It’s no secret that interviews are stressful. When you have a conversation focused entirely upon you and your achievements, paired with the need to impress someone you’re meeting for the first time, you’re bound to feel the pressure.
But interviews can be exponentially more stressful for those of us who are socially awkward. Maybe you’re shy, introverted, or a little quirky. Some of us struggle with everyday social skills, and a high-stress situation on top of that (like an interview) can create a new set of challenges to navigate.
Luckily, social skills can be learned through self-awareness and practice, in the same way you’d learn to cook or ride your bike. After a while, you’ll be able to converse naturally, without even thinking about it.
Here are some tips to help you through the most stressful part of the job hunt:
We already know that adequate preparation is the key to a successful interview. For those of us who struggle with social interactions, this is even more important.
• Plan your outfit ahead of time. Even if you’ve got a closet full of eccentric clothes, play it safe, and keep it professional. You don’t want your sequined lime green blazer to overpower what you have to say.
• Research the company so that you have a better idea of the office culture. Is it laid back? More corporate? Tailor your discussion points accordingly.
• Prepare some potential conversation starters. If you struggle with small talk, come up with 2-3 things that you could talk about. “So how about this weather we’re having?” only goes so far. Have some relevant pocket questions that can fill in awkward pauses, but avoid the need to fill every silence with incessant chatter.
Be aware of your body language.
Nonverbal language speaks volumes. Sometimes it’s not what you say, but how you say it that reveals your personality. Interviewers are paying attention to how you carry yourself in addition to how you answer their questions. If you’ve got the time, record yourself in a mock interview with a friend – then watch it. It will probably be uncomfortable, but it will provide you with an objective viewpoint of how you might come across.
• Make eye contact with the interviewer to show you’re confident and engaged, but avoid staring at them in a creepy way. The same goes for smiling! Smile to demonstrate that you’re excited to be there, but don’t keep a fake grin plastered on your face.
• Sit up straight and lean in. Make sure your arms aren’t crossed and you’re not slouching in your chair. You want to appear interested and alert, not like an insolent teenager who was dragged somewhere against their will.
• If you’re nervous and your hands are shaking a bit, put them in your lap. If you’re prone to fidgeting, this will work for you as well.
Read the room.
This can be a difficult skill to learn, but practice makes perfect. Take notice of social cues as you interact with your interviewers. Are you making too many jokes and creating awkward situations? Remember that while your body language reveals a lot about you, the same can be said about the interviewers. Learn to identify certain facial expressions and cues so that you can adjust your reactions accordingly.
• Watch the interviewer’s facial expressions as you answer their questions. Nodding along in agreement with what you’re saying is a good thing. Knitted eyebrows and frowning is not.
• If the interviewer is looking around the room or staring at the wall while you’re still answering your question, you might be rambling a bit. Take notice, and wrap it up.
• If the interviewer engages you in small talk, err on the side of caution. Some people go overboard with personal stories or random observations because they’re nervous. You can reveal a little of who you are as a person, but if you’re whipping out your phone to show the interviewer photos of your cat or your recent trip to Maui, you’ve taken it too far.
Interviewing for a job that you really want is a big deal, since a successful interview has the power to drastically change your life! Don’t forget that the social aspect of an interview is a skill you can learn through practice and self-awareness. By putting in the work, even the most socially awkward candidate can nail the interview process.