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How to overcome anxiety and nerves at interview

If you suffer from anxiety or nerves when you go to interviews, our new writer, Dave Marine outlines some of the various therapies available to you. We think it's fair to say that Dave starts his first piece for I-resign.com a little unconventionally.

Get drunk!

There, that’s this article over and done with!

I'm sure the editor of this august site will have no need to censure any part of what I just said because it’s true: if you're nervous about attending an interview, have 2 pints of lager. It’ll do you the world of good. You’ll lose your inhibitions. All that bullshit about dry mouth, butterflies in the stomach, making a good impression etc. won’t apply to you because you’ll be drunk. Or at least, in some state of early merriment. And you’ll sail through the tough questions. Indeed, you’ll sail through ALL the questions because, just to repeat myself one more time, you’ll be drunk / merry. The worst that can happen is that you’ll need a loo break half-way through your meeting. Which, let’s face it, in a wet country like England, you can always blame on having to look at the view outside as it pisses it down with rain once again.

(Note from Editor: Dave, whilst we are, as you know, English and we don’t like to make a fuss wherever possible, could you expand on your, erm, interesting theory?)

So I did get told off after all. Sigh.

Right, this is what I'm going to do. I’m going to expound on the 2 pints thing (it has merit) and then I'm going to move on to the recognised, more conventional techniques for conquering nerves at interview. Agreed?

(Note from Editor: Agreed.)

2 Pints of Lager

I firmly believe that this is THE panacea. It’s the meaning of life. It’s the way that we can all get through things. It doesn’t make you so drunk that you don’t know what’s going on (unless you’re a little girl with pigtails) but it just takes the edge off any given situation you’re in.

For example, I had to do a speech at my sister’s wedding in front of 200 people and I was nervous as hell. Solution: 2 pints. I rocked! I was witty, I knew my stuff (admittedly, I’d been practicing my speech for weeks already) and I interacted with my audience with the flourish of a polished raconteur. It’s true. I have it on video!

I was in a play once and I was the second male lead. I had some fairly decent sized speeches and even a proper soliloquy. What did I do to cure my incipient stage fright? That’s right: 2 pints.

I was at a party where Elle McPherson was present and considering topping myself if I didn’t speak to her. But 2 pints later I had the courage and charm, the tenacity and wherewithal and sheer balls to chat her pants –

(Note from Editor: We get it.)

So there you go. For me, 2 pints whenever I'm nervous about anything does the trick.

At the same time, I understand that it might not blow your trumpet. In which case, I want to examine some of the more usual routes to achieving inner calmness before you throw yourself to the lions on the interview panel.

(Note from Editor and I-resign.com lawyer: Please enjoy your drink responsibly)

Breathing

We all breathe. I breathe. You breathe. Everybody breathes. And if you're not breathing just to prove me wrong you’ll either be gasping for air or dead shortly. Ignoring my 2 pints eulogy above for a moment, this is the first thing that politicians are taught to do when they get their media training. Regardless of the situation, whether being grilled by foe or eaten out by friend, breathe.

Why breathe? Because you're about to experience the fight vs. flight instinct that all animals on God’s clean Earth feel when they're put under stress. It’s part of our evolutionary make up. We get stressed and our biology goes crazy. Our hearts start beating faster, blood pressure rises, we start to sweat and our stomachs start to churn. In short, we’re in a heightened state of alertness either ready to stay and fight (fight) or run like the wind (flight). Personally, I run with the same velocity as a gentle fart escaping out of a contented cow’s backside but that’s neither here nor there. If I don’t have 2 pints I feel like I can’t cope.

Maybe I should breathe more. By breathing calmly, deeply and regularly I’m short-circuiting the fight / flight mechanism. I'm saying to my body, “there’s no need to run man. It’s all good. I’m in control and I can deal with this”. As much as I love my booze it’s still true that when I met the love of my life I didn’t need alcohol to get me through. I did just breathe. Dammit.

The experts (and when I say experts I mean yoga-disciple types) say you should breathe in for 4 seconds and out for 4 seconds. Feel your diaphragm (the bit under your ribs – near your belly button) inhale and, oh so gently, exhale. Think of something that calms you down: the sheer scale of the stars at night; the giant majesty of the Rocky Mountains; the waves that gently lap up against a sun-kissed beach or even, doing the ironing on a wet Sunday afternoon.

Calm.

