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Advice / Job Search / Interviewing

Here's the Secret to Using Your Interview Anxiety to Your Advantage

Lucinda Bassett’s From Panic to Power: Proven Techniques to Calm Your Anxieties, Conquer Your Fears, and Put You in Control of Your Life opened with the exact pep talk I needed. Chapter one begins:

Here’s the good news: You’re special. If you are someone who experiences more than the average amount of anxiety, you are full of potential for greatness. Why? Because you probably have above average intelligence. You are highly creative with a fabulous imagination. You are detail-oriented and analytical. These are wonderful traits that can make you extremely successful and enable you to accomplish great things.

As someone who’d been diagnosed with anxiety some years before and found myself back in the self-help section, I was thrilled to be reminded that I wasn’t deficient. I was, in fact, someone who just had extra brain capacity. (And yes, it’s not lost on me that the list is composed of qualities of a very hirable candidate.)

Of course, Bassett continues to explain that all this surplus energy can be misused:

Unfortunately people with anxiety disorders tend to use their attributes to scare themselves. They overintellectualize, overanalyze, and use their creativity to envision the worst possible scenarios…

From there the book goes on to discuss strategies to channel all of these unique thoughts in a way that’ll make you more productive and happier, rather than crippled by fear. Her suggestions are valuable—and worth checking out if you think the above sounds familiar—but for me, that intro was perhaps the most important.

Just the knowledge that the very same tendencies that were torturing me could make me successful—and that I could control them—was incredibly empowering and exactly the lifeboat I needed.

The nice thing about knowing you have anxiety is that when it crops up, it doesn’t feel unexpected. If you experience—and cope with—negative or fearful emotions every day, what’s the big deal about an interview? Another day when you feel panicky? Join the club.

When my heart starts to pound and I feel my body temperature rise and I want to speak even more rapidly than usual, I say to myself, “Oh, hey there, adrenaline, nice of you to join us. Something exciting must be about to happen!”

I no longer see it as the enemy. I go with it, thinking: “I have all the extra energy I’d need if I were to run from a bear right now, and all I have to do is answer some questions, or give a presentation, or strike up a networking conversation with someone new.” The pep talk continues, as I call out my particular fears: “Wow, I’m really self aware to be this in touch with how absolutely terrified I am right now.” Or, “I can think so creatively considering that I’ve just thought up over 20 ways this meeting could go wrong or mapped out what the next 10 years of my life will look like based on one panel conversation.”

I remind myself that, as Bassett explains, I’m so freaked out because I can call on an incredible amount of brainpower—and I can channel that for good, too. I can use it to think on my feet or be particularly dynamic. (Ever been able to throw something together at the very last minute and have it be surprisingly impressive? Your heart was probably racing then, too—and you were brilliant.)

I like thinking this way because it’s a step beyond saying, “Feeling nervous is perfectly normal.” It’s saying, “Feeling like you could throw up, pee your pants, and give the worst interview of your life—all at once—means you’re poised to be a super achiever.”

So, when I’m feeling anxious during my job search, I don’t take at as a sign that my nerves are “getting the best of me.” I think it means that I know how exciting this opportunity is—and I’m prepared to call on a boatload of extra energy and creative thinking to back me up.

Note: If you think you have anxiety—more so than just before interviews—contact a mental health professional who can help.

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