Not nailing the interview?
Maybe it’s not your experience. Maybe it’s your energy.
Have you ever left a meeting or an interview and wanted to kick yourself because you forgot to mention that one key point? Or ask that critical question?
It’s not because you are forgetful or scatterbrained or “stupid” (I imagine Chris Farley hitting his forehead saying “I’m such an idiot”). It might have nothing to do with memory function or intelligence.
Your brain is an incredibly complicated, intuitive, evolving instrument. In fact, it’s often working separate from your awareness and your direction. Almost like an AI Machine that learns from itself, but it’s inside your own head.
A team of neuroscientists from MIT has found that the human brain can process entire images that the eye sees for as little as 13 milliseconds. It can call upon the right brain for creativity & emotions and the left brain for logic and telling time.
All that said, it’s important to recognize that the #1 most important core instinct & priority of your brain is this: to stay alive at any cost.
So, while you might think that one key messaging point is the priority, if your brain senses there is a threat to its survival, that one key messaging point isn’t even on the brain’s priority list any longer (whether you like it or not).
Let me explain.
Just because we’ve evolved from our base lizard brain to include all this creativity and intelligence, that doesn’t mean our survival instinct isn’t in there, just waiting to be called upon. It is. It’s buried in the limbic system portion of our brain.
And because we’re not being chased by lions, our brains have had to create modern day “predators” to survive against.
We obsess over what we should have said or done differently in the past. We catastrophize the future in “what if” situations like, “what if I don’t get this job?”. When the lizard brain is triggered, that “what if” immediately translates to worst case scenario (i.e.” I will be homeless.”). And it begins to fight against that threat.
This brings me to the first example of when energy, not experience, can sabotage an interview.
When our fight flight freeze instinct is triggered (especially about events in the future), anxiety ramps up. The fear that you will not survive goes into overdrive, and our adrenal glands dump a ton of adrenaline and cortisol, readying the nervous system for the fight of its life. Your heart beats faster, your palms sweat, your body tenses for attack. And while your vision gets more acute (pupils dilate, more light comes in), it also narrows. To be focused only on one thing: surviving the perceived threat in front of you.
The limbic system (lizard brain) is wired to only use what your brain and body need to stay alive. As a result, the rest of your brain receives a signal to go offline.
So, in that moment, you lose access to what makes you brilliant – creativity, language, systems, math, even irrelevant memories!
And in real life job interviews, that means your answers allude you and you don’t shine the way you should.
Some people settle down once the interview gets going; you’ve processed that it isn’t actually a life or death situation, and the brain understands (as the heart rate slows), it can bring the prefrontal cortex back online. But if you have excessive anxiety (possibly from early trauma or core wounds being activated), it can feel nearly impossible to make that shift back to our natural, calm, easy going energy.
To be your best, most evolved self (vs just surviving!), the excess energy (anxiety!) needs somewhere to go. With your right brain and left brain, you have the power to decide what to do with it.
Be proactive about this. BEFORE THE INTERVIEW! The morning of the interview, physically moving can shift your energy in a big way (cardio exercise is my #1 favorite method, especially trail running). You get those dopamine bursts and oh the glorious endorphins!!! Runner’s high might be the best drug in the world. Just sayin’.
Meditation also helps you to harness nervous energy. It’s more difficult for me I’m a “do-er”, not a “be-er”. Meditation means sitting with the discomfort instead of out running it.
But if you meditate for long enough, with your focus squarely on your breath, that nervous energy naturally becomes something else. Those breaths are a signal to your brain, and your sympathetic nervous system, that you are safe. And you can then bring the pre-frontal cortex back online. And access your emotional intelligence more readily. And kick ass in that interview.
