Substitution: An Interview Performance Technique Borrowed From Acting

interview performance

Does this sound like your interview technique?
You practice and then invariably forget one of your key points during the interview;
Or you get a question and can’t think of what you had prepared.

How do you relax in these interviews so you perform at your best?

Several years ago when I had taken a break from my corporate career to focus on acting, I auditioned for a laxatives commercial. (For an actor, the audition is the job interview.) Thankfully, I’ve never had to use laxatives, but I needed to convey that laxatives were great. How did I do it? Whenever I needed to say the product name, I substituted my baby’s name in my mind, so I cracked a smile, my body relaxed, and I got a twinkle in
my eye at just the right moment. Behold the power of substitution.

Substitution is a useful technique for situations that might make you freeze and not do your best (e.g., a job interview). You substitute something that gives you the desired effect for the actual thing that makes you freeze. For example, one client was interviewing at a consulting firm. She was prepared but would completely fall apart at the start of the case interview. A case interview is a business problem the interviewee needs to solve. These cases are similar to research projects, with which this client was experienced after two years of graduate study. Therefore, I coached her to substitute a professor for the interviewer and a research topic for the case. She still needs to prepare for cases specifically (you can’t use substitution to fake it), but the substitution gets her relaxed enough so that the preparation she has done has a chance to show. If thinking of the interview as a class assignment doesn’t work, try thinking of the interviewer as a friend of a friend and that you are making conversation at a social gathering while waiting for your mutual friend to reappear.

If you are in an interview, or other important event which might get you rattled, remember substitution. You won’t forget where you are. You will still be able to harness the adrenaline and the energy of the moment. You will still need to prepare. However, you will have one technique to keep you grounded if you feel the need. At the very least, you’ll now know how to sell laxatives.

About the Author

Caroline Ceniza-Levine helps people find fulfilling jobs and careers, as the co-founder of SixFigureStart®, career coaching by former Fortune 500 recruiters.