If you’re like me, the thought of interviewing makes you wish you had won the lottery to eliminate the need for a job. I honestly despise interviewing because you have to be prepared mentally, physically, and intellectually to be close to perfect. Plus, I hate dressing up in a suit, which I feel obligated to do so when interviewing. I’m just as qualified while wearing my Wonder Woman pj’s. Just saying. I sometimes wish I was brave enough to show up to an interview in tennis shorts and polo shirt stating I had to leave for an amusement park after the interview. True story, by the way. Nonetheless, anxiety becomes an unwelcome interview panelist that could literally stop you from making that job yours.
Anxiety becomes one of those tricky reactions that we wish to get rid of instantly. Some of us can use that anxiety to push through, while others can’t. Especially those who have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. Anxiety for these folks literally becomes an alarm that is triggered by almost anything and won’t turn off. It has their brain running in multiple directions and can lead to what I like to call “snowballing”. Think of standing at the top of a snow covered mountain and you grab some snow and roll it into a ball. You then throw that snowball down the hill and guess what happens? It gets bigger and bigger and eventually crashes. This is anxiety.
I’ve worked with late teens and young adults who have had to tackle anxiety. They still have to go to school, perform at work, and/or interview for jobs. So here is what I have found to be helpful from past clients and things I have done myself to be Joe Cool before an interview:
Remind Yourself What Anxiety Is
I am a huge believer of psycho-education in tackling mental health issues. In other words, these are facts that help us deal and understand mental health better. When we know more about our own illness we can use that knowledge to remember what our brain is dealing with. I always say anxiety is like your kitchen’s smoke detector going off. It could either be from burnt toast or an actual fire in your kitchen. Someone who has a normal range of anxiety would walk over, determine what is happening, and immediately return to baseline. However, a person with an anxiety disorder would immediately be stuck in a “flight or fight” mode and spiral from there.
So what do you do? Remind yourself what anxiety is, talk yourself through what your body and mind are experiencing, and how your body is responding to stimuli. Act as if you are explaining to your best friend or family member what anxiety is and why it happens. Go as far as identifying the body parts that are experiencing a feeling – i.e. my face is hot, my chest is hurting – to further identify. Need a place to read up on anxiety? Check out the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and what they have to say about anxiety.
You Have the Power in Your Hand, also known as the “5-4-3-2-1 Game”
Grounding is one of my favorite techniques for dealing with anxiety, trauma, and withdrawal from gnarly substance dependency. Its purpose is to remind you that you are safe and to center you from anguish you are experiencing. The following technique has been helpful, especially after being triggered. Start with raising your hand in front of you or however best you feel comfortable and do the following:
5 – Name five things you can see wherever it is you are
4 – Name four things you can feel (ex: your pants, the chair, your shirt, your hair)
3 – Name three things you can hear right now (ex: air conditioner, people talking, vacuuming)
2 – Name two things you can smell or wish you were smelling (ex: cooking, perfume, ocean air)
1 – Name one good thing about yourself (ex: I am brave enough to want to deal with my anxiety)
Check out these other ideas from one of my favorite cheat sheets.
Learn What You Can
Before an interview, I always encourage my clients as well as practice this myself: research the potential employer. For example, when interviewing for my current job, I made sure to brush up on happenings within social welfare specific to my area, theories on families since most of the work would be family-based, case management skills, resources in the community, and crisis theories. In other words, make Google your best friend and look up the job description and brush up on any skills you believe are relevant to the position. The more you prepare beforehand, the better you present to the interviewer. More importantly, it relieves anxiety.
Talk to Yourself and Breathe
You will not be able to remember or say EVERYTHING you want and you have to be okay with that. Remind yourself of this before, during, and after the interview. You are not a robot or data system. The brain can only take in so much. Make sure you listen to the questions being asked of you and take a moment. Silence has never harmed anyone nor impacted their chances at the job. If you take at least 20 minutes or more, then we got bigger problems.
Use self talk and remind yourself of keywords within the question. Hype yourself up, remind yourself of an affirming word or phrase and get your thoughts right before you answer. If you need the question repeated, do not be afraid to ask. And for goodness sake, please breathe! This isn’t a Lamaze class, but there are subtle ways to just focus on your breathing. Either with counting or tracking. Take some time before you walk into the interview to do the same.
One of my favorite breathing exercises is a one two count. A breath in is counted as one and a breath out is counted as two. Then you repeat one, two, one, two. Do this at least five times before and, if you like, after the interview. Anxiety absolutely hates oxygen because the more you let in, the less it can thrive.
Believe in Yourself
Employers receive hundreds of resumes for positions and out of these, you were chosen. Something in your resume said, this is who we may want! You were picked because the employer believes that, based on your skills, you may have what it takes to do the job. Be proud of your school and/or work accomplishments because YOU made it happen. Now go show these people what you can do. And if you get a Fortune 500 job and have oodles of money to burn, don’t forget the little people…ahem yours truly. Good luck!
National Alliance on Mental Illness (n.d.). Anxiety disorders. Retrieved from https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Anxiety-Disorders
PEI Rape and Sexual Assault Centre. Grounding Techniques. Retrieved from http://peirsac.org/peirsacui/er/educational_resources10.pdf
Edited by Viveca Shearin