Dear Work It Out,
I just read your article on preparing for a job interview and was hoping you could help me figure something out. I have been doing all the things you described — preparing, researching and dressing the part — but something is just not working.
As soon as I get to the interview, I freeze up or I start to ramble. It feels almost like self-sabotage. I am looking to leave my current company because of my boss and have been looking on and off for about two years.
The worst part is sometimes I get a little emotional, like I am about to cry, when I talk about my current position because I love the company but can't work with my boss any longer.
What is my issue?
It sounds like you have clarity on what's tripping you up and that's half the battle. The interview mistakes you've described are common, but deadly. Making one or more of these errors can ruin your chances of landing the job.
Now, you need some insight on why you're making these flubs, as well as some strategies to overcome them. Let's look at them one by one.
Freezing up in a job interview is a bit like stage fright: you've rehearsed your lines, you step into the spotlight and your mind goes completely blank. It is every performer's worst nightmare.
It can be disastrous in a job interview because it instantly erodes your confidence, making it hard to recover. Struggling to answer questions also hobbles your ability to have a substantive, fluid conversation. It may also signal to the interviewer that you wilt under pressure.
To avoid this, practice responses to questions you expect you'll get. Prepare some generic examples of your achievements and challenges to help bolster any unexpected questions.
If you're prone to brain farts, you should also have some stalling tactics ready. Actors, for instance, are taught to take a deep, grounding breath before they launch into a monologue; that might help settle your nerves and give you a few seconds to collect your thoughts. You could also stall with phrases like, "Good question," and, "Let me think of the best example…" or ask the interviewer to clarify the question.
If all else fails, you can always ask to come back to a question later by saying, "I'd like to give you a thoughtful answer. May I follow up at the end of the interview or afterward in an email?"
Rambling is another a major problem in an interview because it suggests unorganized thinking, which can be a red flag to a hiring manager. It also just makes it harder for the interviewer to understand what you're trying to say, and you can waste too much time on simple questions.
It might be worth considering why you tend to ramble. Is it because you don't really know what you want to say? Glassdoor's Emily Moore recently wrote a great article on how defining her "career story" helped her clarify and focus her message. She advises a three-part elevator pitch that includes how you became interested in the field, your relevant skills and experience, and why you're interested in and right for this job.
If, on the other hand, you know what you want to say but have trouble getting the words out in a clear, concise way, you may need a formula. Over at Inc.com, WorkItDaily CEO J.T. O'Donnell provides a simple equation to answer any open-ended question: provide an example of a relevant experience, summarize what you learned from it, and describe how you'd apply this knowledge to the job for which you're applying.
And keep your answers under two minutes. Succinct, linear responses make you seem like a composed, logical person.
In some rare instances, becoming overwhelmed with positive emotion might play well in an interview. For example, some interviewers might find it touching to see candidates get a little misty over why they got into a field or how much the job would mean to the candidate and their family.
But in almost all circumstances, displaying negative emotion is a big no-no. In fact, one hiring manager referred to crying in an interview as the "kiss of death" because it signals a lack of control.
It's important to figure out what triggers you — in this case, talking about your boss — and work through it before you step into the room. Perhaps you owe yourself some time and space to reflect on the situation. You might even benefit from talking it out with a friend or a professional. Do what you can to make the emotion less raw, and thus less likely to sabotage your chances.
In general, it's never a good idea to badmouth your former employer, even if it's warranted. I recommend practicing a professional response to why you're looking to change jobs. Find a way to emphasize all the things you're looking for rather than what you hope to leave behind.
Ultimately, each of these mistakes may be a notch against you, but none are automatic deal-breakers. Do your best to minimize your problem areas, but remember the reason you're there: to sell them on your skills, character and the value you'll add to their business.
Have a pressing career concern or question? Email me anonymously at firstname.lastname@example.org. Submissions may be edited for length and clarity.
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