The 1 Thing Employers Hate During Job Interviews, and How to Fix It

Two nervous, anxious men

Two nervous, anxious men — a fatal visual when heading into a job interview | Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Heading into a job interview is nerve-wracking. You’re expected to impress — to keep cool under scrutiny, to hit all of the physical cues at the right times, and to carefully champion your achievements. It’s difficult. And because every employer and interviewer is different, there’s no sure-fire way to walk out with an offer. But there are many things you can do to improve your standing and show confidence.

We know the most critical juncture of an interview happens before the interview itself even starts — with researchers recently finding pre-interview chit-chat is absolutely integral to a successful conversation with an employer. If you consider that a part of the job interview and get in the right frame of mind before even walking in the door, you’ll be primed for success.

If there’s one thing that will torpedo the entire interview, it’s this: appearing as a nervous, anxiety-riddled wreck. If you’re worried about being worried and anxious, then you become worried and anxious. It’s vicious and, naturally, a key aspect employers are looking for when they first meet you.

But there might be some good news. A study published in the Journal of Business Psychology all but confirms that interviewers are turned off by anxious candidates, but also that they typically don’t pick up on the physical, outward signs of those feelings.

Let’s take a closer look at this fatal job interview mistake and what you can do to overcome it.

The fatal job interview mistake

The Pied Piper team grills an applicant during a job interview.

Looking over a resume | HBO

The good news is you might be losing your mind on the inside, but for the most part, people interviewing you aren’t going to notice unless it’s very obvious.

“The aim of this study was to investigate (a) the behavioral cues that are displayed by, and trait judgments formed about, anxious interviewees, and (b) why anxious interviewees receive lower interview performance ratings,” the study says. “Overall, the results indicated that interviewees should focus less on their nervous tics and more on the broader impressions that they convey. Our findings indicate that anxious interviewees may want to focus on how assertive and interpersonally warm they appear to interviewers.”

All things considered, the study’s findings can actually be very helpful for those on the job hunt, particularly those who find interviewing to be daunting. It’s not easy to sell yourself, and for those who aren’t used to being the center of attention, or who perhaps have been at the same job for years, going to an interview can be an extremely stressful process.

But again, this study shows interviewers probably aren’t going to notice (or care) whether you’re nervous. They will hold it against you, however, if you can’t keep it together. If you’re such a nervous, anxious disaster that it’s noticeable, then you’re going to have a problem on your hands. And you’ll need to figure out some tactics to get around it.

Next: Battling anxiety so you get the job and not someone else.

Battling anxiety

Job interview

Job interview | Apple

One strategy, mentioned by the researchers in the study, is to focus on being assertive and “interpersonally warm.” So, speak calmly, clearly, and concisely, but also do so in a warm, friendly, and approachable way. It’s similar to how you speak to your mom when trying to explain the black magic that runs her iPhone. You approach the conversation with tenderness but also drive home some important points, so they’re not easily forgotten.

But what else can you do to battle anxiety related to job searches and interviews? There are several body language miscues you can make, such as slumping, staring at the floor, and fidgeting. But most of us can easily take care of that by being mindful of our physical movements and appearance. And if the anxiety surrounding the entire job search process is overwhelming, you can try a few mental visualization techniques or even talk to a professional career coach. Those people exist, and they exist for a reason.

Of course, there are several things you absolutely want to avoid at all costs, such as showing up late, being completely unprepared, and dressing inappropriately. Chances are if you can handle these relatively small steps, you’ll be fine.

There’s more you can do to increase your odds of getting that new job …

Further preparations

business man working in office

Businessman working in an office |

One way to effectively kill nervousness and anxiety is to go all out in your preparation. To some extent an employer or interviewer is going to expect you to be nervous. Don’t worry about coming off as completely cool and together. There’s always going to be a baseline level of anxiety present. But if you really want to give yourself an advantage, dig into the information you have available.

That is, research the company until you know anything and everything about it. Research the position, too. Know exactly what they’re looking for, and have a very good idea of how you can fulfill the company’s needs. You can use sites, such as Glassdoor, to get an idea of what questions they might ask you. You can and should go on LinkedIn, too, and see what other employees work there. See what their backgrounds are and (if possible) how they describe their duties or accomplishments in the position.

This will give you an informational advantage, as Warren Buffett likes to call it. Having a solid mental strategy going in will not only help calm you down, but should send a nonverbal cue to your interviewer: You’re not messing around, and you’ve taken your preparation seriously. If you’re willing to sink the time in to get prepared for just the interview, an employer will assume you’ll be prepared for anything — even the demands of a tough job.

Our last piece of advice …

One final trick

confident woman

A confident woman |

If you walk in with an information advantage, you’ll be a step ahead right off the bat. But there’s one other thing you’ll want to do that will help your confidence level: Get your story straight. And that means a literal story.

During the course of an interview, you’ll be expected to go “off script” so to speak. They’ll want you to talk about yourself candidly and not just rehash what’s on your resume. The resume they can see. That’s what got you in the door in the first place. What they’re now trying to do is to figure out who the person is behind the resume.

You’ll want to deliver.

Think of your life as a story or movie. What are the highlights? How are you spending your time outside of work or school, and how has that helped you progress the plot? Obviously, you don’t want to go into full-blown presentation mode and recite canned one-liners and sentences as if you’re a PowerPoint presentation. But do speak fluidly and candidly while talking about yourself.

There is one thing you’ll want to make sure you include. And that’s a “hook” or a “lede,” as they’re often called in the news world. Essentially, you’ll want to give them something to remember.

Basically, you’ll want to parlay something interesting or unique that separates you from the other candidates. This can be any number of things, so give some thought to what your own personal and unique hook is. Having that in your pocket can help elevate your confidence level even more, further improving your odds of landing an offer.

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