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Overcoming Interview Anxiety Begins with Preparation and with Challenging Your Fears to Create a Positive and Honest Impression

Woman sitting in white chair waiting alone

Telfer alumni, Kim Ades (MBA 1993) and Nichole Grenier (BCom 1990), discuss how job candidates can overcome this type of anxiety and instead use genuine, powerful strategies to create a positive impression during a job interview.

Kim Ades: Helping people tackle the fear of being evaluated in a job interview in three steps

Kim speaking at a conferenceKim Ades, president and founder of Frame of Mind Coaching, received a BA from the University of Ottawa with major in psychology and then decided to pursue an MBA. She was always interested in understanding what triggers anxiety and stress:

“Some of us can experience anxiety when we are preparing for a job interview, an important presentation at work, or a big event in our lives, and expect a negative outcome,” she says.

As an executive coach for nearly two decades, she takes people through a three-step process to overcome the anxiety created by their fears of winning and losing. The first step is to describe what it looks like to experience failure. “I ask people to imagine the worst possible scenario; one where they experience disastrous failure,” says Kim. She then asks them to express their feelings in journal entries that they share with their coach, a task that job candidates often find very difficult.

The second step is not to ignore the difficult feelings that many candidates might experience when preparing for a job interview. Instead, they should face the possibility of failure head on: “I ask people to imagine that they might fail a job interview, and then imagine what it looks like to recover from that failure,” says Kim. Envisioning recovery helps candidates build resilience and strength to handle any negative evaluation they might receive in a job interview.

The final step is to envision complete success. Job candidates are encouraged to imagine what it looks like to step into the interview, successfully answer the interviewers’ questions, and walk away thinking: “That was the best interview I ever had.”

Nichole Grenier: Preparation is the best strategy to show yourself in the best light

Nichole working at the officeNichole Grenier, founder of Grenier Executive & Business Coaching, graduated from Telfer with a major in accounting. She became a certified accountant and after many years’ working in the field, she was asked why she kept focusing on people instead of numbers. Her passion to work with people led to a career shift to human resources and to her becoming a certified coach.

Nichole believes that when studying the impact of anxiety on interview performance, coaches, and researchers should not only look at personality, but also on how culture, gender, and age affect how individuals cope with the fear of being evaluated. “The interview setting is very stressful, and people can react very differently to this specific situation.” For Nichole, there are many ways for individuals to position themselves as suitable candidates for the job, but the key to success is preparation and practice. This includes mock interviews with family, friends, or a coach:

“Preparing well is what allows you to show yourself in the best light,” she says.

Nichole asks candidates to do some research on the organization and its work culture: “What is the culture and how will I fit in? For example, should I be prepared to dress for an office environment that is more formal or more relaxed?”

She also advises candidates to carefully examine the job description and identify the key competencies required for the job. This can indicate what the employer is looking for and guide the employee in showing that they are capable, competent, and have experience in performing that type of work. “Even if you don’t have a specific example to illustrate that you developed a competency, you can think about transferable skills you developed in a previous job.”

Kim and Nichole share tips to help job candidates impress the interviewer with honesty

Kim and Nichole also commented on a new study coauthored by Silvia Bonaccio, a full professor at the Telfer School of Management. The research suggests that some anxious job candidates are more likely to use deceptive strategies to impress the interviewer. Both alumni offered valuable recommendations to help all candidates make a positive—and honest—impression during a job interview:

Back up exuberant statements with tangible facts

Team of young professionals in a meetingKim believes that extroverts who wish to impress the interviewer do not need to “turn down” their extraversion when describing their success. However, she advises them to support their accomplishments with tangible, supportable facts, such as “I increased the company’s revenues by 50% last year.”

Show your credibility and impact

Nichole advises candidates to be prepared to tell stories based on past performance. Ideally, for every story, candidates should also provide a reference who can back up their story and prove to the interviewer that they have credibility and are suitable candidates for the job. Another way to leave a great first impression with the interviewer is to tell your most impactful stories. “Maybe you  recently optimized the process of an entire company with 1,000 employees.”

Curiosity and interest go a long away

For those candidates who rank low on extraversion, Kim thinks that there is nothing wrong with being an introvert. “As an introvert, I think that sometimes curiosity and interest trump being outgoing.” When job candidates show they are honestly interested in the organization and their work, “employers will be able to evaluate their readiness, and their fit for the role, as opposed to whether or not they rank high on extraversion,” she adds.

Be confident

Nichole reinforces that introverts should show confidence during the interview. Candidates should recognize their ability to collaborate with teams and be inclusive when referring to team accomplishments, but it is equally important to use I statements to show how they contributed to the team. “The interviewer will want to know what you did to promote teamwork, so you can say we (the team) went for a mountain bike trip but use I did this if you were the person who planted the idea of the trip.” Downplaying these contributions can be too risky, especially if candidates are applying for a leadership position.

Make sure your actions reflect your vision

Kim often asks candidates how they would like to be seen and if their actions correspond with that vision. “A lot of times people behave in ways that clash with their desired outcomes; it is important to help job candidates understand that the action of stretching the truth doesn’t necessarily lead to the outcome they are looking for.” Nichole agrees that if anyone believes that they should stretch the truth to land the ideal job, then they should consider coaching to develop skills to resist the temptation to use deception. “Being manipulative or cunning can be a great skill if you are applying for a job as a bank robber,” she jokes.

You are also in a position of evaluating

Kim advises candidates to run their own mental interview with the company based on what they learn during the recruitment process. Nichole believes that if they do their research well, they will be prepared to ask the right questions and understand if this organization is the right fit for them.

Are you looking for a job but experience interview anxiety? Prepare, practice, and overcome your fears of being evaluated during an interview.

Kim Ades

Kim Ades, of Frame of Mind Coaching, developed a coaching methodology to help executives and entrepreneurs become more effective leaders. Learn more about Kim

Nichole Grenier

Nichole Grenier, of Grenier Executive & Business Coaching, offers customized coaching to groups, teams, and individuals to unlock potential, remove barriers, and maximize performance. Learn more about Nichole