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4 Ways to Reduce the Stress of Interviewing

Evolutionary and psychological understanding reduce interview stress.

Key points

  • Interviewing brings up deep evolutionary psychological factors of belonging and rejection. It is stressful for everyone.
  • Interviews should be a two-way street. You are interviewing the interviewers as much as they are interviewing you.
  • Helpful concepts include changing your mindset, understanding the importance of a clan, addressing rejection, and taking available control.

In Part 1 of this post, I discussed the evolutionary psychological concepts that underlie the stress produced when interviewing. In this Part 2, I cover four concepts to help reduce this stress.

How to Reduce the Stress of Interviewing

So, we’ve talked about some evolutionary psychological underpinnings of the stress of interviews in Part 1 of this post, but how do we deal with them? Four concepts can be helpful, including changing your mindset, understanding the importance of a clan, addressing rejection, and taking available control.

First, change your mindset about an interview being focused entirely on you.

An interview should absolutely be a two-way street. You are interviewing the interviewers as much as they are interviewing you. You must ensure that the job is a good fit for you professionally, culturally, and personally. If you are not given the opportunity to have your questions addressed, this is certainly a red flag.

An interview should not feel like a firing squad. It should be an active, bi-directional conversation with effective two-way communication. I’ve been in far too many interviews where the panelists interviewing me go around the room over and over, bombarding me with questions from a script they are reading. Then when a couple of minutes remain, they ask me if I have any quick questions for them. For me, this is always the last interview–that is not the type of organization I want to be a part of.

Remember, you are looking for an organization with a culture that reflects your values and that you have wanted to be a part of for years. It is one of the most important decisions you make in life. You most certainly deserve the opportunity to interview the organization as much as they are interviewing you to ascertain fit and make an informed decision.

Second, understand the evolutionary psychological importance of a clan.

Psychologically, you are not just interviewing to join an organization–you are interviewing to join a clan. As mentioned in Part 1, clans provide safety, strength, companionship, and survivability. If the clan does not accept you, these factors are at risk.

Cognitively we don’t think this way at the conscious level; however, our evolutionary unconscious brain does. This leads to what I call an evolutionary mismatch–a tension between evolutionary unconscious drives and contemporary conscious thoughts, leading to considerable stress. Keep in mind that by the time you interview, the technical skills and experience required for the job are typically assumed.

An interview is almost entirely about clan fit. The interviewers want to determine if you are a match for the inherent culture and that they can have a relationship with you. By doing your research and asking detailed questions, you should obtain a solid understanding of the culture and norms present. If these are a fit for you, then focus on conveying yourself in light of the clan culture–as an individual and collectively as part of the clan (team or organization).

Also, do not ever try to be who you think the interviewer wants you to be. Typically, you will be wrong. Not to mention that this is inauthentic, creates stress in and of itself, and tends to lead to the rejection you sought to avoid–or if you do get the job, your inauthenticity will most likely surface after you start. Finally, as you interview for a new job requiring relocation, make sure to involve your family and evaluate the personal fit in the new community as a whole.

Third, address the reality and fear of rejection.

Of course, we don’t always get the job we interviewed for. This happens to all of us–me included! I know it can be hard, but do not allow yourself to think of this as a personal rejection or even necessarily a rejection of your resume, background, or interview performance. It is typically an issue of cultural fit or very specific experience sought by the interviewer(s).

Assuming that you are confident that a professional, cultural, and personal fit exists, an important aspect of an interview is to build a relationship with the interviewers and seek commonalities. All humans have an evolutionary psychological need for social interaction, acceptance, and belonging.

By focusing on developing proactive relationships, even with the brief time allotted during most interviews, a fit with the clan can be more readily evaluated and, if appropriate, achieved, providing the opportunity for a more effective and meaningful interview process. If, however, you have done your best in the interview and don’t get the job–move on.

Rumination, self-pity, self-doubt, or negative self-talk will not get you the job, cause further stress, and, more importantly, hinder you in future interviews. Learn from the interview, send thank you notes to the interviewers, and focus on future interviews with curiosity and excitement.

Fourth, gain some control of the interview process by using psychological concepts that re-iterate your strengths.

When I work with people on interviewing, I teach them to try to gain an internal locus of control, which can reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. A good technique is to start the interview with a single question to the interviewers, “What did you like about my resume that led you to want to interview me?” This question typically can flow quite naturally during the introduction stage.

This is a powerful way to gain some control early on and lead the ensuing conversation with your positive attributes. It is one of the most effective interview tips I can suggest. This question starts the interview with your strengths instead of weaknesses or nitpicking your resume. It also informs you of what the interviewers like about you so that you can re-enforce what they like throughout the interview.

By having this critical information, you can then employ additional psychological concepts such as the following:

  • Primacy and recency (start and end the interview with the positives the interviewers mentioned).
  • Confirmation bias (focus on the positives they like about you throughout the interview, which confirms their beliefs).
  • Operant conditioning (reinforce the positive things about you that led them to interview you).
  • Cognitive re-appraisal (change negatives that come up during the interview to their positives to reinforce them even more).

These can take time to practice, but once mastered, they can completely redefine your interview approach and experience.

In summary

Interviewing is stressful for all of us. The stress stems in large part from unconscious evolutionary psychological factors. By understanding these factors and following the four tips above, you can make interviewing an experience that is much more enjoyable (or at least not as stressful).

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