And for god sakes, take some breaths between questions and answers DURING THE INTERVIEW. As mentioned, it’s how to remind brain that you are safe, AND here’s an extra unexpected bonus: the other person receives your more peaceful energy as a result. And even if they don’t consciously know why, they feel good around YOU. Which leads them to imagine it would feel good being around you on regular basis. Like, say, as a co-worker when you start the new job. And (YES MORE!), you’ve given them the space to really listen to you!
PS: I also would recommend Tai Chi for folks who need more movement than traditional meditation affords.
Beside shifting your energy, you can also shift your perspective. This can be hugely helpful.
Reframe nervous as “Excited”.
If we do this, right out of the gate, we’re coming from a position of weakness which only further triggers our lizard brain’s instinct to fight, flight or freeze IMMEDIATELY. (further narrowing focus).
And besides you feeling it as a disadvantage, believe me, the other person can feel that energetic exchange of power, and it isn’t healthy for either person.
For some perspective… try to remember: this hiring manager is just a person who knows some things, and you are also a person who knows some things. They have a need, and you have a potential solution. Period. End of story.
Now go show them how fucking awesome you are and all the value you’ll bring.
Which leads me to the next “negative” energy some folks bring to interviews.
Experience can lull us into a false sense of self. Confidence can morph into entitlement. And that is EXACTLY what hiring managers DON’T need right now. Confidence yes. Entitlement no.
You can showcase your depth and breadth of experience by asking thoughtful questions about their business and relating it back to how you might help them.
I once had a client tell me when they got a call back for a second interview, the perspective employer told them, “Full disclosure, everyone who has come in to discuss the position has been super type A and super arrogant, presenting as if they know everything. it really impressed me when you said you ‘knew a lot about sales, but would look forward to learning more from me [about my area of expertise]”. Because this client was comfortable with her specific areas of expertise, when interviewing, she could comfortably call out areas she’d like more growth in. That‘s being human. At its best. And it’s what got her the 2nd interview.
Even body language conveys energy. And it can set you up to succeed or fail.
Mirror their body language, but with a tick less energy (i.e. if they are leaning in, you lean in slightly also). And always work to keep your posture open and welcoming (vs. crossed arms on chest).
Let them feel like they are gently guiding you and the conversation, even if you’re the puppet master behind the scenes.
That brings me to another energy that can hijack a job opportunity:
Like nervous energy, insecure energy makes everyone in the room feel uneasy. It’s contagious. It also can be confusing. They don’t get a clear sense of who you are. They may wonder about your capabilities (regardless of experience). Are you capable enough to do this job, if you aren’t capable enough of handling an interview?
Body language that signals insecurity includes: hunching or crouching or putting your hand on your neck. Literally defending yourself from attack.
Smile. Make good strong eye contact.
If you’re feeling nervous or worse – insecure – about the meeting, I have two recommendations:
- Prep like crazy including on your own experience & research about the company. Enlist support from your friends to help with prep. Use a coach and have them lob questions at you.
- And then go into the bathroom right before the interview and stand like Rocky. Hands over your head posture, is universally described as “pride”. Think about how many athletes do this after they score or win? It’s often unconscious. I won’t bore you with all the research as to why this might help. I’ll just say — you’ll feel more confident and capable walking into that interview. And the effects can last all day. I dare you to try it.
Grasping (aka Desperate) Energy
If your motivation is 100% about getting the job (“I need this job!!!”), the hiring manager will pick up on that desperate energy.
Think about what excites you about the actual work (beyond being able to pay the bills!) and bring that passion to the conversation.
Or can you shift your motivation to be geared around how you can be of service in the role? How you’d contribute?
Think about the “needy” friend who calls all the time and is constantly complaining that you two never hang out anymore. Get a life, you think! You start to avoid her calls, and feel an uncomfortable layer of pressure every time she texts you. YUCK.
Because even if they can’t articulate why in the moment, that hiring manager’s brain is processing how it feels. It’s noting the other person’s unnatural energy. As one person grasps, the other person naturally resists.
It’s the flow of energy.
Use it to work for you – not against you.