Wednesday, May 19, 2010

An Interview is a Performance

I had an e-mail this morning from a friend whose son, with a brand new MBA, is having trouble with interviews. “He gets anxious, can’t seem to talk, or to get his breath.”

My daughter had trouble with interviews when she first graduated. She had bought a navy blue suit for the process, had wiped her wet, sweaty hands on her skirt and discovered, to her horror, that her hands were blue.

The anxiety symptoms may be different, but the antidotes are the same. Here are two:

Breathing: The body has 2 modes of breathing; the normal mode, when sleeping, say, and the stress mode. When we're in the stress mode, our breathing is intended to close off the throat in order to give us upper-arm strength. Then we panic, and concentrate on where we feel the constriction - in the chest and throat. This is NORMAL - THE BODY IS GOING TO DO IT DESPITE US. However, we can override that breathing mode.

At home, lie on your back and observe your breathing - observe, don't try to do anything - feel the abdominal muscles expand and contract. Then sit on a chair, place your elbows on your knees and observe your breathing - feel your back muscles open and contract. Now sit up in a chair, as you would in an interview. Find a posture in which you can feel both sets of muscles expanding and contracting. Practice this breathing, and your muscles will remember how this feels - you'll be able to move more quickly into this mode eace time you repeat it. Then, before you go into an interview, practice your breathing. If your mind switches into "what am I going to say?" switch it back to breathing.

Objective: If you focus on the interviewer, rather than on yourself, your anxiety will be reduced. If your objective is to find out whether this job would be a good fit for you, rather than to prove that you will be a good fit for the job, your anxiety will be reduced.


  1. It's interesting, because I never experienced stage fright the way that other people seem to. I never really have the physical response to nerves--sweaty hands, lost voice, etc. (Although I sometimes catch other interviewees' butterflies if I don't do what you taught me to do at auditions.) My fear and creative freezing never had to do with audiences, so much as putting myself out there in other ways--I am horrible at marketing myself and I never succeeded in writing a song. Trying to write music back in my college/post-college days made me really unpleasant to be around, and I never wrote an entire song. I really loathed songwriting, actually. But on the other hand, I have no problem writing speeches, interviewing, or having administrators come and observe me teaching lessons that I have written.

  2. 2 different issues here: First, songwriting may not be your medium. When I began writing, I began with poetry and soon discovered that I was better at writing short stories than I was at writing poetry. Haven't written a poem in the last 30 years, and don't intend to write another. Why spend time on something that frustrates you, when you can be more productive working on something you enjoy? We get caught up in stuff we think we "ought" to be able to do, instead of going with our talents - what's easiest and therefore the most fun to do. Second, I've been thinking a lot lately about marketing oneself, and believe that we need to assess ourselves as a product. When I was at the Seminar in Russia, the feedback was so different from what I'd been getting for years, that I sat in one courtyard after another reassessing who I was. Which led to a reassessment the audiences I should be looking for.