Peace.

Tranquillity.

Beer.

There is no such thing as confidence

Here in England there’s a guy called Derren Brown who’s a bit of a magician. Well, I say he’s a magician but he always says that he achieves his results using a combination of "magic, suggestion, psychology, misdirection and showmanship". In his book, “Tricks of the Mind”, Brown talks about the idea of confidence.

Ok, so aside from the fight vs. flight mechanism, the reason we sometimes feel nervous at interviews is because we don’t feel confident in ourselves. We might be well-rounded, happy, intelligent, successful people but ask us to talk about ourselves to complete strangers (or, for that matter, make a speech in front of a crowd even of people that we actually know) and we feel like shrinking, like we’re not worthy. It’s not surprising. It’s alien.

Now you see, Derren Brown says something that strikes a real chord with me. He says that there is no such thing as confidence.

“I don’t think… that ‘confidence’ really exists any more than ‘motivation’ really exists. If you feel you're under-motivated, consider this: the word is only used by people who say they don’t have it. People who are ‘motivated’ rarely use such a term to describe themselves. They just get on with the task at hand…

With confidence, the situation is similar. Firstly, you must realise that confidence doesn’t exist as an objective fact. A person in isolation isn’t inherently confident or unconfident; we become those things only when we start interacting. Equally, there is no difference worth speaking of between a person who is ‘really’ confident in a situation and a person who is just behaving so. So we can usefully see confidence as just behaviours and tricks that make us appear in a certain way.”

My take on what Brown is saying is this: just get on with it. There’s no need to feel unconfident because there is no such as thing as confidence itself. If we don’t give time to the negative thoughts that are pervading our minds just before (and perhaps during) an interview, we’ll be fine.

I’m paraphrasing of course and it can be a bit of a philosophical trip to get your head round but I think I know what he means. Last week, I flew to Berlin and instead of having my usual 2 pints, I thought of Derren Brown. I then needed 2 pints to get his image out of my head of course but during the flight itself I was fine.

Visualisation and NLP

In all my years as a careers advice journalist (Note from Editor: which is how many exactly?), I've often heard it said that one should imagine one’s interviewers as being in their underpants or dressed as clowns or even utterly naked (or ‘in the bush’ as we call it in Australia). By seeing your questioners in this way you automatically feel confident and superior to them for you, yes you, the interviewee, are fully-clothed.

It might work for some people but it doesn’t for me. For a start, most of the people I've ever been interviewed by – aside from the I-resign.com Editor of course – have been too ugly to want to see starkers. (Note from Editor: Thank you.) If I saw them in their birthday suits I’d want to find some fig leaves sharp-ish.

No, the visualisation techniques I've heard about relate to NLP – Neuro-Linguistic Programming. For those of you who don’t know what this is, NLP posits the idea that our minds are like computers and that the programs we run on them govern our behaviours. So, if we have a program which tells us that we should be nervous at interviews, it’s a faulty program – like a malfunctioning copy of Microsoft Word. All we have to do now is replace it with a program which isn’t faulty: which makes us feel good, or certainly not perturbed, at meeting new people and talking about ourselves.

Depending on the magnitude of the malaise you feel at interview you can use either the ‘Swish pattern’ or the ‘Fast Phobia Cure’. These routines need some reading and practicing so I’ve linked to them instead of trying to do a regurgitation.

Preparation

If you're like me, all this mystical crap about there being no such thing as confidence or NLP stuff plays well for a while but eventually I start to yearn for logic. I mean, we all breathe right? Is there really something so wrong with the way we breathe? We're all capable of thinking aren't we? Is there really something so wrong with the way our thoughts are structured?

In which case, it seems to me that there’s no substitute for good old hard-core preparation. In other words, anticipate what the interviewer is going to ask and have an answer ready for it.

“Why do you want to work here?”

Because I think I have the skills necessary to do the job well and that <insert company name> can help me progress my career.”

“What do you have that other candidates don’t?”

I’m a can-do person. I get results. I bring home the bacon. I know my stuff. I can sell ice to an Eskimo and a router to Bill Gates. Hire me!

“Have you got any other questions?”

No.

That’s the way to get a job. Know your stuff. Be able to discern a brie from a roule, a mussel from a cockle. Revise, rehearse and get it all into your brain.

Bear in mind though that you’ll be drinking so you really need to get it in there.

DM.

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