I’m So Awkward—How to Ace an Interview

You embarked on a massive job hunt. You perfected your resume. And now you’ve landed the interview. Congratulations!

I’m So Awkward

For many people, however, this is the hard part. While we all know those easygoing extroverts for whom interviews are a breeze, many of us find ourselves wrestling against our natural instinct to stutter, cough, and fidget our way through them. But there are things you can do to showcase your best self and be able to walk away from that interview feeling great.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Yes, it’s tedious. Yes, you’ll feel like you’re right back in school, prepping for a test in a subject you hate. But now—like then—it’s necessary. The best way to go about this is to compile a list of commonly asked interview questions. These can include, but are in no way limited to:

  •   What is your biggest strength and weakness?
  •   What is your proudest achievement?
  •   What major problem have you encountered, and how did you deal with it?
  •   What makes you qualified for this position?
  •   What motivates you?

Instead of writing out paragraph after paragraph in response to each of these questions, try constructing an outline or bullet-point list. This will allow you the flexibility to answer the main point of the question but will also help you learn how to adapt your answers after getting a feel for the actual interview. Whether you practice answering the interview questions in front of a mirror or not, remembering basic points while not sticking to a strict, memorized script will go a long way in helping you become more comfortable—both with the actual interview process and the sound of your own voice.

Dress to Reflect the Job You Want

There are very few people who feel their most comfortable in a suit and tie or a business skirt. But, alas, dressing for the workplace culture is a must…and getting that right during the interview will help you immediately feel more comfortable and send the message that you would fit right into the office community. This is where a little research can help. Consider the company you're interviewing for and dress in a way that best reflects their overall goals (remember, first impressions can last a deceivingly long time). You’ll most likely dress differently interviewing for a financial consultant position than you would, for example, an Internet start-up. Determine the usual dress code and follow it as closely as possible. If in doubt, always plan to overdress rather than underdress. And even if you’re interviewing for a relatively low-key company, it’s always a good idea to skip the jeans. There is such a thing as too casual.

Arrive Early

This point may seem obvious, but a shocking number of interviewees seem to forget it. Barring a major disaster, there is never any good excuse for arriving late for an interview. And for those who find interviews particularly stressful, even showing up on time can cause more of a headache than necessary. The general rule of thumb is to arrive at least fifteen minutes, but if you consider yourself a particularly awkward interviewee, it pays to arrive more like thirty minutes early. This gives you time to get your bearings, mentally review those interview questions, turn off your cell phone, get out any paper and pen you need to jot down notes, and take some deep cleansing breaths. Speaking of cleansing breaths…

Practice Mindful Breathing

There are countless books on how to properly practice mindful breathing, and it can take years to master. But in a pinch, UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC) recommends some basic tips to get the most benefits in the quickest amount of time. The key is to simply focus all of your attention on exhaling and then inhaling. There’s no need to try and adjust your breathing in any way. Just observe your natural breathing patterns. This is trickier than it sounds. Ideally, you should practice this at home before doing it in a waiting room before meeting your potential employer, but in a particularly stressful moment (like right before a job interview!), try:

  • Inhaling deeply through your nostrils for about three seconds
  • Holding your breath for about two seconds
  • Exhaling deeply through your nostrils for about four seconds

No matter how awkward you feel during the interview process, just remember: it’s how you project yourself that matters—not how much you may be cringing on the inside! “Fake it till you make it” is a popular saying for a reason…

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