How to Seize Control of Your Next Interview

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Posted by The Editors on June 16, 2011

You squirm in your chair, trying to get comfortable. You try to swallow, but your mouth feels as if it's been chalked. You reach around to itch your back and your starched white shirt feels like it was dipped in a swamp. You're torn between collapsing in tears and making a mad dash for the bathroom.

Your Body Language Might Give You Away

No, this isn't a description of some rare tropical disease. It's what it feels like when you're about to go into an interview and you're struck by fear and shyness. Shyness is generally defined as discomfort in interpersonal situations that interferes with one's interpersonal or professional goals; fear is often what triggers it. This discomfort can manifest itself in a variety of ways, from mumbling to fidgeting to staring at your shoes, and it can radically affect the image you project in the interview chair.

Job interviewers don't want to be mysterious, but some candidates find interviews so intimidating they panic. Their natural grace, charisma, and otherwise bubbling personality simply vanishes. "I just want it to end" is a typical sentiment. "Even if there's something that I could really get into and talk about and make myself look really good, I just keep quiet so that my misery will end all the sooner." Another job seeker puts it this way: "My biggest problem seems to be that I'm not bold enough to ask the questions I want answers to. I always end up feeling like I have to be a gracious head-bobber instead of inquisitive and assertive."

If this is you, then what do you do? Over the ages people have come up with a variety of remedies for bolstering self-confidence. Cures range from a Stuart Smalley-type self-affirmation program ("I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and gosh darn it, people like me") to picturing everyone in the room naked. But these actions may not bring about the desired effect if you don't believe in prefab affirmations or if your interviewer looks disturbingly like the third grade teacher who flunked you in art. There has to be a way to give your confidence a shot in the arm without filling your head with pictures of cellulite and sagging tattoos, right?

The Odds Are in Your Favor

Right. First, remember that the company likes you enough to talk to you. "You have to remember that your foot is in the door, and that's 75 percent of the battle," says Noel, an operations associate at a publishing company. "If the recruiter didn't think that you were qualified, she wouldn't waste her time on an interview with you."

Second, keep in mind that being remembered as "that shy guy" isn't going to get you ahead. "Some people's ideas of shyness being endearing or cute don't relate well to real world concepts like 'pay' and 'job title,'" says Chandler, a graphic designer and self-confessed "shy guy." "Shyness will never work to your advantage and will almost always provide an opportunity for someone else to get the job over you. Be shameless!"

The Right Tooting of Your Horn

Of course, being shameless is easier said than done. When some job seekers go into an interview, they think "How can I convince them to let me work here?" instead of "Why do I want to work here?" And many shy people feel that tooting their own horn is just about the last thing they want to do when their first impulse is to hide behind the potted plants.

Be advised that you don't need to approach the interview thinking that you have to present yourself as someone who can walk on water or build the better mousetrap. When asked about your accomplishments, relate your experiences as honestly as you can. Your interviewer will appreciate the fact that you're not trying to blow any smoke where the sun doesn't shine, and it will be a mark in your favor.

Seize Control

Another easy way to make yourself feel more comfortable in an interviewing situation is to start things off on your own terms. Seize control of the interview by being the first person in the room to smile and say hello. It's just like calling "shotgun" when you're getting into the car with your friends: you're not claiming all of the power in the situation by calling "driver," but you're asserting your opinion of where you want to sit and how much control you get over the car radio.

If you think about it, when you go into an interview, everything's in your favor. The company's interested. You've got skills to offer, and if you've prepared, you should be able to explain what they are-which is why you're interviewing. And you're in control-if you make the first move and call shotgun.

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