March 19, 2021

How to feel confident going into a job interview (and why you shouldn’t fear failure)

11 min read

Job interviews are a funny thing. Essentially, it’s an organised conversation to work out if you’re right for the employer and they’re right for you. Too often we go into job interviews building them up to be a do-or-die moment of truth. Now, they are important and likely will serve as the first in person impression the employer will get, but the over-thinking that we can do with job interviews is actually detrimental to our chances of landing a role.

Now, telling job seekers to simply ‘be confident’ isn’t particularly helpful. Because for many, a job interview represents a big spotlight on us, our qualifications, our fit – it can be a tremendously vulnerable state to be in. With experience often comes confidence in your abilities, which does make job interviewing become much easier over the course of your career.

But today we want to talk about confidence in job interviews in a bit more detail. How can we go into an interview and keep focused on the task at hand? Let’s get into it.

Do your preparation and run through

Job interviews are sort of like a musical performance or sports game; the more work you do beforehand through practice and preparation, the easier the event itself is going to feel. Musicians will often talk about practicing beyond the point just learning a piece, into the space where it feels ‘natural’. Job interviews are much the same – the anxiety that many experience during an interview is those moments where we feel ‘lost’ or caught out with not having an answer.

Preparation for a job interview can be broken down into a number of different areas:

  • Learning about the employer (business, government agency etc) – what they do, who they are, values.
  • Doing some research beyond the job ad about the role (especially if it’s new to you).
  • Writing out scenarios of past work experiences that might be relevant – both technical and soft skills like conflict resolution or team collaboration.
  • Speaking to others who work at or know, the employer. Getting some inside information on what the hire relates to (broader project, direction) can help contextualise things and help choose what parts of your experience you highlight.
  • Speaking out loud your experience to see how it sounds in a verbal setting. A CV will be read, but your summation of this experience in person will probably be different.
  • Practice with family or friends. This might be most pertinent to those at the very start of their career. Getting feedback at how you answer questions and your communication style is invaluable beforehand. This can help you remember to slow down, maintain eye contact and stay mindful of other tendencies you have.

There are plenty of other ways to prepare. The most important part here is that you’re making the effort to go into the interview ready. Even just going through this exercise will put you in a better mindset – something that will come across to the interviewer(s).

Dress the part, be the part

While the tech sector isn’t necessarily a 3 piece suit industry these days, being presented neat and tidy is always a good idea. Don’t be afraid of overdressing so much as underdressing. Yes, it may be perfectly acceptable to wear a hoodie to work once you’ve landed a dev role, but the interview is the chance to show you’re serious about the job and employer.

If you are interviewing for a more senior position that will be client-facing, we’d suggest shirt, jacket and neat pants and dress shoes. For a role that won’t have much client contact, you may be okay to dress neatly but casual – jeans and a clean top. The safest bet is to put a shirt on – you can always dress down once you land the gig!

Dressing nicely is as much about how you feel as it is coming across as presentable to an employer. ‘Look good, feel good’ while cliché does hold some truth. You want to appear confident in your interview? Start with your clothes!

Once you’ve got the clothes sorted, do take some time to get that haircut, shave, or other personal grooming that will only add to the visual presentation you bring to the interview.

Dress and presentation isn’t the most important part of job interviews – far from it. But addressing it does take any of the superficial stuff of the table, so you can focus on having a great conversation with your potential manager.

Visualise a successful interview

Say visualisation to some in our industry and you might be met with an eye roll. But visualisation doesn’t have to be a Tony Robbins-grade undertaking. Visualisation can simply be running through the interview in your head with a positive outcome at the end. We all visualise every day – anticipating conversations with our coworkers or friends, looking forward to a night out. So all we’re suggesting here is that you craft the ‘ideal’ interview and take mental notes of what makes it so. This process is actually a way to train your subconscious to look for and nurture these moments at the actual interview.

So what are some things you could visualise?

  • A pleasant, jovial greeting and introductions.
  • Going through your relevant experience and this being received well.
  • Asking the panel of interviewers a question about the business and listening to the answer.
  • Thinking about a question quietly before answering it.
  • Getting enthusiastic about the potential projects you’d work on.
  • Having good feedback from the interviewers in the moment.
  • Keeping eye contact
  • Finishing feeling positive about the discussion.

While you can’t make sure all of these things happen as this is a two-sided process, just running through positive outcomes can lift your confidence and bring in the right kind of energy. You’d be amazed at how one person’s energy can set the tone for a group setting like an interview.

Note down and bring in your strengths

This goes back to preparation somewhat, but warrants a deeper dive – many job candidates, especially Kiwis who are naturally humble to a fault neglect to bring all their firepower to an interview, leaving experience or skill sets uncovered in the interview. We’re self-deprecating and worried about being perceived as arrogant – don’t be. As long as you’re being honest about what you bring to the table, there’s no need for concern. Employers will be relying upon your CV, Cover Letter and You to build a story of your fit for the role.

Do not hesitate to write out your specific strengths for the role beyond what a CV format allows. Here you can go into detail about the job role itself and map your fit based on past experience. And, don’t make a secret of doing this. It’s perfectly fine to bring notes into an interview and have them on the table in front of you – after all, the hiring manager will probably have your CV and cover letter in front of them.

