It starts with the feeling of pins and needles in my fingertips. Then a sinking feeling in my stomach that quickly rockets up to my head and transforms into anger. I’m upset. And whatever comes out of my mouth next is guaranteed to do two things:
- Alienate the person I’m speaking to.
- Take me out of the running for the opportunity on the table.
Now let me say straight off that you may have every justification in the world to feel triggered during a job interview. Sometimes an interviewer can be rude or dismissive or outright refuse to engage with you. They might just deliver a script of corporate B.S. without seeming to listen to anything you have to say. But from the perspective of advancing your interests (which is always more important than venting your emotions), here are some ways to keep your composure.
How to Keep Your Emotions in Check During a Job Interview
1. Set the right expectations before entering the room.
What’s the goal during a job interview? To prove you’re the best candidate? To win out over the competition and receive an offer? Anytime you see verbiage like “prove” and “win,” it all boils down to feeding someone’s ego. And if you bring your ego into the equation, you’re more vulnerable to taking things personally and lashing out.
Ask yourself the following:
- Who am I in service to? For me, that’s my three young boys and wife. I see everything I do through the lens of serving them. My actions today will affect the quality of life they have and which opportunities they encounter. Think about who you work in service to and how your career impacts them.
- What’s my mission? Forget about skills and background and all of the second-rate requirements that are included in a job posting. What can you leverage that’s not yet on the industry’s radar? What makes you feel fulfilled? Put another way, what can you talk about with enthusiasm and depth for an hour or more? That’s your mission.
- What have I already overcome? Did you lose your job in the wake of the 2008 financial meltdown? Experience earth-shattering burnout and fatigue? Just moving past these experiences makes you a survivor. This job interview has no bearing on what you’ve already achieved that brought you to this moment.
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2. Assume positive intent.
When I feel angry and self-righteous, it’s easy to paint other people as villains. But that’s rarely the case! Take a beat to realize this person has an objective—serving the needs of their professional role. That’s it. Maybe they don’t know any better, and that’s what makes them seem rude or stand-offish. Maybe it’s just a judgement error on their part or a miscommunication.
So what? Haven’t we all made mistakes? Assume the interviewer has positive intentions and give them the benefit of the doubt. You’re well within your rights to refuse a job offer if the company culture doesn’t align with your values—but you don’t want to limit your options prematurely. Use this job interview to learn more about the company so you can make an informed decision about your employment later on.
3. If all else fails, stick the landing.
Let’s assume steps one and two failed and you’re in the middle of a heated exchange. Mitigate the fallout by pivoting the conversation. Make a joke about getting a little heated. Ask if they can understand where you’re coming from. Admit that you don’t have all the answers and can appreciate a different perspective, even if you don’t agree.
After you’ve shifted the tone, focus on establishing a human connection. If you’re diplomatic and respectful for the duration of the job interview, even during conflict, other people are likely to reflect positively on the experience.
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