3 Handy Tips for Staying Focused During a Job Interview

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Most of us get anxious before an interview, especially if it’s for a job we really, really want. It’s only natural since the interview is what stands between you and your future success, and you only get one chance to ace it. Ironically, being too nervous can affect your ability to impress during a job interview, but there are ways to deal with those jitters. 

The best way to calm your nerves is to prepare, which you can do by practicing your answers to commonly asked questions, going over your employment history, and researching the company to better understand its goals, objectives, and needs. If you already have an idea of what to expect, it’ll be much easier to navigate the challenges smoothly, and all the preparation will help calm your mind. 

However, even after thorough preparation, it’s easy to let your nerves get the better of you and cloud your judgment, making it harder to give thoughtful, coherent answers. While this can happen to even the most qualified people for the position, it can affect the impression you leave on the interviewer. So, what can you do? 

One excellent option is to set up a mock interview. With the constructive feedback and useful tips you receive from this exercise, you will gain confidence and feel better prepared for the actual interview. If rehearsing isn’t enough to calm your nerves, here are three things you can focus on to stay grounded during the interview. 

1. Be attentive when listening 

Paying close attention to the questions you’re being asked is crucial to providing honest, well-thought-out answers, so make a conscious effort to focus on what the interviewer is saying. There are many ways to ask the same question, which is why it can be so helpful to practice answering common interview questions—if you can figure out what the interviewer wants to know, you can probably adapt your practice answers to other questions to the context. 

Pay attention not only to the interviewer’s words but also their body language, and listen carefully to what exactly they’re asking you. It’s easy to get lost in your own thoughts and miss out on a crucial piece of information or misunderstand the question and not provide the answer they need, so remember to be present and engage with the person interviewing you. 

Rather than obsessively focusing on what you should say next, you’ll do better in the interview if you truly listen to the questions and respond appropriately. Even in your rehearsals, you’ll notice that focusing on engaging with your interviewer will help you forget about your nerves and allow you to provide more relevant and insightful answers. 

2. Be concise when talking

When it’s your turn to speak, be concise and don’t overshare. Not only is oversharing a sign of anxiety and poor communication skills, but it also puts you at risk of revealing information the interviewer may have been better off not knowing. 

Also, be careful not to over-explain yourself, which can easily come off as rambling or condescension. Answer the questions honestly, but don’t volunteer information the interviewer didn’t request, especially if it has the potential to paint you in a negative light. Obviously, you should always be honest, but you don’t want to divulge negative or mostly irrelevant information about yourself.

Be natural in your speech and mannerisms—remember that this is a conversation—and stay on topic, highlighting your communication skills and ability to connect. Again, it’s all about being present and engaged, and focusing on how you want to answer each question will help you stay on track and ease your nerves. While a job interview is much more nerve-racking than a normal conversation, at the end of the day, it’s just two people talking and trying to decide if they are a good match professionally, so don’t forget to be a normal person.

If you think the interviewer misunderstood one of your answers or you feel you said something wrong, don’t go into panic mode. Instead, offer to clarify. If you need a minute to think about your answer or aren’t entirely sure whether you understood the question, a good trick is to restate the question in your own words, which will help prevent any misunderstandings and prove you can think on your feet. 

It’s okay to say, “Let me think about that for a moment”—as long as there’s confidence in your voice, you’ll come across as thoughtful and deliberate rather than scatterbrained and unprepared. 

3. Figure out who their ideal candidate is (and prove you’re it)

One of the key objectives of a job interview is to weigh the candidate’s skills against the requirements of the position, so focus on connecting your credentials and experience to the company’s needs. 

You’ll want to start by thoroughly researching the position before your interview, which will allow you to show up knowledgeable and confident in your suitability for it. It’ll also help you formulate insightful questions during the interview. Asking questions about what the company is looking for in a candidate, what it expects from an employee, who will make the final hiring decision, and what issues have been encountered by people in this position before will show keen interest and help you stay focused on highlighting your skills. 

Have a few anecdotes ready to demonstrate how your experiences have shaped you into the ideal candidate for this job. Stories have power, and if you can tell a story that draws the interviewer in, you’re giving yourself an edge over the competition. Also, don’t be shy to highlight your positive attributes, but make sure that your self-confidence doesn’t come off as arrogance. Practice merging humility with confidence—this will help you leave a lasting positive impression on the interviewer, and it may also put you in the right frame of mind to deal with your nerves. 

Remember: You want to prove that you’re the ideal candidate by tying your expertise to the company’s objectives and showing that you understand its trajectory. Even when speaking about your weaknesses, focus more on the challenges you’ve overcome and the opportunities your perceived failures have presented to you rather than the problems themselves. Keep in mind that it’s not only the content of your answer and the way you addressed the issue that’s important but also your attitude toward the problem, both at the moment and in the past—the right attitude can take you far.

Throughout the interview, it’s important to be yourself and be honest because the interviewer needs to feel that you’ll fit into the existing company culture. Don’t force any of your answers, remain aware of your body language without being self-conscious about it, and reassert your interest in the role at the end of your interview. It’s all about presenting well-thought-out answers in a composed and confident manner, demonstrating your effective communication skills and engaging the interviewer with powerful stories. 

Don’t be afraid to ask if or when you can follow up to learn about the status of your application, and consider sending a thank-you letter the day after—a nice gesture that will also help you stand out. In fact, some hiring managers admit to ruling out candidates who don’t send thank-you notes, so this isn’t a step you want to skip. If you’re unsure how to go about composing a follow-up letter, check out our professionally crafted, customizable letter templates

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