May 2, 2013


Breathing is the first thing that you do in life. It is so natural. Breathing in provides the essential oxygen that sustains us. Breathing out calms us. Long slow breaths…

Three times over the past week I have had individuals in in my office in a state of high anxiety over up coming job interviews. Interviews are incredibly nerve wracking. There is a lot riding on your performance in an interview. A good interview can lead to a job that begins your career in your chosen field or a promotion to a better job. A bad interview pretty much leads nowhere and erodes your confidence.

The anxiety that accompanies interviewing can derail even the most competent candidate. If you cannot breathe, if you cannot relax, you cannot focus your thoughts and you cannot answer the questions that come in an interview. You probably know the correct answer but if you are unable to perform effectively, you will lose out to another candidate who can.

One young woman who stopped by my office last week was terrified about her first career level interview. She was literally screeching when she arrived in my office. Her voice was shrill and she was not making a whole lot of sense.

So I began our session with some analysis. I first asked her what her biggest worry was. She said she didn’t think she would ever get a job in engineering. She had graduated in December of last year and was near panic. She had an interview coming up in two days and she was sure she was going to blow it. I asked her what she thought her biggest problem was and she said that when she got nervous she didn’t perform well. I asked her what happened in those situations. We narrowed it down to the obvious – her voice got very high pitched. And the not so obvious she became uncertain of her qualifications. She lost her confidence completely when faced with the prospect of explaining why she was qualified to be an engineer.

Every week I write this newsletter and I worry the same thing. What if it becomes obvious that I really don’t know what I am talking about? What if everyone finds out? Then I breathe… long slow breaths… and my breathing calms me… and I start writing.

Breathing is obviously not enough in an interview... or in writing. You need to have skills and qualifications necessary to do the job.  And you need to be able to present yourself effectively -you need to have a resume that defines you, a portfolio that shows the quality of your work, and you must spend at least 6 hours preparing yourself prior to the interview. You need to do your homework. You need to know everything about your potential employer. And you need to know all about yourself and be prepared to answer questions about who you are relative to the needs of the employer. And you need to know what to expect and what to do to accomplish a successful interview.

Here is my quick guide to the phases of a successful interview:

1. Breaking The Ice Phase
Arrive 30 minutes early! Go to the restroom and breathe in and out slowly – deep, long breaths. Relax and tell yourself “if this job doesn’t come through, something better will”. When called for your interview, start with a warm, firm handshake and a smile as you introduce yourself. Maintain eye contact when speaking to your host/interviewer. This is a formal interview so don’t be too casual or familiar with the people you meet. Be polite and courteous. As you begin your interview, ask for a business card to help you remember your interviewer(s) name(s) and functional area.

2. Sharing General Information Phase
Once you are seated your interview will begin with broad open-ended questions like “Tell me about yourself”; “Why did you choose this field?”; “Why are you interested in our company?”; “Why are you interested in this position?”; “What courses did you enjoy the most?”; “What are your long term/short term goals?”; “Tell me about your work experience.” They will also ask personality trait questions like “What is your greatest strength?” and behavioral questions like “Give an example of how you used this strength to solve a problem in a team project?”; “What is your greatest accomplishment and why?”. Show them your portfolio during this stage.  Be sure to work it into an answer.

3. Technical Questions Phase
This phase is like a final exam. The technical questions you will be asked will stretch your expertise to the limit. Be prepared to cover material that relates to the company’s mission, products and industry. This is where your research and course review will pay off. Be prepared to be questioned intensely on the field-specific courses listed on your resume. Spending 6 hours studying before the interview is standard.

4. Interviewing The Interviewer Phase
This is your opportunity to shine. If you have done your homework you will be able to ask good questions about the company’s position in the industry, training programs, initial project you might work on, and anything you can glean from headlines or professional journals. A successful candidate interviewing with an energy regulatory agency asked questions about a crisis that was in the news and featured in technical journals. The interviewers were very impressed.

5. Summary Phase
At this point the interviewer will ask, “Do you have anything to add?” You will want to think back over what you have included thus far and add anything you have not covered yet. It is also your opportunity to summarize your most important points (senior project, pertinent work experience and class experience. Make sure you pop out your portfolio if you have not already done so.

6. Wrap Up and What’s Next Phase
This is your last shot. Tell them you really want the job. Ask about further steps you should take (completing an application form, sending transcripts, sharing references). Also ask when you can expect to hear from them. Ask for a business card if you have not already gotten one. When leaving shake hands, and thank them for the interview with a big smile. Tape the business card into your notebook and debrief. Then send an email thank you note immediately!

Now breathe. You can do it! You have everything you need. You’re good!