Positivity, anxiety, and control
I'm interested in hearing about any techniques people use to control their anxiety and maintain positivity during their job searches and interviews.
I am naturally an anxious person and tend towards assuming the worst from situations and my job search has become both longer-than-hoped-for and emotionally bruising. I have been told that I can appear anxious and/or lacking in enthusiasm in person, and fear this is coming across in interviews and losing me opportunities. I wonder if this is particularly important in science where a lack of confidence in what you're doing (or in my case what I'm doing there, in that interview) is fatal.
I have some more interviews coming up which I would like to make the best of but I can feel myself losing my nerve and feeling like I want to "survive the interview" rather than "get the job", which is of course hugely counterproductive. I'd be interested to hear everyone's views!
This is a great question, and I read it while I am completing my current month's Tooling Up column, which needs to be submitted to my editor today. I've stopped writing to reply to your post, which is so much like what I am writing about today!
Yes, you're right about the fact that "surviving the interview" is the worst possible approach to succeeding in that important day. You don't want to survive, you want to succeed. And doing that will require much less focus on yourself and on your concerns and more about making the other person in front of you comfortable. Keep in mind that both parties in the interview environment are a bit uncomfortable. He or she on the other side of that desk feels just like you -- they may have more control because they know what the next question is, but they are looking at the clock just like you are. This kind of environment is why questions like "Tell me about yourself" get asked. It takes the pressure off the interviewer and tosses it back to you.
It's going to sound a bit odd, but one of the best pieces of advice that I can give anyone going into an interview is to "care a bit less." I'm not saying that you need to develop a "who gives a s..." attitude -- that's not right. After all, you have to be prepared and ready to interact positively with the hiring team. But, much of your anxiety might have to do with the pressure you feel to perform -- the pressure to come away with the job offer. Instead, try going into the interview well prepared to show them how you might fit into their equation (you're a problem solver after all), but remove the pressure to get a job offer. Your attitude should be "Hey, if it's a good fit, they'll let me know. They seem like nice people and I just want to see them be successful."
By caring a bit less, you might find yourself listening more instead of sitting there worrying. I remember interviews where I sat in rapt attention as if listening to the interviewer, but in reality I was trying to guess what he or she was going to ask me next, and visualizing how I would answer and so forth. In other words, not listening! When you care a bit less about the outcome, you listen better. And listening is what enables you to truly see how you fit into the picture. Answer truthfully, be yourself, and don't go into the interview with a bunch of prepared questions right out of books like "100 Snappy Answers to Tough Interview Questions" (Yes, there are such books. Avoid them.)
There's a certain factor that I'm writing about this month, others call it the "It factor" -- and that stems from how some up-and-comers are described . . . the manager says, "Let's hire her -- she's got it, she's the one for us." What's "It" anyway? Oftentimes, it's just the way that this person listens and responds without anxiety to the question and in the confidence he or she exudes during the interview. Even a bad interview is something you can learn from -- once you get home, think about what you could have done different, how you could have responded more naturally and with less stress, and remember the next time to care a bit less about the outcome!
PS -- Don't forget that employers typically want to hire people whom they like, and who they'd enjoy working with. By bringing a lot of anxiety into the interview, you're making it tough to be seen as that kind of person. Just another reason to care a bit less, and try to be yourself.
Dave Jensen, Founder and Moderator
Bio Careers Forum
Thanks Dave, I'm glad I was able to synchronise so well with your latest "Tooling Up" and I look forward to reading it. Thank you for taking the time out to reply, especially with your deadline approaching!
Another aspect I struggle with come interview time (and I hope I'm not alone in this) is self-doubt. I suppose this is a defence mechanism against future disappointment - "if I was never good enough for the job anyway then it doesn't matter if they don't offer it to me" - but it's ultimately also a destructive force. It always hits me hardest as I'm trying to prepare - I guess that's the time when I'm alone with my thoughts the most.
In the part of the interview that is about you asking questions rather than answering them there is another line of thought that has worked well for me which is to assume that the job is already yours if you want it.
If you instead of trying to ask intelligent questions that are intended to help you get the job asks questions about things that are actually important for you to decide whether you want to the job or not you will usually make a better impression and look more confident
I totally hear ya. My personal stats:
- BS and PhD from prestigious institutions (top 5)
- High GPA and test scores
- About a dozen publications as first or co-author
Yet it took me about 2.5 years after graduating to find a job. It was only because I had a super patient PI who was willing to keep paying me month to month after my graduation that I was not thrown to the streets.
As you can see, though I sound good on paper I'm a pretty terrible interviewee. In fact, there were times I got so nervous I would be completely dripping in sweat while talking to the interviewer. You can also imagine that after 2 years my own sense of self-confidence would be really taking a hit.
I took the following steps:
1. Prepared about 5 stories to common situations (like when I worked on a team, when I had to solve a difficult challenge, etc.)
