Ann sat opposite me, pale and tense, her lips clamped tightly together.
‘So, when is the interview?’ I asked her.
She opened her handbag and took out a white envelope on which was printed her name and address. The envelope might have contained an unexploded device, her hand shook so much as she placed it on the desk. She looked at it with disgust. I removed the letter from the envelope and read it.
‘You are required to be in attendance at our offices at 3.30 p.m. on Wednesday next for an investigation into your precise reasons for daring to assume that you might have the skills, experience, training and qualifications to apply for a position with our company. This investigation will commence with a forensic examination of your CV for the purpose of uncovering any inaccuracies, misrepresentations or false claims (which we have reason to believe it contains). This will be followed by a rigorous interrogation during which you will be subjected to a lie-detector test along with a wide range of absurd and stress-inducing questions, failure to answer any one of which can and will result in your being subjected to scorn, ridicule, derision, humiliation or mockery, or a combination of all five….’
I’m joking, of course. The letter actually said:
‘You are invited to attend for interview at our offices at 3.30 p.m. on Wednesday next….’
A job interview is not a torture session, a firing squad, an interrogation or a lie detection test. In a previous column, we discovered that when you apply for a job, you are presenting yourself as a possible solution to a problem that the employer has. What that means is that the job interview is simply a business conversation between you and some other adults about a problem they have that you may be able to solve.
That’s right. A conversation. That’s C-O-N-V-E-R-S-A-T-I-O-N. You’ve done that before, haven’t you? Sit down and talk about a problem that needed solving? Good. I guessed as much. And the really good news is that, far from wanting to embarrass you, the people who are hiring have invited you along to the interview because they think that you might be a good solution to their problem!
Anxious, stressed, uptight, tense, jittery, uneasy – all of these words are substitutes for one feeling: fear. The first step in conquering your fear is to understand it. What are you afraid of? Once you put a name on your fear, you’re well on the way to banishing it. When I ask clients what makes them so anxious about doing a job interview, these are the most common responses I get:
- ‘I won’t know the answer to some of the questions….’
- I’ll give a wrong answer….’
- ‘I’ll be nervous and I’ll freeze, like I always do….’
- ‘I’ll look like a fool if I don’t get the job….’
- ‘I’ll pick the wrong clothes to wear….’
Have you spotted the underlying fear that is common to the above list of fears? The fear that is at the root of the above five job interview fears is, as you so brilliantly spotted, a fear of looking stupid. It seems we can live with the prospect of not actually getting the job. But the embarrassment of not being able to answer a question, the shame of actually giving an incorrect response, the public humiliation associated with failing the interview, and the indignity of turning up in the wrong clothes? Catastrophic! Maybe the Department of Health should ban job interviews as posing a serious threat to our mental health.
So how, I hear you ask, do you overcome these emotionally crippling job interview terrors? The most liberating statement you can make to yourself is that this is simply a chat about a problem they have that you may be able to solve. That’s it.
Next week, I’m going to show you how to eliminate the fear that afflicts 95% of job interview candidates.
Nicky O’Brien is a Jobs Coach and Career Development Advisor. For more information, email [email protected] or call 086 777 2469.