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.

How to Create Work Life Balance

Quite a significant proportion of people struggle with the concept of work-life balance. No question, it’s the buzzword whenever there’s a meeting between HR and the staff. No question, all of us want it. But even so, it’s something that is so elusive to actually achieve.

Know About Parkinson’s Law

Parkinson’s law is that work expands to fill whatever time is available. If you give more time for a task, you are more likely to put more effort into it, which sometimes might not even be necessary. Have you noticed some people wait till the last minute and then quickly churn up something to complete their task? And other people start way early, but still are in the same kind of rush towards the end to complete the task?

That’s parkinson’s law at work. When you have more time, your mind puts more into the task and makes it bigger. When you have only less time, your mind prioritizes the subtasks and gets you to still complete it within that time. How to overcome it? Keep milestones with deadlines. What will you complete before 1 o clock? What will you complete before 3 o clock? What will you complete by the close of work? Without doing this, you are prone to subconsiously think there’s time available until late night and complicate your work more or improve it’s quality more than necessary. Surely, quality is important – but remember, you can be indefinitely improving quality of your deliverable.

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Do Not Overestimate Yourself

One of the biggest problems when we plan is overestimating ourselves. If you have ever indulged in some retrospection, you’d remember how many times you overestimated yourself while planning. For example, when I was in school, I used to plan that I will study one chapter every hour of the day. I’m quite embarassed to say that this continues even now more that I’d like it to. Last week I planned I will close 8 bugs in my project at work – without even knowing the root cause of those bugs. But it’s okay because I catch myself most of the time – and you should too. Once you overcommit at work, then you will quickly find yourself sacrificing other areas to cope up for it.

It’s always better to undercommit and overdeliver. Ask for more time than you estimated, finish the task diligently, then use the remaining time to polish your code. That’s how you shine. Not by overworking yourself.

Be a Team Player

Are you often thinking it’s better to complete something yourself instead of passing it on to one of your team mates? Especially if you are in a leading position or you are managing a team? If you are not able to delegate tasks and get them completed, it usually means that you are not a good team player. Think and identify why you are unable to delegate tasks to your team mates. Are you having trust issues with your team? Does your team need more training to contribute better? Are you having communication problems – are you simply shy to talk to people?

The biggest strength of corporate structures is working as teams. If you are not taking advantage of it, then you have a serious problem you need to rectify. The typical workaholic mentality is ‘I can just do it myself in the time it takes to explain it to another person’. Wrong. Even if you are a super-skilled master programmer or something like that, it’s highly unlikely that you’re as efficient as a team working together.

Plan Ahead and Stick To It

Plan ahead for your work. I’ve found my sweet spot planning weekly. Some people like to plan more, or less, frequently than that. But you should always plan. Beware of becoming a perfectionist and spending to much time and effort in planning. I say this because that’s the reason a lot of people give up on planning. The planning itself should not become a stressful chore. At the beginning of the week, I like to just quickly chalk up a few tasks that I’d have to see completed in the week. Better if you can do it with your team. I’m not saying you should do the same, but I recommend you do something similar in a frequency that suits you. Right off the bat, it reduces stress by a lot because a lot of surprises get avoided.

More importantly, do as much as possible to avoid taking up unplanned work, once you have done this planning. Although there are genuine chances of unplanned – yet important – work turning up, in my experience, we often accept such work because we hesitate to say no. If you frequently find yourself unable to keep up with what you commit, you should try this – make a light and easy plan, keeping in mind it should be significantly easier than you can handle, and then stick to it. Lean towards sticking to your plan, rather than impressing people by handling unplanned activities. If you are building a reputation, let it be that you respect your time and will not let it be taken for granted.

Create a Life Outside of Work

Many people who struggle to create work life balance, simply don’t have a significant enough life outside work. You might have a family, but if you don’t give it importance, it’s as good as non-existent to you. Similarly you can’t say you have a hobby, if you only indulge in it a couple of times a year. Commit yourself to atleast a couple of things outside of work. For most people one of these things can be your family. Create habits that keep you connected with them. It can be a little habit like, everyday you will have dinner with your family at 7.30 in the evening. Commit to doing activities with your friends.

If you have more things in your life that makes you interesting, your mind won’t have to rely on your work performance to feel good about yourself. You’re less likely to link work to your ego. You’re more likely to plan and organize your day in a healthy way. It is absolutely necessary that you have time for face-to-face interactions with other human beings outside of the scope of your work.

Let Go of Your Ego

The more committed and successful someone get at their job, the more their ego get’s blown up. Soon they find themselves unable to say no, unable to ask for help. Even if they’re obviously overloaded and are struggling to cope up, they don’t reach out and express it. It’s as if they believe people will think less of them if they can’t handle their load. This is people’s ego talking. You need to recognize when your ego is hurting you. The fact is, people who don’t act on time regarding these things, end up hurting themselves more.

Imagine your project is slightly off track, and you hesitate bringing it to attention, because you think it would be perceived as your weakness. A few weeks later, it becomes a more serious problem, and your sense tells it’s better to bring this to people’s attention. But now, it’s harder, because you also have to answer for why you didn’t highlight it earlier. So you will probably try harder to bring the project back on track, without letting people know the seriousness. Avoid this mess by having a clear head, and never ever give in to your vanity at work. It’s okay to reach out and get help when you are overloaded. It’s okay to say the task might take longer than expected.