2. Googled a list of 50 most common interview questions
3. Tried to fit one of my stories to each question
4. Spent a whole day at the park doing nothing but practicing with flashcards
5. Bought the strongest antiperspirant available without a prescription (AlCl3)
6. Smeared it all over my face before the interview
I am pleased to report that I was finally given an offer last week and due to start next March. Came just in time too as my PI told me he was running out of money and could not pay me past January.
Anyway, hang in there!
Thank you everybody, that's very helpful advice!
PG: I've always been an advocate of only asking questions that I genuinely want answered - I'm convinced an interviewer will recognise a question that's asked just for the sake of it. Perhaps I should prepare something more personal: "what is your management style", "what would you like to see from the new hire in the first 3 months" etc?
A.A.T.: Congratulations on your new role! And thank you, it's reassuring to hear I'm not the only one who struggles to keep my head up. I've rarely felt so demoralized as I do now, so it's always nice to hear from people who have managed to turn things around!
By caring a bit less, you might find yourself listening more instead of sitting there worrying. I remember interviews where I sat in rapt attention as if listening to the interviewer, but in reality I was trying to guess what he or she was going to ask me next, and visualizing how I would answer and so forth. In other words, not listening! When you care a bit less about the outcome, you listen better. And listening is what enables you to truly see how you fit into the picture. Answer truthfully, be yourself, and don't go into the interview with a bunch of prepared questions right out of books like "100 Snappy Answers to Tough Interview Questions" (Yes, there are such books. Avoid them.)There's a certain factor that I'm writing about this month, others call it the "It factor" -- and that stems from how some up-and-comers are described . . . the manager says, "Let's hire her -- she's got it, she's the one for us." What's "It" anyway? Oftentimes, it's just the way that this person listens and responds without anxiety to the question and in the confidence he or she exudes during the interview. Even a bad interview is something you can learn from -- once you get home, think about what you could have done different, how you could have responded more naturally and with less stress, and remember the next time to care a bit less about the outcome!
This is a great question and Dave's advice is right on the mark. I find caring a bit less and being prepared calms the anxiety. Find a networking group or friend to help out. More often, interviewers are asking more behavioral questions to find people they think will be well liked by the team. Since most interviewers are not psychologists or professional interviewers, these questions are often delivered horribly or entirely inappropriate, often provoking a negative emotional reaction. However, you can't show any anger towards the interviewer for a stupid question. Let me give you example, you are interviewing for a capital equipment sales position and it is minutes before the final interview, the HR director enters the room at corporate headquarters pointing to your resume and states "Your scientific accomplishments are significant and great but how does this relate in helping us build our brand as a leader in <scientific field> with our primary client in this territory and close sales with experts in <scientific field> at this university." This wasn't a question but rather a statement.
Here is some background information. I worked for their primary client for eight years and brought 12 years expertise in the field as well as practical experience working with the equipment and that of their competitors. Further, I knew many if not all the experts in the field at this university and had several publications demonstrating that expertise. I interviewed with a total of 12 people, six before being invited to their corporate headquarters. I spoke with the supervisor twice and had a good rapport with him. He told me that he would follow up in 2 weeks. I felt like saying to the obtuse HR director: "What do think I have been doing or conveying in the last 12 interviews?"
The HR director didn't give me a real chance to respond and I let the statement go unanswered. In hindsight, I should have responded or at least asked to speak with the hiring manager before leaving the corporate office. I have a tendency not to respond well or think straight when challenged with behavioral question of this nature. Often I feel interrogated; thinking - stick to the qualifications and their relevancy to the position not this BS.
In the end, they hired a marketing major with no scientific expertise whose experience was a sales manager for a four star restaurant in Dallas, TX. Apparently, in my mind, scientific expertise is irrelevant to selling a highly technical piece of scientific equipment worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to several million. Or the female HR director had a agenda or bias against me.
So, how would have you addressed the HR director's concerns? How would you prepare for these behavioral questions or stress questions in order to lower the your anxiety (or not get caught like a deer in the headlights) when they arise?
Usually a lurker, but this struck a chord with me since I've been there too, the nervousness, the sweating and general uncomfortableness at interviews. The only thing that I can say is that with time and practice it will get better. My first few interviews I had the attitude that it was the most important thing in the world and would be my only chance for a job and my whole life was depending on it. By the xth interview your attitude starts to change, you see that opportunities will continue to come no matter what happened last time. You start to get comfortable with the process, your job talk,the whole thing about being on display. Eventually you will relax a bit.
This was a great thread, many thanks to everyone for participating. I think anyone jumping into the job search especially after time away will find being positive a challenge.
In my line of work (scientific sales), this is a major hurdle we come up against all the time. Who enjoys getting rejected over and over for a chance to help someone else?
Dave Jensen's advice sounds just like the best training I had for this problem: 1) work consistently on finding new opportunities, and 2) tell yourself, before every interaction, "I'm an excellent candidate, with lots of options. I don't need this job (out of desperation)." Don't say "I don't care about this!" Approach it with an open mind, looking for an opportunity.
"The single factor that differentiates Nobel laureates from other scientists is training with another Nobel laureate." -- Sol Snyder