In my last column I outlined some of the advice I’ve found helpful in the past for preparing for job interviews. As most of us know though, no matter how much you prepare, a lot of that can go out the window once you’re sitting in front of someone and your palms are sweating and you’re trying to explain what your biggest weakness is without sounding like a total flake. So here is part two, my advice for how to stay focused and calm during the interview.

It’s important to remember that you’re also there to interview them. You want to get a sense of what it would be like to work for this company, whether or not you’d enjoy it, how well you would progress there, things like that. Try to keep this in mind and don’t get too nervous about wanting to impress your interviewer. Of course you want to make a good impression but understanding that they need to make a good impression as well tends to help me feel a bit more calm and in control. A job interview should be a two-way conversation – think of it like a date. You’re both looking for a mutually beneficial outcome; they want the right fit for the job and you want a company you’ll enjoy working at. So: breathe, look around, and stay alert to any potential red flags.

Related – take a moment to stop and think before you answer their questions. First of all, this will help you construct meaningful answers without falling over yourself to look competent. Throw out a ‘Hmm… that’s an interesting question’, come up with some concrete examples from past work experiences and then tie it all in to how you would be fantastic at that job. I.e. ‘How do you typically manage conflicting high priority projects?’ ‘That’s a good question. Well… in my experience, effective time management can be really key in getting through those kinds of issues. At my last job, I oversaw moving all of our web based content into our newly built mobile CMS, which needed to be done quickly but it was also really important that there weren’t any mistakes or inconsistencies. And the thing that helped me there was setting a schedule, however tight, and making sure we stuck to it. That ensured the project was completed on time and also prevented us all from getting too stressed out.’ See? Don’t be afraid to take a couple extra seconds to think, compose yourself and phrase your answer. And then second of all, your interviewer will be glad you’re taking the time to give thoughtful answers. (Also: when you’ve given your answer, stop talking. If you get stuck with an interviewer who tries to trick you in to saying too much by staying quiet, don’t give them the satisfaction).

This next one is going to sound really goofy so feel free to disregard if you want to but I swear it works for me, so here is is: when your interviewer comes out to meet you, make sure you give them a big smile. I mean, I guess you would do that anyway but I’ve found it has the double advantage of telling them HELLO I AM FRIENDLY and also (again, possible junk science but you know) kind of relaxes me a little bit? I read somewhere that the act of smiling sends a signal to your brain that you’re happy and the rest of your body just follows that lead and then you feel happy. Anyway, no matter how nervous I am before an interview I always do the Smile /  Eye contact / Hand shake / ‘Hi (name), nice to meet you!’ For whatever reason just going through the physical acts of someone who has confidence, even if I feel like a stressed out hummingbird, helps me to get in to that ‘confidence’ head space.

In terms of personality or general tone, you’re trying to hit the mark between supremely confident and warm and approachable. The best thing I can say is to smile and bring up your accomplishments only when they’re relevant. But make sure you do bring them up. Listen hard when they’re speaking, and be responsive to what they tell you. Give them some compliments about the company, why you would like to work there and anything you admire about them (without going overboard). I often try to make some kind of joke in most of the interviews I’ve been on, in an attempt to lighten the mood or get them to like me or something – usually done out of sheer nerves and it’s usually gone fine, touch wood. But you do need to read the room and obviously nothing too controversial. Interviewing for my current job, I made a terrible JavaScript pun which I immediately regretted but like I said, ended up being fine. A recruiter once told me that people want to hire people they themselves would like to work with, so if you feel confident that you could make them laugh, go for it. Otherwise, best to keep it to yourself.

Towards the end of the interview, they’re going to say something like, ‘Did you have any questions for us?’ and your answer will be YES. It’s really important to go in there with some questions prepared, it shows you are engaged and interested and working hard to make sure you’re the right fit. Alison from Ask A Manager has some great suggestions for these, my personal favourite is, ‘Do you have any concerns about my fit for the role that I can address before I leave today?’ That way, if they did have any doubts, I’m given the opportunity to clear those up and make sure they know how great I am. The only other advice I would give is to have a few copies of your CV to hand (a copy for each person interviewing you plus two more, just in case). You don’t need to bring these out during the interview, but you never know when a hiring manager will ask for a refresher on your qualifications or experience. They’ve likely seen a lot of CVs, might be struggling to remember yours and it always looks good to be prepared. Just having some in a folder in your bag or briefcase may end up being a big plus for you.

Pep talk time. You got this, dude. You are a wild, unstoppable stallion. You are steam rising off the tarmac, you are an ocean storm. Soon they will be begging you to work for them. BEGGING YOU. Go in there and rock that interview. Then, when it’s over, put it out of your mind. The temptation to keep going over and over and over what they said, and perhaps sending them two or five emails a day asking if they’ve made a decision yet is very strong but you need to just move on. If they want to hire you, they will contact you. Send a brief follow up email to whoever you’ve been in contact with there (the hiring manager, HR, an assistant etc) to say thank you and that you hope to hear from them (if that is true) and then carry on with your job search. Good luck out there, thanks for reading!