The interview is one of the most nerve-wracking experiences we can face during our working lives. In some ways, nerves can be useful – they prime our bodies for giving our best performance and help us to stay alert - but they can also work against us, giving us undesirable reactions such as a wobbly voice or mental blocks.
It’s often said that it only takes a few seconds for an employer to form an impression of somebody. Coming across as confident in an interview can have a positive impact on how we’re viewed.
People who are confident are more likely to pick things up quickly, are less afraid about asking questions, and have the potential to use their initiative and make their own decisions. An employer is more likely to have confidence in offering us the job if we come across as self-assured.
This article looks at some of the strategies you can use for feeling and appearing confident in an interview.
It goes without saying that preparing ahead of an interview can reduce the chances of being caught out with the unexpected.
Taking some time to think about the questions we might get asked and how to respond can help us to feel more confident. However, some interviews are easier to prepare for than other.
Strengths-based interviews, for example, are designed to explore your strengths rather than your experience and can be harder to prepare for; competency-based interviews on the other hand can really benefit from preparation such as using the STAR technique.
Whatever the type of interview, you still need to research the organisation and fully understand what the job requirements are. Not only does this give you more confidence in your knowledge of the job role and company, but the employer will recognise that you care enough about the job to have researched it well.
You can also bring down anxiety levels on the day by thinking through the practical elements of getting to the interview, such as checking the interview location on a map, planning how you’ll get there and what time to set off. Leaving plenty of time will give you a moment to do some deep breathing and gather yourself before you go in.
There’s no doubt that preparation will make you feel more secure when it comes to the day of the interview, increasing your self-confidence and your chances of landing the job.
2. Dressing with confidence
Choose an interview outfit you feel confident with and in – what you wear makes a difference when it comes to forming those first impressions.
Post-pandemic, it’s more accepted that business attire has become a little less formal, but as a general rule, business or smart casual is appropriate for most interview settings. If you’re in doubt, use social media to gain an idea of the style of dress typically expected by the organisation - for example, if formal suits tend to be the norm. But it usually goes that taking time over your appearance and showing up smart suggests that you’re keen to make a good impression.
3. Remember to smile
A smile is the most universally understood non-verbal gesture; it creates positive feelings in the recipient and is a good confidence booster. Greet each interviewer individually with a smile along with eye contact and you’re off to a flying start. Chances are they’ll return the gesture and research shows that being smiled at can make you feel more confident.
4. Eye contact
There’s no golden rule, but try to maintain eye contact for a little longer when you are listening than when you’re talking. This doesn’t come naturally to everyone and if you struggle to make eye contact with others you may find that practice helps. You can research techniques for eye contact online.
5. The handshake
Not every interviewer will offer their hand when you meet them but you need to be prepared in case they do. The two key things to try and get right are firmness and eye contact:
- A firm grip (but not crushing!), as clichéd as it may sound, is another way of demonstrating confidence.
- Make eye contact at the same time, along with a smile, and first impressions will be positive. Again, if you struggle with eye contact there are ways to become more accomplished.
Like smiling and eye contact, your posture is a form of body language that can say a lot about how you’re feeling, so don’t let it betray your nervousness.
Think about the position you sit in when you’re really interested in what another person is saying – leaning slightly forwards helps to convey this.
If your shoulders are slumping or your arms or legs are crossed across your body you’re not suggesting that you’re a confident and open person, even if you might be in other circumstances.
Sometimes we fidget and we’re not even aware of it!
Fidgeting might include jigging your leg up and down, tapping your fingers, twizzling your hair or touching your face a lot. If you think this could be you, try to assume a position which makes this harder to do – placing your hands on your lap or gently clasping them in front of you, for example, or putting your feet firmly on the floor. This is something you can practice when you’re watching TV or sitting in a waiting room or at a bus stop – but first of all you need to be aware of it.
If you’re in doubt, try to mirror the body language of your interviewer. Even if they’re sitting behind a desk, chances are they will have an open stance as they’ll want to give across the same confident message that you do!
7. Verbal communication
If you sound like you’re rushing when giving your responses it can expose your nervousness. It’s absolutely fine to say that you’re just going to give the question some thought if it helps you to collect your thoughts for a moment.
This is where using the STAR technique can really help - if you can give your responses in a structured and focussed way, you’re less likely to forget an important point or ramble on. Interviewers can recognise structured responses as a sign that you’ve prepared and are therefore committed to securing the position.
Being aware of the tone and language the interviewers are using is another good indicator for how you should be talking to them. Like with the mirroring of body language, if you use a similar verbal style as the interviewer you can feel more confident that you’ve got the right tone.
Some interviews are more casual than formal so you may need to adjust your style depending on the situation and the format of your interview - in-person and online require different approaches.
If you feel like you haven’t answered a question well, smile and ask if they would like you to talk any further on the subject, it will help you to look more confident even if you’re cringing inside!
8. Practice confidence
It’s unrealistic to expect to feel super confident all of the time but you can learn how to create a sense of self-confidence for when it’s really needed; the key is to shift your thoughts towards positive feelings.
Reflect on your past achievements and your strengths; think about what you can do as opposed to what you think you should do.
Visualisation can be extremely powerful. Imagine yourself in the role you’re going for. Picture yourself looking confident and happy and believe that you’re suited to the position and can be successful.
Transfer that confidence to the physical as you leave the house – stand in front of the mirror, stand up straight, shoulders back, hands on hips if you like, smile and tell yourself “I can do this”. As daft as it might sound, it’s a really powerful way of boosting your self-confidence when it’s most needed.
Coming across as confident can really make a difference, regardless of how we might feel inside, and appearing confident certainly doesn’t mean that you’ll come across as arrogant. Use a combination of strategies and techniques in preparation and find ways to lower your stress levels the day before the interview. Deep breathing can work wonders before and during the interview and keep in mind that a smile and eye contact can go a long way.
Most people have pre-interview nerves but remember that just because you’re a little nervous - it doesn’t mean you won’t get the job!
Helen is an experienced information and careers professional working as a freelance writer and trainer. She writes about careers and the labour market for a wide range of audiences and organisations and aims to produce easily accessible, informative content that reflects the current jobs and careers landscape.