Matthew Hatson helps organisations and people thrive under the pressure of modern life and business by developing their resistance to stress using the latest neuroscience and biofeedback technology.
Learn how to handle stress and perform better at nexus8
You’re sitting in a bland meeting room.
There’s a monitor on the wall and a coffee cup on the side, probably left behind by the last victim, sorry, interviewee. You wonder how that interview went, whether anybody left anything behind that you can read to get an edge. Your heart’s beating fast, your mouth is dry and you’re trying to sit in a relaxed, but keen manner for when the interviewer comes in. What exactly does “relaxed and keen” look like?
Have you managed it or do you just look like a lunatic?
That’s what the internet said.
It doesn’t help.
Maybe some of that sounds a bit like your own experience of interviews. All of your friends and family have told you to “just be yourself”, but how do you do that in an interview situation?
How do you make yourself the smartest, calmest high performing version of you for an interview?
Here’s 6 steps to making your interview a raging success!
Prepare for success
Spend some time in the days leading up to the interview imagining how you want to feel in the interview. Elite athletes use this to help them achieve peak performance and mental rehearsal is proven to make a difference. If you can find a photo of your interviewer(s) on social media, this helps you visualise.
Focus on how you want to feel. Notice how it feels to be calm, how smart it feels to be that way. Slow and deepen your breathing whilst you do this, it will help you feel what success is like. Think Michael Phelps in Rio 2016!
Not my most popular suggestion, but it makes a big difference to performance in an interview. Caffeine not only makes it easier to get anxious, but it also increases your breathing and metabolic rates. You’re likely to sweat, talk too much, and not access your higher brain functions due to heightened anxiety. Caffeine makes most people do things faster, not smarter. And your answers in an interview want to be intelligent and considered.
Aim to get to the venue at least 20 minutes early. This gives you the time to prepare your mind and body for the interview, and allow yourself to get comfortable in your surroundings.
Our nervous systems, designed back when we were hunter gatherers, evolved to keep us safe from predators. You see a tiger whilst picking berries, your amygdala (your “danger detector” near the base of your brain) floods your body with adrenaline and other stress hormones to give you muscular energy to fight or run away.
I’ve had some bad interviewers in my time but have never been interviewed by a tiger.
However, our amygdala carries on regardless and the result is that it notices our mental discomfort and the same alarm goes off. Your body gets flooded with chemicals and energy ready to run away, but it has nowhere to go, so it just amplifies our feelings, making us more anxious. Recent research shows that anxiety can reduce our IQ by up to 15 points. Which usually makes a smart person only average.
Now a few nerves are ok. After all the word nerve comes from the Latin word Nervus, which means vigour, energy. Indeed a little stress ups our performance. Hans Selye, the Grandfather of the modern day concept of “Stress” explained that a lack of pressure reduces performance, and inhibits the logic and problem solving side of our brains. Go in too chilled and you’ll also not do your best.
Somewhere between nervous and chilled is the balanced state of calm.
Calm is focused, attentive and creative. It’s also you at your most intelligent, as both sides of your brain are activated, and you have your best chance to handle those awkward questions.
Calm isnt easy to achieve pre interview and I expect you to schoff, fortunately for you, there’s a nervous system “hack” that lets you achieve it in only a few breaths.
Coined “coherent breathing” by scientists, abdominal breathing at a rate of 5-6 seconds in, and 5-6 seconds out not only calms the nervous system but activates both sides of your brain.
Research shows that students practicing coherent breathing outperform those that don’t in tests and exams.
- So now you’re in the right place, it’s time to breathe coherently:
- Start to breathe a little slower and deeper. if you can’t achieve 5-6 seconds in and out, just slow your breath so it’s comfortable.
- Imagine that you are breathing through your chest space, straight in to your heart and lungs.
- Recall a time when you were calm, smart, and in control.
- That’s it! Rinse and repeat.
Check in on yourself
Our heart rate is affected by what we think and what we feel, so a tough or awkward question has the potential to kick us out of our calm state, and things can go wrong from there. Take the opportunity offered by the next question to pause and slow your breathing. Most interviewers would prefer a smart, considered answer than the one that jumps out of your mouth before you think, because your mind is racing.
The coherent version of you is your best version of you. It’s the smartest, most authentic and measured version of you, and shows you in the best light possible. The more you practice being this version of you, the more second nature it becomes, and the awesomer you become.
Your nervous system (and your new boss) will thank you for it. You won’t need to worry about finding an edge in the interview room, because everyone else will be compared to you.