I’ll never forget one former student from my NYU teaching days. He asked if I would conduct a mock interview with him. We sat and chitchatted and he was perfectly warm and friendly. As soon as I started asking real interview-type questions, he stiffened up, lost his smile, and changed his tone. I tried to trick him into thinking I wasn’t interviewing him, but as soon as he figured out this tactic, the mask came back. In order to go through an interview successfully and truly stand out, it is critical that you take off the mask, trust yourself and dare to be the real you.
What’s really happening is a set of mind games you play in your head, tampering with the confidence you very much need. To prepare for an interview in the best possible way, it is critical to identify the mind games you are playing and then tell your mind, “Game over.” Which mind games below apply to you?
The Games We Play
Taboo: You are stricken by the fear that you will say or do the wrong thing, and with one false move you will suddenly lose everything that is at stake. This is a common mind game played by fired and laid-off candidates. Not only are you struggling to spin the occurrence in a positive light, but you may also be managing strong emotions with how you were treated during the job-termination process. You second-guess your responses and as a result, project a lack of confidence. Doubt and hesitation reign.
Charades: You begin changing how you’ll act based on what you think the interviewer is looking for, altering your behavior to try to be the candidate you think he or she wants. This is a common mind game, especially for the newly graduated. You are playing a role. You might imagine what the company’s dream candidate is and then try shoehorning yourself into that persona. The problem is that this can read as arrogance, exactly the opposite of what an entry-level person should be projecting, and it compromises your authenticity. New grads need to strike a balance between conveying a strong sense of self and an understanding that they still have a lot to learn. Drop the facade you are using to hide your lack of experience. Instead, use your newness to your advantage. Attitude is paramount to aptitude—the correct new hire can learn the skills he or she needs to know, but a bad attitude is much harder to change.
Sorry: You assume that you are not worthy of the employment opportunity, that you don’t have the correct qualifications, and in your head you are already apologizing for your occasional absence from the workforce—a typical game played by returning parents and the unemployed. You feel as if you have to defend your decisions and make excuses for having been out of the workforce for so long. As a result, you tend to assume that the interviewer is judging you for your choices and circumstances. You may assume that the interviewer has already turned against you. The problem with this is that you’ll quickly position yourself as an adversary rather than an ally.
Truth or Dare: As I detailed in my book The 11 Laws of Likability, authenticity is the key to making meaningful connections. It is also, without a doubt, the most crucial part of successful interviewing. In order to ace that interview, you need to be who you really are. Be honest in your answers. Without honest responses, it will be impossible for you and the interviewer to determine if you are a good match for the job.
As someone who has conducted thousands of interviews, I find that vulnerability is a key asset in situations like these. Instead of putting on a mask and being inauthentic, your interviewer will appreciate speaking with someone real. Put your best foot forward, but don’t let that detract from being your authentic self.