etc. For each, write out an experience of yours that corresponds to each theme. If this position involves project management, then write about the time you coordinated an event from start to finish and had to juggle communication between multiple vendors.
Going through this process allows you to connect the dots between your career and this role and ensure built-in anecdotes about your experience. For maximum effectiveness, structure your answers to behavioral questions using the STAR Method. By parsing out the situation, task, action, and results, you can immediately illustrate how you think and solve problems to a person who has only just met you.
2. Interview Yourself
Bless all the professors who would release study guides in their classes. Instead of rereading 100 pages from the textbook (or, let’s be real, not doing anything at all), you could now direct your studying in a way that felt productive. You knew exactly which concepts the professor was expecting you to learn, and you could quiz yourself accordingly. Likewise, making your own study guide is what you should be doing when you prepare for interviews. Write out the most common questions you’ve encountered, and then answer them as if the interview were being conducted through email. Using this time to craft the perfect answer will allow you to link together all the ideas floating in your head and really form the narrative that’s going to help you get hired.
Here are the most common questions that you should be able to answer for each position:
- Tell me about yourself.
- Why do you want this job?
- Why do you want to work for this company?
- What interests you about this industry?
- What skills or qualities do you bring to the table?
- What’s your biggest weakness?
- Where do you see yourself in five years?
- What are your salary expectations?
You don’t have to reinvent the wheel for each interview, but tailoring your answers as much as possible will demonstrate that you have spent time thinking about this specific role and how you’d be able to contribute. This is especially important if you are looking to transition into a different role or industry and may not seem qualified at first glance.
3. Interview Your Interviewer
Who among us hasn’t had the pleasure of spending hours on a tailored cover letter, only for the application to get lost in what I imagine is an enormous trash compactor in space? The job search can be rough on your emotional health. It’s hard not to take each rejection as a personal affront to your competence and worth. So when an employer comes back and finally says, “We want to bring you in for an interview,” of course your heart skips a beat. Of course you start fantasizing about your new life as an X working for Y company.
The seemingly endless barrage of rejections and non-responses will condition you to feel lucky when any employer shows interest in you. But you mustn’t take the bait. Remember, you need to feel comfortable in this place, too. Treat the face-to-face interview not only as a way to impress them enough into hiring you, but also as a way to gauge if your interests truly align with theirs. Do you agree with the company’s mission? Do your future team members seem satisfied with their careers? Can you see yourself there for the long haul?
When forming questions for the interviewer, I tend to group my questions into three buckets: the company, the role/team, and the interviewer. With all of these questions in hand, you should be able to get a sense of what it’s like to work there and, as a bonus, not be caught in the final minutes of an interview with nothing to say.
These questions will relate to company news, culture, and policy. This is also an opportunity to demonstrate any research you’ve done. Has the company undergone mergers or acquisitions recently? Has it been featured in the news? Anything worth bringing up from the website?
- How does this company support growth and advancement?
- What does the company do to encourage learning and development?
- In what areas is the company looking to grow this year?
Questions related to the role will largely be specific to the job description, but these are some general questions I like to ask.
- How are responsibilities divided between this level and others in the company organization chart?
- What are the most immediate tasks and projects that a person in this role would own?
- Are there any processes you would like the person in this role to improve?
Here’s where you get to know your interviewer and find out what they value at work. Pay attention to their attitude and tone when they speak about the company. Sometimes what they don’t say is what reveals the most.
- What makes this company different from others you have worked at?
- If you had the power to improve anything about the company or the department, what would it be?
- What is an exciting project you have been able to work on in the past year?
I am not by any measure the perfect interviewee. I haven’t received an offer from every job I’ve ever applied for, or even from most of the jobs I’ve interviewed for. It never stops being disappointing when you go out for an interview and the hiring manager decides to pass on your candidacy. At the end of the day, you just may not be what they’re looking for, and no amount of preparation can overcome that. However, since following this method, I have found solace in knowing that I’ve done my very best, no matter the outcome. By arming myself with information and doing my due diligence, I’ve advocated for myself in a way that felt impossible when I was younger. And that’s worth way more than the embarrassment of not having been hired as a cashier at Chick-fil-A.
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