How To Make An Anxious Job Seeker An Interview Pro


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Interviews can set a naturally anxious person over the edge. Putting these personality types into a stressful situation, where self-doubt kicks in, makes it extra difficult for them to have a successful interview.

A June CareerBuilder survey, How To Rethink The Candidate Experience And Make Better Hires, of 4,505 job seekers says over 50 percent of job applicants wonder if the hiring manager is looking for someone like them. That’s a lot of pressure for anyone, but especially for those with high anxiety.

In addition to this, CareerArc surveyed 1,200 job seekers in The State Of The Candidate Experience, and found 60 percent of candidates have had a poor hiring experience. No one likes to be put back into a negative situation. This alone can create anxiety.

Inside an anxious job seeker’s mind

People with high anxiety are often stereotyped as those who are quiet, can’t stop fidgeting, or have trouble looking others in the eyes. This isn’t always the case; sometimes people who are really anxious have no outward nervous tendencies or entirely unexpected ones.

One thing they typically have in common is, job seekers with anxious impulses have fears that they’re not good enough for the job — or any job. This hit to the confidence can make anyone feel nervous in an interview, so applicants who are susceptible to high anxiety feel even more stress towards the process.

How to coach them through their anxiety

Even the greatest of therapists would tell you to never attempt to help someone with anxiety get over their fears. Rather, it’s important to coach them on how to deal with these anxieties during stressful situations — like an interview. Use these tips to help your anxious job seekers work through their next interview with confidence and ease:

Harness the calming effects of breathing

Coach your applicant on ways to breathe so their nerves don’t get the best of them. People who are highly sensitive to stress feel like a second of deep breathing is an entire minute. Reassure them it’s OK to take a moment before answering a question to take a couple of breaths and gather their thoughts. Let them know interviewers appreciate candidates who give themselves a moment to answer each question with deliberation and confidence. Nothing says that more than controlled and intentional breathing.

Have job seekers practice calming their heart rate and nerves through breathing. Breathe with them for five seconds in through the nose, and five seconds out discretely through the mouth. As the interviewer is speaking, they can continue to do this to keep their minds from racing and to prevent anxiety from escalating before it’s time to respond.

Practice through role play

It’s extremely difficult to feel prepared for an interview because we never know exactly what’s to come. But you can help your anxious job seeker by running through mock interviews. Put them in different scenarios to bring awareness to their posture, speech, and fidgeting habits.

When we’re anxious, we often talk quickly and are too distracted by our nerves to focus on listening skills. Even bad posture can play into the shakiness we present in both posture and voice. As these responses deteriorate, our anxiety increases.

After role playing an interview situation, ask your job seekers how they felt about their body language and rate of speech. Chances are, if they held themselves confidently and were conscious of the speed of their responses, they will realize they are much less anxious.

This new mindfulness of their body will help calm them down before panic sets in during an actual interview. If they are not yet confident, repeat the exercise a few times to give them a second chance — one they won’t have in the actual interview — to make proper posture and confident verbal cues a more natural response.

Also, review common questions that come up during interviews. Present these questions in the many different forms they may come in. For example, what’s one negative about yourself vs. name something you need to improve on. While these sound different, the basic information the interviewer is looking for is the same — don’t let anxiety creep up in response to a simple rephrasing.

Train them to listen carefully for the intent of the question, take a breath, and answer accordingly. Practice feeling natural, and not too rehearsed when answering these questions. When nerves kick in, so does a robotic, forced voice that takes away from the job seeker’s true personality.

Reassure them they’re ready

Reassure your job seeker that they are, in fact, a potential candidate and that they are more than prepared for this interview. Discuss all that you’ve reviewed with them, and how well you feel they did during your coaching session. Have the candidate make a list of everything they believe they did right in the practice interview.

If they’re having trouble thinking of these strong moments, ask detailed questions to get the ball rolling. For example, what’s a physical habit they were now able to control? How did they calm themselves before answering a question? Are they able to repeat what the interviewer said to them? Did they make eye contact?

Candidates with anxious tendencies just need the right calming tools to help them feel prepared for the interview process. The key to their success is being aware they already have what it takes, they just need to exercise their confidence and control one breath at a time.

What tips do you have for helping anxious job seekers? Let us know!

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Val Matta
Val Matta
Val Matta, Managing Director of CareerShift, co-founded the company in 2005 to help individuals bridge the gap between education and employment.  As a recognized expert in the field, Val is a frequent speaker on career management, networking, and job hunting strategies.  You can connect with her and the CareerShift team on FacebookLinkedIn, and Twitter.