It's not that Michael Gonzalez wants to forget his first job interview. After all, he did get the job, but he says the memory of his first encounter with his then-interviewer, now-boss, wasn't exactly for the faint of heart.
"I think my voice was on vibrato the entire time," says the 27-year-old resident of St. Petersburg, Florida. "And I kept staring at my hands because they were so sweaty. I remember taking notes on a yellow pad of paper and just watching the drops of sweat spread out on the paper."
Five years later, the marketing associate for a large insurance company says his boss still gives him grief about the interview. "She says I'm the example she gives when she interviews new college graduates to put them at ease," Gonzalez says. "Tell them not to be nervous because they couldn't be more nervous than I was, and she hired me anyway."
Unfortunately, not all nervous interviews end in job offers. It's more likely that a shaky voice, twitching eyes and a soaked-through shirt will earn job candidates a one-way trip home, banished from the potential job of their dreams thanks to unruly nerves.
Actions speak loud
Paul C. Green, author of "Get Hired! Winning Strategies to Ace the Interview" (SkilFast, $16.95), says that a nervous candidate can't help fidgeting during an interview, a sure sign to interviewers that he or she isn't showing the confidence needed to succeed at the job. "People play with their pens, rub their hands and tap their feet without even realizing what they're doing and that's a problem. Constant movement isn't the way to an employer's heart, that's for sure," Green says. "If you find yourself fidgeting, take a deep breath, place your hands on your legs for support and focus on sitting still."
For some job interviewees, the hands and feet are fine. It's the mouth that won't stop moving. "Most interviewers will see over-talking as self-indulgence, insecurity or an attempt to control the interview," Green writes in his book. "Be alert to the interviewer's subtle clues and respond to his or her specific need for information. If your answers are too long and too detailed, the interviewer may, at best, think you cannot distinguish the important from the trivial; at worst, label you a motor-mouth."
Don't dumb it down
Some job seekers show their apprehension by showing a different side of themselves. It could be their speaking style, their wardrobe choices or their inability to think on their feet. "I think the biggest problem with nervous job candidates is that they basically miss out on jobs because they never show who they really are," says Joan Hickman, a Tulsa, Oklahoma-based career coach who specializes in senior management positions. "Sometimes, the smartest person in the room may be brimming with great anecdotes and positive success stories but for some reason, when they're placed in an interview setting, they clam up. Those are the people who really lose the most. Most people who are nervous are nervous for a reason, and usually, that reason is that they're not quite up to the job they're interviewing for. It's the people that are above-and-beyond qualified that lose the most when they can't keep their nerves in check."
Worse yet, says Gonzalez, is when they give simplistic answers. "That's what I was doing," he says. "A lot of 'yes,' 'no,' 'not sure,'" he says. "Thankfully, the people I interviewed with pulled the answers out of me. They were like 'OK, well, tell us about that.'"
Hickman says most interviewers don't do much, if any, hand-holding. "You're on your own during most interviews," she says. "It's not your future manager's job to feed you answers to their questions. That's on you."
Strong shake, less quake
If you really want to telegraph your nervousness, offer up a weak handshake before and after the interview. If you have sweaty palms, wipe them off on the side of your pants or skirt and head in for a strong handshake. Be sure to look your interviewer directly in the eyes, offer one or two pumps and release your grip. "I've interviewed people who are literally looking over my shoulder, out the door," Hickman says. "Whenever I saw that, my feeling was 'fine, keep looking, 'cause that's where you're headed."
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