How to Not Panic in a Job Interview

One of the nice things about sticking for long periods in the same job, is that you build trust and get picked for interviewing potential new employees. I’ve so far conducted more interviews to pick junior programmers than I care to count. I will never say no to conducting interviews because hiring an employee is synonymous to expanding the company. I believe it’s invaluable contribution to help with screening and selecting the right candidate for your company. That candidate is not only going to contribute a lot of value, but they might also be a superstar factor who propels your company to better heights – and their journey in your company would have started with your interview.

The biggest reason I’ve had to reject candidates, is obviously incompetency – but quite a lot of times, I’ve felt maybe this person is competent, but they’re stressed and aren’t performing at their best. At these times, it’s quite easy for me to direct the conversation and put them at ease, and thus having a positive interview experience. But there are times, when the interviewee just panics. Their mind just shuts down, words just come out without much thought or imagination, and I sense they just want the interview to end. They don’t even care about getting the job anymore.

Photo by Maxime on Unsplash

Before the Interview

Preparing for the interview is such a no-brainer and yet, it’s shocking how many candidates turn up without preparation. They think interview is just a conversation and they can simply answer questions from their memory. Walking in without preparation is the number one reason interviews end in failure. The interviewer has probably sat down and prepared to interview you. It’s not only in your interest, but also a courtesy to them that you spend some time properly preparing before your interview.

1. Revise what you know about your skill

If you are about to interview for a programmer job, it’s very important that you study up on your technologies. Do not skip this part. Even if it’s a technology that you’re currently working on, do a revision and checkout common interview questions on that topic. When I interviewed for my last job, I actually asked them that I need a couple weeks to study up on Java programming. If you have studied well, you will be able to give crisp and confident answers. But if you haven’t, you will be dragging your answers around, trying to shoot all over the place hoping something will match with the interviewers expectation. That never happens though. If you have put something on your resume, make sure you’ve read up on it enough to answer questions about it.

2. Know Thyself

I know questions like ‘tell me about yourself’, ‘where do you see yourself in 5 years’ and so on, seem clichéd. But frankly, what else is an interviewer supposed to ask you? Interview is a situation where you need to be analyzed in a rather short time – often barely enough to know a person. There are tons of lists on the internet about ‘frequently asked interview questions’. Select about ten good questions and prepare answers for them. And surely prepare a good answer for ‘tell me about yourself’ – I have a 2 minute answer and a 10 minute answer. Prepare answers for any areas of concerns you might have – for example a break in your career, or why you got fired that one time, or why you have a low CGPA. If you prepare answers like that, you’ll be able to control the interview – distract them from negativities and guide them towards your strength.

3. Know about the Job and the Company

Another easy – yet often ignored – part of your preparation is to know about the job and company you’re interviewing for. Have you even read the job description? There is vital information in the description – it’s not some rough note put up. The HR and the job’s department works together to properly describe the job and what the interviewers will expect. This job description is a vital tool to help you prepare for the interview. And about the company, you need to know it’s core purpose and mission. The answer to ‘do you know about our company?’ should be ‘I know it does __ and __, but I’d like to know more’.

During the Interview

1. Remember the Interviewer’s Goal

The interviewer’s goal is to hire you. Often we have to interview way more candidates than we’d like. When I start an interview, I hope sincerely that the candidate gets selected and I can move on to other work. But candidates almost never have this realization. They always appear anxious as if I was there to push them out of their limits and reject them. That is far from the truth. I’m sitting there hoping to discover what your strengths are. My managers are probably urging me to hire someone soon. There is a project that’s struggling for the lack of a developer and it will be really great if you get hired. If you kept these facts in your mind, you’d be way more confident in your interview.

2. Keep Moving Forward

You might not have answered the question as well as you liked, but are you going to let that affect your next question? That’s what a lot of people do. They start focusing on a mistake they made and lose focus on what’s happening at present. Even a little stutter or slip of the tongue, derails people. And it’s worsened because it gets accumulated with each question. Doing something wrong in one question makes you lose focus and you make another mistake soon and so on, till the point where you are in full panic, accepted failure and just want the interview to end. Avoid this. Forget that you made a mistake. You don’t have to go back and fix it, or convince the interviewer to forget it. Consciously move on and start your next answer with a fresh and positive mindset.

3. Collect Your Thoughts Before Answering

The pressure to impress the interviewer reflects in the candidate’s behavior. I have no idea why, but people always assume they have to answer fast and quick. It’s not like the interview is a rapid-fire round on a game show. My expectation is almost always the opposite. When I finish stating the question, I always expect the person is going to pause a few seconds to compose their answer before responding. Even if the question is straightforward and you don’t need to recollect anything, it’s still useful to pause and take a breath before you start answering. If you answer in a relaxed pace, you appear confident, and you can keep up your energy for longer.

Still Unsure?

If you’ve taken the points I’ve mentioned and still lack the confidence about attending interviews, then the only thing left is to practice.

  1. You can do mock interviews with other people (friends or paid services). But I find them impractical and a bit dramatic. What I would advice is, to do mock interviews in your head. Just play out your interviews in your mind and observe you from a third-person point of view. Granted, you cannot predict how the interview is actually going to be, or what the interviewer is going to ask you. But picturing your behavior makes you less concious and removes one main source of anxiety during interviews.
  2. Consider each interview as practice. Keep attending interviews of similar jobs or similar companies. For the first few, don’t keep expectations of getting hired and keep in mind you are doing it only for practice. You’ll improve with each one. You will automatically get better anyways, but also retrospect and find out how you can improve yourself for your next interview performance. Sometimes the only way you can learn is by jumping right in.