If you find yourself in a stressful mess, staying back late, day after day. Stop for a moment and ask yourself. What’s the worst that could happen if I tell my manager that i’m struggling and need help? Surely it’s not worse that having an unsatisfying life or spoiling your health.

Conclusion

It’s not very difficult to create a healthy work-life balance that you need to be researching the internet about it. It’s easy. You just need awareness. Stop being a robot and pay attention to what you are doing, what you are feeling, and whether you are happy. Then do something about it.

Is Working Late Good?

If you’ve been working in a team, in an office, for any length of time, you’d surely have noticed that the people can be starkly divided into two categories – the people who stay back and work till its late, the people who pack up and leave sharp at their clock out time. As far as I have seen, the people who stay back are perceived as people who work harder than others – both by themselves and others. For every manager who has insisted people go home on time, I’ve seen probably ten managers who encouraged the staying-late behavior and rewarded people for putting in more hours.

My opinion – a rather strong opinion – on this matter is that people should not stay late for work. Just think back about the basics. Are you working because you have nothing better to do? Or are you working because you need money to live your life? Most probably it’s the latter. Therein lies my opinion. I feel it’s sad if anyone sacrifices their family time, their hobby time, or even their just-me time for the sake of working a few more hours. If you are not even living a life you wish for, then what are you working hard for?

It’s Not Really Rewarding

It is seemingly rewarding – but it’s often not. You would have seen that people who stay late get praised and a lot of times they are the ones who get the hard tasks finished. But when it comes to being rewarded for it, it’s not really worth it. If you have any doubts just look around at your office. The ones that are well rewarded are usually the ones who leave office on time. There’s a reason to it. More often than not, people who leave office on time, surprisingly, are the ones who are more productive, and plan their work better. That’s another thing to debate, I know. But the more important point is, late hours does not imply faster pay raises.

It Cripples You

Here is a difficult question for you – What is more important – achieving your current week goals, or achieving your five year vision? It’s a tricky question because obviously you should not default on your current commitments in favor of your future dream. It’s also wrong to simply be drowned in day-to-day commitments without a vision for your future. If you exhaust all your energy thinking about what you can contribute for the day, how are you going to plan for your future? Not a single one of such people I’ve come across, worked towards, or even cared for their long term goals. Day after day they just slogged with whatever tasks they’ve taken up for the day.

It’s Unhealthy

Of course you already know that it damages your health and fitness to spend prolonged amounts of time at work on a regular basis. But it’s more than that. It also affects your health in indirect ways. For example you don’t have enough time to relax and recharge – this tires your mind, reduces your productivity. So you end up working even more to cope up. It becomes a cycle. Also, the more time you spend working, the less time you have to socialize with other people. It is actually very important that you have face-to-face interactions that are not just for work. It is linked to mental health, longevity and even physical health. In other words, make time for your friends and family – you will live longer.

It’s Bad Culture

If even a few people in a team become available for after-hours, a very bad thing starts to happen. All the planning and task scheduling starts to rely on the fact that people will work late. It is already human nature to over-estimate what we can do in a given amount of time. Adding more hours amplifies this error even more. Sometimes it even unfairly forces other people to put in more hours than necessary. For example, if your manager asks the team whether a task can be completed in half the time, the people who stay late will probably say yes. The others will not want to appear incompetent, so they will also say yes. I’m not saying it’s bad to be competitive, but I’m saying for most jobs, working with commitment for the agreen upon 9-to-5 is already competitive enough.

You’re Probably Slacking

Except for a very few workaholics, I have hardly noticed any correlation between higher hours and better productivity. The people who stay late spend more time doing things like chatting, taking breaks, browsing the internet. They have too much distractions to finish their job on time. It is to make up for this that they stay back late. Also, because of not managing time properly during the day, they often get stuck delayed on their tasks. So they often don’t have a choice, but to stay late and finish their task. I say this because even for the very hard working people I know of, staying focused for more than a few hours is not possible. If you are a hundred percent focused on your work, for about 6 hours a day, you are already ahead of most of the people working day jobs.

But There’s an Exception

One exception is when you consider your job as the most significant feature of your life. Then you are living the life you wish by working late. But I doubt this is the case. Most jobs today don’t really give the fulfilment of contributing meaningfully. I’m not saying it’s because they are not useful, but rather it’s because any meaningful task today has to be broken down so much that in isolation, it’s very hard to feel what you are doing is meaningful. Or in other words, your company’s product might be impactful, but your contribution is most probably a small cog in it. If you want to find out if this exception applies to you, think whether you are working late because you are motivated to solve a problem or to make a contribution? Or are you working late because you want more salary or to get ahead of competition? Simple.

Conclusion

It would be wrong to say that no one should stay late at work and it’s simply enough if every one just works the time they committed to. There are scenarios where you have to – and you must – give importance to work and sacrifice a little bit in other areas. So I will put it like this: Valid reasons to stay late at work –

  • There’s an unexpected problem at work and it needs to be resolved right away. But it’s just an isolated occurence. You need to be late just the one odd day.
  • You are driven and completely motivated by your job. You are trying to churn out an impactful product / service that would give you so much satisfaction.
  • You are the CEO of your company. If you are CEO (or another designation that’s right there on the top), it’s not really possible to expect it to be an 8-hour job. It’s unfortunate, but that’s how it is.

If those three points don’t apply to you, there’s no reason for you to stay late. You’re probably making a mistake by being occupied with work more than necessary. You need to fix this and manage your time better.