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Your Best Interview Mindset

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Lynne Wilkins

Autumn 2016

Your Best Interview Mindset


Have you ever wondered why some interview advice is great in theory and doesn’t work as well in practice?

In this article, I share some thoughts on what might be going on in the mind to influence your performance and what can help you to give a better impression of yourself.

As a recruitment consultant, for many years I helped people prepare for the interviews I arranged for them with my clients. Some people were difficult to help though. Either they were way too nervous for me to present to a client in the first place or others looked great on paper and were fantastic when I met them, but for some reason they just couldn’t get it right in front of a client.

Since I trained as a Career Coach and combined this with Cognitive Hypnotherapy, I have been able to understand so much more about what may be going on. More importantly, this helps me to help more people to overcome what holds them back, so they can go into interviews in a better frame of mind.

What story are you telling?

Obviously you need confidence based on positive self esteem to do well in an interview but this isn’t as straightforward as you might think. This is because our self esteem grows out of a complex set of stories (memories) about ourselves and the way the world works.

Our stories are based on how we’ve interpreted our experience in the past, which will also have been moulded by many different influences (e.g. gender stereotypes, our culture and messages we pick up from friends and family). The good news is, if we accept that our self-esteem is a made-up story; the ‘you’ of yesterday in an interview doesn’t have to be the ‘you’ of tomorrow.

More often than not there can be something from way back in the past, which you’ve forgotten about, that gets in the way of your doing your best in an interview. Like most people, you may have had an unpleasant or even traumatic experience at school, which your mind connects with performing in public (maybe reading out loud or performing in a play). The mind then subconsciously links that with interviews. Self-limiting beliefs grow out of the link made and you can end up thinking ‘I’m no good at interviews’, ‘I won’t be taken seriously for a job like this’ or ‘I won’t be able to think on the spot’.

Get rid of unhelpful stories.

Cognitive Hypnotherapy can help you uncover what your original belief-forming experience or experiences might be in a session, where we use a timeline or a screen to visualize the past. Clients can be surprised by what the original memory forming experiences have been and what a difference re-interpreting them makes.

By talking to your unconscious mind in a light trance, we can take ‘pain’ out of interview experiences in the future because a link to the old unhelpful story has been broken. This can be reinforced with bespoke positive hypnotic suggestions in the session, as well as with recorded MP3’s to listen to between sessions, to reinforce the changes we are asking your mind to make.

Sometimes the unhelpful stories are about the people we meet in interviews or those involved in the process. This is usually a protection response against the worry about being ‘judged’. The problem is that you may expect interviewers to be antagonistic, you may behave in line with that and answers can come across as defensive. When I’ve interviewed people myself, some come across with a ‘why the hell are you asking me that stupid question?’ vibe, which made it very hard to build a rapport with them.

Play the interview game.

I’ve also come across a fair few people who are unwilling to play the interview ‘game’ and have a ‘take me as you find me’ approach. This can show in people who baulk at expanding on their answers to questions or other people won’t wear something appropriate for the role they’re going for. In today’s competitive market, this can be a risky strategy and it can help to play the ‘game’ better and appear less prickly and defensive.

Being aware of the story you tell with your body language is also important. Often there are things we do that aren’t helpful to appearing confident and are in response to the perceived threat of an interview. Some people struggle with eye contact and others jiggle, fiddle or blush. Often without being aware of it. There are many ways we can tone down or stop these happening using stress-reduction techniques, which I’ll mention later on.

You could also struggle with your voice in interviews. Stress and poor breathing can mean we speak from our throat making us sound small, squeaky or weak. Learning to breathe from your diaphragm, which helps you to project your voice, can be transformative. Reading a story out loud in front of a mirror, singing or recording yourself on your mobile is a great way to practice this alongside working on breathing, which I mention later.

Look for opportunities to shine.

As well as your own ‘stories’, sometimes you may also need help with how to handle the stories your interviewers put across. In Cognitive Hypnotherapy we can prime you with hypnosis and coaching to look for opportunities to shine, rather than reacting to what you might be perceiving as a threat.

Being more aware of what could be going on in an interviewer’s mind can be incredibly helpful. If you are primed to consider your interviewer as a fellow human rather than an all-powerful inquisitor, then you’re more likely to feel confident. On some occasions interviewers are more nervous than you are because they are unsettled in some way. Perhaps they lack interview experience or training and sometimes they may have had your CV given to them at the last minute.

Once you recognize there may be other explanations for what could be going on, your mind can be more at ease. Perhaps, you could stop interpreting a stony-faced HR interviewer as a threat, instead consider them as a professional trying to be objective because a lot is at stake for them too. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development estimates the cost of hiring the wrong person being up to £12k1 and I think this is an incredibly conservative figure, Oxford Economics cited £30k as the average cost of replacing a member of staff.

Be well prepared.

You may also need help with how to answer the kinds of questions most professional interviewers use these days, especially if you haven’t had an interview for a while. Most use well prepared behavioural or competency-based questions to uncover evidence about you.

These will go something like, “Tell me about a time a customer wasn’t satisfied with what you sold them”. Unless you understand what this kind of question is really about you are likely to come unstuck. A low performer will talk about an awkward customer and how awful it was. A high performer will talk about what they did to turn the situation around and will have several examples to talk through of how what they did benefitted the customer and the employer. With coaching, you can look forward to these questions as an opportunity to shine. Similarly, when you understand more about tuning into the language people use (e.g. are they wanting big picture or detail), you are more likely to give a better interview performance.

Some simple tricks.

So with the coaching and reframing mentioned so far, you can be in a much better position to prepare ahead for your interview. It’s also important to learn a few things you can use ‘in the moment’ if your nerves start to get the better of you. An interview puts us under pressure to perform, so it’s no surprise our brain tells us it’s a scary situation that we need to get away from. Cue the fight or flight response with your heart beating faster, pulse racing, sweating, butterflies, stomach emptying and all sorts of horrible feelings.

In response to stress, people can react in different ways. Some may freeze and stumble over their words, while others may rush their words desperate to finish and get out. Some people can even become aggressive. As more blood is needed for the muscles to get ready for fight or flight, the blood also drains from your ‘thinking brain’, which can ruin all that careful preparation if your mind goes blank.

There are lots of ways to tame this response. I say tame because it’s good to have a certain amount of nervous excitement to respond with energy to the opportunity – you’re there to give your best not ‘zone out’! Tweaking how you breathe to relax is one of the best and easiest ways to do this – I created a free audio download on my website which talks you through how to do this: Learn how to breathe Stress & Anxiety away. I’ve also had great success with teaching people how to ‘embody’ a more confident interview persona. Meditating or using self-hypnosis work really well to enable you to ‘detach’ and observe thoughts and feelings rather getting caught up in too much emotional hijacking.

Create a more positive story.

So I hope this helps you to recognise that there’s so much you can do to manage your interview performance better.