No matter how much time and effort you’ve invested in learning how to prepare for an interview, pre-game jitters can happen to the most qualified and prepared candidates. A little excitement can keep you present, paying attention, and on your toes – but too much anxiety can throw off your performance. If you come across as stiff, awkward, and rushed, your technical qualifications won’t save the day.
There are a few simple job interview tips you can follow ahead of time that can set you up for a win. Some of these may seem basic. However, don’t discount the value of a good checklist when your mind is going in 12 different directions! Build these seven steps into your routine, and you will be walking into the company office confident, fresh, and sharp.
1. Prepare your clothes in advance of the interview.
A day or two ahead of time, get your interview suit out into good light and have a close look.
Is the suit pressed and clean? Does it have any missing buttons or hanging threads? If you have not worn it in a month or two, try it on to make sure it fits you well.
Choose everything else you will need to get ready – down to socks, shoes, shirt, and tie or any other accessories. While that level of preparation may seem excessive, reducing the number of decisions you have to make on the big morning can free up your brain’s processing power. It also eliminates last minute surprises – you don’t want to discover a dried-up coffee stain on the shirt you were planning to wear 10 minutes before you head out the door.
2. Have a travel plan and check your timing.
This job interview tip is crucial: check driving or commute time to the interview location. Add a buffer for the unexpected – an extra half hour can save the day if you take a wrong turn, get off at the wrong stop, or run into unexpected traffic.
If you are driving, consider filling up the tank the day before to eliminate the need for extra stops on the morning of the interview.
I recommend getting to the office 15 minutes early. You can use the extra quiet time for a last-minute review of your notes, listening to music, or meditation. I do not recommend walking into the reception area more than 5 minutes early – the hiring manager may feel obliged to interrupt his or her workflow to greet you, creating a rushed opening to the interview.
3. Pull your paperwork together.
Create a binder or a folio that will hold everything you might need during the interview. Include extra copies of your resume, a notepad, and a pen. You may also take a list of questions you want to ask during the interview, and the names of the individuals you will be meeting with. I also find it helpful to have the office phone number with you, just in case.
On the subject of being prepared, I recommend putting together a small care package with tissues, stain remover, pain relief medicine, mints, and a bottle of water. For my own kit, I have been known to include some emergency dark chocolate. Keep the care package in your car or in your briefcase, and a headache or a coffee spill will have no chance of derailing your morning.
4. Eat something light – and drink water.
If your nerves get the better of you, food may be the last thing on your mind. No matter what, eat a light breakfast – you will need your blood sugar to be at its best during the interview. Just as an elite athlete pays attention to nutrition and hydration on competition day, so should you. Drink water, and choose a balanced meal or snack (carbs, fats, and protein combined create longer-lasting energy). Don’t overdo it with caffeine – you want to appear relaxed and at ease, not jittery.
5. Center yourself.
No matter how busy you are focusing on how to prepare for the interview, find a few quiet minutes to center and ground yourself. Close your eyes. Focus on your breathing. Visualize walking into the interview confidently. If you are feeling the butterflies, make a conscious decision to interpret the physical sensation as excitement, not anxiety. My favorite trick is to focus on the sensation of my feet touching the ground.
6. Get some fresh air.
If weather and circumstances allow, spend a few minutes outside. Fresh air and sunshine can offer a great boost of energy! If it is too hot or humid outside try blasting some air-conditioned air in your face before you step out of the car.
7. Final visual check – and cell phone off!
Make the most out of the last minute bathroom stop on your way to the reception. Check your reflection for any stray pieces of food, loose threads, or lint. This is also a great moment to practice smiling!
Next, turn off your cellphone (or put it in airplane mode). I do not recommend taking a shortcut here by putting the phone on “vibrate” – everyone can hear the buzzing in your bag, and the distraction value is the same as if it was ringing.
In addition to eliminating the noise distractions, a phone in airplane mode delivers one more benefit: you will be less tempted to bury your head in social media while you wait. Most candidates don’t realize that immersing themselves in a distraction (book or phone) causes them to appear surprised and startled when the hiring manager walks in. You want to look poised and ready. Instead of scrolling through online feeds, use the time to create a positive first impression with the receptionist, and take in the office for any early clues about the culture of the company.
In closing, I offer this job interview tip from competitive athletes and martial artists: Your interview starts the moment you walk or drive in. Do not wait until the first interview question to turn on your game. You do not know who may be walking through the reception area, sharing your elevator ride, and parking next to you, so treat every person you come across as a potential decision maker. This is your time on the ground – be present and alert.
Finally, go into the interview with a sincere desire to be of service to the company. Remember to relax and breathe. It’s easy to attribute super-human powers to the person who holds the hiring decision in his hands. Keep in mind that the hiring manager has good and bad days, a life outside of work, and a personality. Focus on making a human connection, and have a great conversation.