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The psychology of interview success

Cognitive behavioural therapist Steve Sheward reveals the top psychological techniques for
easing nerves and boosting confidence before attending that all important job interview

The job market is phenomenally competitive these days and if you're fortunate
enough to get an interview, that means one thing: pressure. If you've done all you
can in terms of practical preparation (bought the suit, researched the company,
rehearsed the tough questions) the next priority is to prepare mentally and you can
use cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) techniques to help you.

CBT is a widely recognised treatment used within both the NHS and private practice
to help people deal with psychological challenges. CBT has grown in popularity due
to its scientific evidence base and practical approach. You don't need a psychological
problem to benefit from CBT as you can apply its techniques to optimise your
mental strategy at interview.

One of the most important concepts in CBT is the notion that the way we view
situations determines the way we feel and act (for better or worse). If you consider
this in relation to your career opportunities, you will see that the way you think
about the interview (before and during) will affect the way you feel emotionally and
thus influence your behaviour.

As a starting point, it's useful to identify common unhelpful thinking styles as they
are a trap that unprepared interviewees frequently fall into. Consider whether you
are engaging in any of the following:

All or nothing thinking: Of course you want the job very much. But if you tell
yourself that you absolutely must get it, chances are you'll increase the pressure and
cause your anxiety level to rise even higher. Try to think flexibly and tell yourself
that it's not a life or death situation. Even if you don't get this job the experience will
help you to refine your interview technique and place you in a better position for
future opportunities.

Emotional reasoning: Although CBT posits that the way we think affects how we
feel, it's often a two-way process and our mood can influence our perception of the
situation and our resulting behaviour. It's natural to feel nervous on the day of the
interview because the outcome is very important. So it's helpful to acknowledge
'butterflies' as normal and then focus on the task in hand. Don't take this feeling of
nervousness as a 'danger signal' that the interview will go badly. Consider instead
the benefits of a little adrenaline to sharpen your performance.

Mind reading/unhelpful interpretations: Interview panels are daunting at

the best of times and the individuals involved can be inscrutable or, at worst,
slightly aggressive. Try not to take this personally. If you fixate on the interviewer's
facial expressions and body language, you may imagine that they are forming a
negative opinion of you and allow this thought to undermine your confidence. If
they look a bit grim, tell yourself that it's due to their formal interview style and
carry on regardless.

The ABC model is a simple diagnostic tool used within CBT. It will help you to
identify any thinking errors you might make before or during the interview. You may
wish to try this as a paper and pen exercise at first, but with practice you will become
adept at carrying out ABC formulations mentally.

A = Adversity (the challenge your personal goal). Try to identify which specific
aspects of the forthcoming interview are causing you concern. This will help you to
tackle each one head on rather than being overshadowed by a vague sense of unease
on the day.

B = Beliefs (thoughts or beliefs about the situation). Use the list of unhelpful
thinking styles above as a reference and define any other negative thoughts you may
have. Try to be as objective as possible challenging these thoughts on the basis of
their evidence, realism and usefulness. Once you have done this, develop a more
constructive thinking strategy that will boost your confidence at interview.

C = Consequences (how you feel and act). Notice the way you feel when engaging in
unhelpful thinking (increased anxiety). Do these thoughts and feelings undermine
your preparation for the interview (through lack of focus)?

Hopefully you will experience a reduction in anxiety after you have challenged your
unhelpful thinking and be able to focus your attention on constructive action in
preparing for the interview.

Steve Sheward is a cognitive behavioural therapist (CBT) and senior manager

within the career service of Prospects - an education, employment and training