Be human, have real conversations

As we said at the start – a job interview is a conversation between people. Confidence can come from an approach where you aim to connect with the interviewer as opposed to play a ‘perfect game’ and answer every question with robotic precision. In fact, that’s likely to leave a hiring manager feeling like they don’t know much about you as a person after the interview.

You can help set a tone where the interview feels like a conversation right from the start by both asking the employer about their week, chatting about current events or even volunteering some information about you, e.g. “My partner just started a role at X”, “I just did the school drop off this morning”. Bringing in some light non-work related conversation particularly at the start, helps set the tone for the type of interview that will feel more ‘real’. If you don’t have small talk ready to go in the chamber, then try asking some questions of the interviewer like ‘how has the week been for you?’ – there’s a good chance the word ‘busy’ might come up. This is then a good segue into sharing what sort of week you’ve been having – just keep it positive and light!

Being human doesn’t stop at small talk – discussion about the job will have moments where its perfectly acceptable to touch on non-technical elements of the role. Ask about the company culture, the team you’d be working in, and feel free to share your preferred environment. You might get some key information here that will help you decide if the job is right or not.

Honesty from the start is a great approach. You want the interviewing manager to have a feel for the value you could add to the team technically and culturally – so be yourself!

Silence is golden (learning to listen)

Those long pauses don’t have to be awkward. When our nerves are on edge, we can be overly eager to fill any gaps in conversation. This isn’t necessary – if you’ve been asked a question that will have a complex answer, it’s totally reasonable to stop and consider the question deeply. Now, if you’ve done preparation, then there shouldn’t be too many questions where you need to form the answer on the spot. And too many long pauses before answering could appear as unprepared. Just use your judgement and even if you do know the answer to a question, a short moment before talking might help you articulate yourself better.

When an interviewer is setting context or asking a question, our eagerness can also interrupt the flow of the discussion. Try to stay in a ‘listening’ mode – engaged through non-verbal body language like nodding but not finishing the interviewer’s sentences. As you adopt this approach, you’ll find that you’ll gain more information about the role and some insights on how to best answer questions. Hear the full question, and take on board any context you’ve been provided. If you need to, ask for some clarification – there’s nothing wrong with showing a desire to fully grasp what it is you’re being asked.

Acknowledge your nerves internally

Being nervous for a job interview is perfectly normal. In fact it’d be more concerning if you had absolutely no nerves prior to a job interview. Butterflies are a good sign you care about the role you’re applying for. Rather than try to bury the nerves or ignore them (almost impossible), just acknowledge the fact that you’re nervous to yourself and know that this is okay. After making peace with the fact that you are feeling nervous, remember that you’re also prepared, qualified and interested in the role. Those factors will overshadow nerves provided you’ve done the work to establish this all before entering the meeting room.

If you’re applying for a number of roles, you will find that after 2-3 interviews in quick succession the nerves will reduce somewhat, giving you more brain power to focus on the interview itself.

Stay relaxed and fidget-free

As you go through the interview, it can be easy to fidget with pens, paper, our clothing or face (e.g. jewellery). We can also assume body language that appears closed or unwelcoming. In most cases we don’t even know we’re doing it. That’s why it’s important that before the interview you take note of any tendencies (perhaps that run through with a family member can help?) and avoid these. Keep a relaxed but engaged (lean forward) body position, don’t fold your arms (hands open and where they can be seen), and remember to breathe (for obvious reasons).

Unfortunately, while fidgeting and body language might not be deliberate, it may be perceived as rude or disinterested – which will affect your chance at success. All this advice is made easier when implemented together – preparation and dress will help your nerves and ability to relax.

Go easy on yourself!

Too many candidates beat themselves before even stepping foot into the job interview. As long as you’re honest with your abilities and fit for the role, there’s no need to actively find reasons why you might not get the job. Remember, you have got an interview because the employer believes you could be the right person for the role. That alone should give you reason to not doubt or second guess yourself.

Expecting a 100% perfect interview is simply unrealistic. There will always be things you could have done differently, but don’t dwell on these too much. Once you’ve done all the work of preparing for and doing the interview, you should be satisfied that you did everything you could. If you’re unsuccessful, take away learnings and not regrets.

What’s the worst that could happen?

It can be hard, particularly in a competitive market, to maintain perspective when job hunting. We can put a huge amount of importance into nailing a specific interview and it can quickly become all-consuming. But like many things in life, a job interview can be over thought and built up to more than it is.

Ask yourself, what’s the worst that could happen? No matter what happens during the interview, the answer is, in reality, you just don’t get the job. That’s far from a catastrophe, and if you’re applying for multiple roles (which most of us should be), something you will need to accept. Once you take off the huge expectation of needing to be successful, you could find you approach the experience with greater clarity and confidence. Fearing failure will only distract you from the task at hand. As a job seeker, you should be open to learning from both your good interviews and your bad ones. As in sport, we often get more from our losses. So don’t be afraid to fall over – you’re simply learning for next time.

Need more job interview tips?

Absolute IT has a tips and advice section that can help you get prepared for job hunting. If you’re looking to talk to someone about the job opportunities in the market and how you can interview for them, chat to our team.

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