For many of us who have suitless pursuits on the side, we still have our regular day jobs, and inevitably, we’re going to go on interviews.

I’ve been working since I was legal enough to work in Japan, so I’ve had my fair share of interviews in the last 12 years. I’ve interviewed for positions at summer camps, Starbucks, a translation company, public relations agencies, TV stations, a university, and more.

So I’ve learned (and experienced) a thing or two about interviews and how to be myself. I also have a ‘career coach’ at my current workplace, who is wonderful, so I owe a few of these tips to her.

Read on for my best five tips:

Nervous before going in? Breathe - but not normally.

Growing up, I was a theatre kid. So backstage, my friends and I experimented with ways to calm ourselves, and this one worked the best: take a deep breath through your nose, and hold your breath for as long as you can, and then exhale quietly out your mouth. I read somewhere that by holding your breath in, it actually stabilizes your heart rate. I don’t know if that’s scientifically true, but hey, it works for me. Just don’t do it so obvious that it sounds like you’re doing yoga moves!

Introduce yourself when the interview begins

The first question the interview committee usually asks is, “Please tell us about yourself and why you’re interested in this position”. Rather than jumping right into “Well, I currently work at xyz” or “I just graduated from U of XYZ,” I usually start with “Absolutely. My name is Reina Shishikura and I…” You’ll be able to set your own tone for your answer this way because saying your own name is one thing that you’re (hopefully) going to be confident about.

Bring a conference folder with you

This is good for a number of reasons:

  1. Keep copies of your resume and cover letter in your folder
    Sometimes, interview committees will bring in someone last minute and they might not have extra copies of your application for that person. You can then give them your copies, and boom - you’ve instantly got points for “preparation."
  2. Take notes
    As you listen to the interview questions, jot down keywords. Don’t take notes like you do in class or anything; just casually, as you nod and make eye contact, jot down a few keywords so that you can glance back at them when you’re answering. This works well for those three-part questions where you forget the first part as soon as you hear the last part! Some organizations don’t allow for this, so ask politely when you sit down.
  3. Have your own questions written down
    I’ll get more into your own questions later, but have a couple written down on the notepad side of the folder. It’ll be obvious that you’ve really thought about your questions, and you won’t panic when it’s your turn!
  4. It looks professional
    That's all - looks matter, and while you should be prepared to do the talking, a conference folder (and being dressed for an interview) says that you're serious.

Prepare good questions

I’ve heard from friends in HR that nothing is as cringe-worthy (for them) as someone who says “no, I don’t have any questions! Thank you for your time!”. Do research the organization, read their mission statement, and stay on top of their latest achievements.

My favourite questions to ask, aside from the more technical ones, are:

  1. Do you have any concerns with my application or experience?
    Yup, it’s a ballsy one. But a friend recently told me that she asks this in her interviews, and it works. It shows that you’re confident yet prepared to hear any doubts they already have about you or your experience, and perhaps you can clarify for them.
  2. What most excites you about your position or the organization?
    I love this question, because it’s a bit personal but still relevant, and you get to hear their (usually) positive, happy answers!
  3. What is the team dynamic like?
    Remember, the interview is for you and for them. I once asked this question and they told me that their team is a total foodie, and that they try new restaurants together all the time. We then had a great discussion about food and we ended the interview on a great note. (And I got the job.)

Think of it as a conversation, not an interview

A wise friend once told me: "An interview is just a conversation where you get to talk about yourself and they're so interested in you. Isn't that awesome!?" I mean, OK, obviously it’s an interview. But try to think of it as having a professional conversation. It’s way less intimidating than thinking that it’s going to be “you VS three people!!!!!”. By thinking that it’s a conversation, you’ll remember to talk slower, make eye contact, smile, and appear relaxed. It’s no place for your “um”s and “like”s and uptalks, but it’ll put you at ease!

So there you have it - 5 tips on being a better "you" in your next interview! Do you have any tips or horror stories? Tell us in the comments!

*Disclaimer: I don’t work in HR, so these aren’t “industry standards”, but rather, what has worked for me and to friends that I’ve shared these with.

Image credits:

Breathe image from here

UP gif from here

Conference folder image from here

Question image from here

Parks and Rec image from here

Vince Vaughan image from here

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