You’ve prepared a killer resume, written out your talking points, and even planned the perfect outfit. But experts say the key to really nailing a job interview is getting yourself in the right frame of mind both before and during the meeting. Just ask Susan Krauss Whitbourne, a professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. According to Whitbourne, the best candidates go into these interviews with “a performance mind-set—one that’s not too nervous but not too relaxed.” Want to make sure you hit that interview sweet spot so your best, most-confident self shines through? Consider these seven research-based tips:
1. Visualize a successful interview. From Oprah Winfrey to Olympian Michael Phelps, top performers know how to use the power of visualization—where you envision the process of hitting your goal successfully—to improve their performance. Psychologists say that visualization works well for interviews too. Close your eyes and picture yourself in the interview environment: What will you be wearing? What are you feeling? What questions will you be asked? How will you successfully respond to each one? “Positive imagery is a tool for boosting self-efficacy, or your belief that you can succeed at a given task,” says Whitbourne. Mentally rehearsing for your big interview will help you build the kind of confidence you need to get the job.
2. Reframe nervousness as excitement. You know those butterflies and shaky hands you get just before you walk into an important interview? Telling yourself that they’re a sign of excitement rather than anxiety will help you perform better, according to research by Harvard Business School professor Alison Brooks. “Anxiety and excitement are extremely similar emotions, but excitement is a positive emotion that improves performance, while anxiety is a negative one that harms it,” Brooks says. “Verbally labeling your emotions is a powerful way to change how you actually feel.” And doing that is easy: You can reframe your anxiety as excitement just by simply saying “I am excited” out loud before you walk in the door.
3. Create rituals to reduce stress. Having a ritual in place—like listening to the same inspiring song (say, Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'”) or going through the same routine before an anxiety-provoking task—can reduce your stress. Brooks says that not only do rituals distract you, they’ve also been found to enhance physical and mental readiness, increase a feeling of control, and actually reduce the elevated heart rate associated with preperformance anxiety. Surprisingly, rituals work whether you wholeheartedly believe in them or not, so it definitely pays to create one.
4. Don’t blow off the small talk. The meaningless chit chat that occurs at the start of an interview—”How was the traffic getting here? Is it as cold as it looks?”—is not as meaningless as you may think. Recent research found that engaging in some polite small talk with your interviewer may increase your likelihood of getting the job. These short conversations build rapport and trust, and provide insight into your personality and how well you might fit in a company’s culture. The bottom line: Take that chitchat seriously and come prepared to talk about the weather.
5. Ask questions. Brooks’ most recent research found that when you first meet someone, whether it’s online, while speed dating, or in an interview, asking questions increases your chances of being liked. “In job interviews, the interviewer usually asks the questions,” Brooks says. “But if, as candidate, you can ask a question, listen to the answer, and then ask a follow-up question, you will signal what researchers call a strong responsiveness, a concept that includes curiosity, understanding, validation, and care—all things that will make you more appealing as a potential hire.”
6. Get comfortable bragging. Research shows that women are often reluctant to talk up their own achievements because they’ve been conditioned not to brag about them, but they don’t face the same reservations when they’re discussing their friends. If you’re having a hard time finding the right words to pitch yourself, pretend you’re talking about your most accomplished girlfriend instead. “Brainstorm the positive feedback that you’ve received over the years—things that coworkers or bosses have complimented you on and make a list of at least five selling points,” says Pamela Skillings, president of BigInterview.com. It also helps to frame your bragging in terms of showing rather than telling. For example, instead of saying “I’m great at…,” you can get the same message across by saying, “I was promoted because of…” or, “In my last review, my manager said…” Adds Skillings: “Once you get your talking points, it’s important to practice them so that you can get comfortable with ‘selling’ yourself in an authentic way.”
7. Avoid over-rehearsing. “When we’ve over-practiced for an interview, it’s easy to tune out and go on automatic, which can prevent us from actively listening to the other person and having a real conversation,” says Tanya Menon, a professor of business at Ohio State University. “Research on what’s known as the ‘pratfall’ effect suggests that making a mistake actually makes us more likable and relatable,” Menon adds. “Trust yourself enough to give up some control over the conversation, which means letting the interviewer lead, focusing on the true meaning behind their questions, and getting comfortable with letting your own answers take you into a few directions where you actually have to pause and think and create on the spot. Rehearsed answers may be smooth, but they aren’t playing to your humanity or likability—which will eventually win you the job.”