After you have a few interviews under your belt, you typically know how to go into one feeling confident. You already know what to wear, what time to show up, what to bring, and what to research in advance to be prepared.
But it’s harder to leave the interview feeling really good. No matter how well you answer tough questions or connect with the hiring manager, most of us can’t help but feel a little nervous or shaken after an interview.
The good news is: You’re not doomed to feel this way every time. Here are a few smart ways to improve not just how you interview—but how you’ll feel about it after the fact.
1. Ask for What You Need
I have a good friend whose job it is to ask the crazy tough questions—you know, the “How many golf balls fit into a limousine?” types. He typically leads with one about the angle produced by the hour and minute hand of a clock at a given time.
And he can almost immediately separate those who will get it right from the rest of the pack: It’s the candidates who request a pen and paper who nail it, because they’re able to better visualize the clock when they draw it out.
Whether you’d like a pen and paper or a glass of water, don’t be shy. By asking for what you need, you increase your chances of succeeding—and the likelihood of feeling successful when you leave. (Caveat: Do not ask for a pen and paper simply for the purpose of taking notes—that’s a signal that you came unprepared.)
2. Treat Every Staff Member Equally
Imagine you’re invited to interview with a senior executive, a mid-level manager, and a junior member of a team. What’s one of the biggest mistakes you could make? Focusing your eye contact and answers only on the senior member, particularly in response to questions he or she didn’t even ask.
Instead, make it a point to connect with every single person you meet—from the receptionist who greets you to every employee you talk to in both group and solo meetings. If you really act like you’re a member of the team, you’ll feel more like one after the interview.
3. Have a “Think for a Moment” Phrase
Questions that catch you by surprise can definitely throw you off your game. I remember being asked once, “What are three words your friends would use to describe you?”—and two of my three were “nerdy and funny.” I seriously kicked myself for that answer later (Hello, Sara, what about thorough or honest?).
So, what should you do if you get one of these questions, and you don’t want a minute of dead air? Come up with a go-to phrase to stall, which gives you extra time to gather your thoughts. Two strategies that work well are repeating the question thoughtfully before answering or saying (slowly), “Now, that is a great question. I think I would have to say… ” When you give yourself a few moments to come up with your best answer, you'll feel great about how you performed.
4. Only Use Words You Know
When you’re at an interview, you want to put your best foot forward. So, of course, you’ll want to use polycentric—oops, I meant polysyllabic!—words.
Get my drift? Utilizing an intelligent vocabulary is worthwhile—but don’t use words you don’t normally say in conversation (or don’t fully know the meaning of). Not only do you not want to come off as an awkward conversationalist (who answers “How are you?” with “Flourishing!”), but you don’t want to spend the whole way home wondering if you said rectify or rectory (and which one means amend). Be true to the way you speak whenever you’re in a professional setting, and you’ll leave feeling confident.
5. Take Notes
Taking notes about the questions you’ve been asked is your best friend in an interview. Why? Because, on the off chance there’s something you left feeling shaky about, you can revisit the issue in your thank you note.
How does this work? Write what you’d typically write in the first and last paragraphs of your note (i.e., the “thank you for taking the time” parts), but weave in a middle paragraph that addresses any unfinished business.
In my case, this might have read: “I realize I didn’t fully elaborate when I said my friends say I’m ‘nerdy and funny.’ I was actually speaking to my love of learning new things and my ability to put others at ease when communicating with them—both of which I think would be great assets to the position.” Not surprisingly, being able to clarify any concerns will make you feel better.
Interviewing is a skill like any other. Getting good takes practice—and feeling good about it takes even more. But keep pushing yourself to add new skills to your interview toolbox, and you’ll get to a point where the majority of the time, you’ll feel like you rocked it.
Sara McCord is a freelance writer and editor, who most frequently covers the career beat. For nearly three years, she was an editor at The Muse, and she's regularly contributed career advice to Mashable. Her advice has been published across the web (Forbes, Newsweek, Fast Company,TIME, Inc., Business Insider, CNBC and more). Sara has experience managing programs; recruiting, interviewing, and referring job applicants; building strategic partnerships; advising executive directors; and supporting a national network of volunteers. Learn more and send her a note through her website, or follow her on Twitter @sarajmccord.More from this Author