Updated: Nov 12, 2018
I was recently asked by a job seeker, why is it that despite how much preparation I’ve done, when it comes to the vital day of my interview, my brain turns to mush, and I panic under pressure?
I, like many of us, can completely relate to this situation. Whether you are a competitive athlete, taking an exam, delivering a presentation or attending an interview, when ‘all eyes are upon us’, on that all-important day, we can often fail to perform to our full potential despite how much preparation we have done.
Why does this happen?
We are told to prepare well prior to interviews; craft answers to potential questions and research as much as we can about the company and interviewers. But do we prepare our minds too? I would say not.
Using scientific research to provide a compelling answer, I was convinced by this explanation.
"In stressful situations, we worry. We worry about the consequences; the fear of failure and what people think of us. Our worries prompt us to think too much, paying too much attention to what we are doing, focusing on every bit of detail, forcing a performance rather than letting it happen naturally. As a result, we can mess up".
As the scientists would say, we have analysis paralysis!
If we looked at accomplished athletes, research shows that they pay less attention rather than more, they trust their instincts, they are not fazed by pressure and focus on the outcome rather than the process. It makes me wonder if that’s where Nike‘s slogan comes from ‘Just Do It’ and the reason why dance teachers say ”don’t be so focused on the steps, that you forget to dance”.
So, how can we develop tools to support us?
Practise under stressful conditions, similar conditions to which you will encounter. Role play your interview with a well-chosen trusted friend or family member whose opinions you value. Ask them to test and challenge your interviewing abilities and provide you with constructive honest feedback to help you improve.
Research has proven that writing down your worries before you arrive for your interview can really help. I would liken it to when you wake up in the middle of the night worrying about what you have to accomplish the next day. By writing down what you have to do can remove worries from your mind onto paper, allowing you to fall asleep again. Doing the same before your interview could achieve the same results and prevent those worries popping up at the wrong time.
Make sure you have the best people around you. We are all influenced by people that we care for and look up to. Be careful, that you select the right people to listen to and talk to. Choose mentors who will empower, inspire you and build you up. The environment you are in plays a huge part in your self-belief and how positive your mind-set is.
I believe we can learn a lot from professional athletes who have to perform under extreme pressure. So, to summarise, I have included these quotes from Dame Kelly Holmes, Olympic gold medal athlete, and her advice to up and coming athletes who are preparing for their career defining moment.
"Remember all the success you have had in the past which brought you here. You've done this thousands of times before, have confidence in yourself and don't worry about things you can't control, just concentrate on what you can control."
Dame Kelly Holmes believes the importance of being mentally right cannot be overestimated, given that so little separates elite-level athletes.
"The head will make you fail or win. You can be perhaps not 100% right physically because you're carrying a niggling injury and still win, but if you're not 100% right mentally you'll fail. For me, for an athlete to win a major competition it's 20% physical, with the training and what we do every day, and 80% is head - the mental aspect."