By Pamela Skillings

Big Interview —

You’ve got a big job interview coming up. This could be it! Your one shot at the perfect job. Feeling scared yet?

It’s natural to feel anxiety about a job interview. Someone is about to scrutinize your appearance, mannerisms, what you say, and how you say it.

If he likes you, it could mean a job offer, a sweet salary, and the corner office. And if he doesn’t like you, you soon might find yourself living in a van down by the river (okay, I’m exaggerating, but it’s exactly the kind of thing you’re thinking when you’re stressing out about a job interview).

So yes, the stakes are high. The other fear factor in a job interview is that someone else is in control. You don’t know what he’s going to ask or how he’s going to behave. For many (especially Type A overachievers), loss of control can lead to additional stress and anxiety.

Unfortunately, that pre-interview anxiety can really sabotage your performance on the big day. A bad case of nerves can lead to serious interview mistakes –including blanking out, blurting, babbling, sweating, and fidgeting. If you aren’t careful, the interviewer will be so distracted by your nervous habits that he won’t even remember your strengths and qualifications.

(Photo: Sakurako Kitsa)

There is only one way to combat that feeling of helplessness and interview nerves in general, and any Boy Scout can tell you those two words…

Be Prepared

Preparation is the best way to overcome interview nerves, along with remembering that a certain amount of anxiety in a stressful situation is healthy. A bit of nervousness and anticipation may actually make you sharper and help you perform better. The problems arise when that little bit of nervousness becomes a debilitating case of anxiety.

If you do your homework, preparation will lead to more confidence and confidence puts you in command  — and can even make you look forward to the interview (seriously). Confidence can also help you channel your nervous energy into a positive force.

It’s not so different from the way that an athlete trains to be in peak condition on the day of the big game. The more you prepare and practice, the more confident you’ll feel when your career aspirations are on the line in the job interview. This confidence will help you eliminate unattractive nervous habits (um, uh, like) and feel more in command of your answer and body language.

So let’s talk about how to prepare in a way that will empower you and help you minimize pre-interview anxiety.

Accentuate the Positive

The self-help gurus are right: It pays to think positive, at least when it comes to job interviews. The job search can be brutal and it’s easy to get cynical — even the best candidates face repeated rejection and rude behavior.

While cynicism and bitterness can be entertaining at a dinner party, these qualities can really hurt you in job interviews. Nobody wants to hire a candidate with an attitude problem.

At the same time, negativity can prevent you from seeing your key selling points clearly and expressing them well in your interview. Prepare and practice (see more on how to do that below) with the attitude that you can ace this interview. Fake it until you make it.

Once you have prepared, tell yourself you are ready. Listen to upbeat music on your iPod—tunes that energize you and make you feel good about yourself and the world in general. Some people prefer to listen to guided meditations or motivating speeches — you can even record your own pep talk.

Just remember to cut off the music and other happy sounds when you arrive at the job interview site. Wearing headphones at the interview (even if it’s just in the lobby) will make you look distracted.

An unfamiliar environment can add to uncertainty, which is why career professionals generally recommend that you pay at least one visit to any unfamiliar interview location in advance.

Otherwise, you risk the nightmare scenario: getting lost or stuck in traffic and running into your interview late, sweaty, and flustered. Give yourself extra time. If you’re early, you can always stop at  Starbucks (one will inevitably be next door to your destination) to freshen up and re-hydrate.

Don’t Give In to Desperation

No matter how desperately you want the job, remember that it’s just one opportunity. Your entire future is not dependent on landing this particular job. You don’t even know that much about the position yet. Sure, it looks good on paper, but it’s not your only option.

From the interviewer’s point of view: Enthusiasm is good, neediness can be a bit awkward. Think about it like a first date.  You want to impress and show off your best qualities. You don’t want to seem like a potential bunny boiler who has never been asked out before.

No matter what happens, this interview will be a learning experience that will make you a better job candidate and savvier professional in the long run.

Focus on projecting confidence and putting all of that preparation (see above) to use. You can’t control the employer’s decision making process, but you can control how you present yourself in the interview.

Keep in mind that you are there because they liked your résumé or the impression you made in the screening interview. That’s a compelling reason for you to be upbeat on the day of the interview.

Relaxation and Confidence Boosting Techniques

Anti-nervousness techniques — including breathing exercise and mental imagery techniques — work for some. Here are some that we’ve seen work wonders for nervous candidates:

Power Posing — Did you know that a simple 2-minute body language trick can instantly boost your confidence and improve your interview performance? “Power posing” is all about posing like a superhero for two minutes before your interview.

You can go with the “Wonder Woman” or “Superman” and simply stand stall and strong with hands on hips and legs confidently apart (for more high-power poses and the science on how and why this technique works, I highly recommend Amy Cuddy’s awesome Ted Talk on body language).

It may sound silly, but it works. A recent study found that power posing led to significant increases in testosterone (the dominance hormone) and drops in cortisol (the stress hormone). This technique literally changes your body chemistry.

A follow-up experiment looked specifically at job interviews. The “high-power” posers were overwhelmingly chosen by the interviewers as hiring material.

Try it right now and see for yourself. Just remember to do your posing in private before the interview.

Visualization — It may calm your anxiety to visualize a successful interview. Picture yourself in the interview room making a fantastic impression and try to vividly imagine the strong sense of positive confidence that you will feel. You’ll get the best results if you combine the visual with the strong positive feeling and associate the two. It’s a fast and easy way to focus your thoughts and get a burst of confidence.

Breathing — You might also want to explore anxiety-reducing breathing techniques to help you center yourself before the interview. Once you’re in the interview, remember that a pause and a simple deep breath can do a lot to calm any jitters or sense of panic. Anxiety leads to quick, shallow breathing, which can affect your body language and your voice. Sometimes we forget how important it is to just stop and breathe.

Pacing Yourself — If you find yourself stumbling over your words, it’s likely that your anxiety has taken over and you’re talking too fast. Nervousness tends to make you speed up your mannerisms and your speech. It can also prompt you to speak before you consider the question properly.

Slow down and don’t be afraid of the pause. If you race to fill every silence too quickly, you’re likely to blurt out something you’ll regret.

Don’t feel self-conscious about pausing. Interviewers expect you to pause and think before answering complex questions.

If your pause starts to feel awkward, it’s okay to say something like, “That’s a great question. I just need a moment to decide on the best example to share.”

Redirecting Questions — You aren’t going to know the answer to every question, and sometimes that’s intentional on the part of the job interviewer. Some interviewers ask stress questions just to find out how you react.

The best way to deal with these tricky questions is to gracefully redirect the question toward a similar topic you are familiar with, preferably underlinng your strengths as you do it. Whatever you do, stay calm and collected. Don’t let one tough question change the tone of the interview. Focus on handling the next questions well and ending the meeting on a positive note.

 Pamela Skillings

Pamela Skillings, one of the country’s top interview coaches, is co-founder of Big Interview.