Tips & Training

Dreading your job interview? How to conquer your fear and show up authentically

We’ve all been there. Alerted to an exciting new career opportunity, we prepare our application, carefully tweaking our resume until it feels just right. We submit our application and we wait, hoping we will appear on paper as an appealing prospect – at least, appealing enough to get to the job interview, where we can convince the interviewer that we are indeed the right person for the job.

And then it comes – an invitation to interview. Aha! This feels like a great success. We’ve done what we set out to do and scored the coveted job interview. Why then, after a brief moment of elation, are so many of us suddenly filled with dread?

For many of us – and the clients and students we support – the fear is that now we’ll be seen in full, including both the good qualities that got us the interview and the imperfections we may have hoped to minimize. Unlike the resume and cover letter we have carefully crafted, we can’t be sure that the answer we give in a job interview will come across exactly how we want it to. We may also be living with imposter syndrome, questioning whether we deserve to have been invited in the first place. Try as we might, who is to say that we won’t let an awkward pause linger too long or spill ketchup on our white shirt on the way to the interview?

Now knowing that we must appear before our potential employer, with nowhere to hide, we’re terrified that they’ll conclude that we’re not good enough. That they won’t like us. Or perhaps, that they like someone else more ­– someone with a sharper wit and an answer to everything, or who, at the very least, isn’t as clumsy with a ketchup bottle.

Taryn Greig will be co-presenting with Lindsay Sasaki Wood on “How Mindfulness Can Support the Job Search” at CERIC’s hybrid Cannexus conference, taking place Jan. 23-25, 2023. Learn more and register at cannexus.ceric.ca.

As human beings, we’re hardwired to want to belong. After all, there was a time when belonging to a larger group was essential to our survival. It’s no wonder that faced with the prospect of being judged, and possibly rejected, our internal alarm system begins to sound. To the human brain, this threat can feel as real and pressing as if you were being chased by a hungry lion.

As the interview approaches, our palms begin to sweat, our mouth goes dry, our heart races, our hands tremble and our minds go blank as we think only of the danger ahead. Sensing an external threat, real or perceived, our brain and body begin preparing us for fight, flight or freeze.

Are we doomed, then, to succumb to our evolutionary programming and botch every job interview we land? Of course not. Instead, being mindful of our brain and body’s response to what is unquestionably a stressful undertaking, we can acknowledge the challenge ahead and choose a different response.

This kind of mindful awareness sounds helpful in theory, but how can we apply it in the face of a stressful experience? Like any other skill, we must practise it before using it under pressure.

Research suggests that a regular mindfulness meditation practice can help. For instance, in the Trier Social Stress Test (TSST), study participants are asked to describe their qualifications for a job in front of a panel of straight-faced interviewers, before being asked to do complicated mental math. One study using the TSST demonstrated that the more hours a study participant practised meditation, the more quickly their blood pressure recovered from a surge during the test. Cultivating a regular meditation practice can help us manage our stress response in the face of all kinds of challenging events, including job interviews.

Illustration of man doing breathing exercise
iStock

What can you, or your client, do if your job interview is quickly approaching and you don’t know how to meditate, let alone how to make it a regular habit? A simple practice in the lead-up to your interview might help. Give it a try:

If you feel comfortable, close your eyes. Take a deep breath in through your nose, before releasing a long, slow exhale either through the mouth or nose. Attempt to make your out-breath longer than your in-breath. Repeat this two or three times.

Allow your breathing to return to its natural rhythm before turning your attention to your internal experience. What are you feeling? Notice your brain’s tendency to associate with the feeling you’re experiencing.

For example, you might think, “I am worried” or “I am overwhelmed.” As you notice your experience, see if you can rephrase your thoughts, replacing, “I am worried” with “There is worry.” And, “I am overwhelmed,” with “There is overwhelm.” Continue on like this until you have named all the feelings you are presently experiencing. When you feel ready, open your eyes and return to your space.

This practice can allow us to create distance between our identity and our present experience. When we identify with our experience, it can seem all consuming, but when we can observe our it with a degree of objectivity, we can see that it’s a temporary state which will eventually pass. Knowing this, we can see our stress for what it is: a natural part of the interview process and temporary state we can move through with mindfulness.

Under fear of rejection, we attempt to be perfect, but if we can allow our fear to pass, we can instead be our authentic selves – imperfections and all. This authenticity can be the beginning of a genuine connection with your interviewer and perhaps the start of something new. And if this time you’re not successful, have no fear, you’ll be ready for the next interview.

Taryn Greig Author
Taryn Greig is a faculty member in the accounting department at Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s Melville School of Business, as well as a certified teacher of meditation and mindfulness.
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Taryn Greig Author
Taryn Greig is a faculty member in the accounting department at Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s Melville School of Business, as well as a certified teacher of meditation and mindfulness.
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