Do nerves get the better of you in interviews?
Does the thought of networking or giving a presentation fill you with dread?
These are essential elements of job search and selection processes but are things which many of us find terrifying at worst, or simply uncomfortable at best. Confidence – or at least being able to fake it ‘til you make it – will help you excel in these. In this post I share tips for improving your confidence, through the lens of behaviour expert and author Olivia Fox Cabane’s work on charisma.
As a Careers Consultant, confidence – or lack of it – is one of the things I most often see holding people back. Whether this be a general lack of self-confidence, or more specific issues around situations like interviews and presentations; how we feel, think about and talk to ourselves are, in my opinion, the biggest influences on confidence.
I recently (after having it on my reading list for way too long!) got around to reading Olivia Fox Cabane’s book; “The Charisma Myth: Master the Art of Personal Magnetism”. It occurred to me when reading this that a great deal of her work, and in particular her three “charismatic behaviours” (and advice on how to develop these) can be effectively applied to improve your confidence.
The charisma “myth” in Fox Cabane’s work is that charisma is something innate that we either have or we do not. She has dedicated her career to showing that it can in fact be learned, and now teaches and coaches charisma professionally. Again there are parallels here in terms of how we tend to view confidence, whereas I believe it is something we can learn and improve over time. Something else which really struck a chord with me in the book – based on my own experiences – is that
“people will tend to accept whatever you project” (p.19)
Fox Cabane’s Charismatic Behaviours
“Being present simply means having moment to moment awareness of what’s happening. It means paying attention to what’s going on rather than being caught up in your own thoughts” (p.14)
How often when you’re talking to someone are you fully in the moment and engaged in what they are saying? Probably very rarely and this tends to be exacerbated in situations when we are nervous or uncomfortable. We get distracted by our internal dialogue: “I must remember to do x, y , z”. “What do they think of me?”. “Am I coming across like an idiot?”. We tend to be so caught up in our own thoughts and self-doubt that we are not really present.
I remember (cringingly) an interview I had years ago. I got a small, probably invisible, muscle twitch in my eyelid part-way through. I became so caught up with internal panic that the interviewer would think I was winking at him, that I completely fluffed my response and the remainder of the interview. Needless to say, I didn’t get the job!
Practise being present
Being present is something you can start practising immediately. Get into the habit of switching off your internal dialogue, particularly your self-doubt or inner critic. Instead bring your focus back to the conversation or situation in hand. Fox Cabane provides 3 quick tips to do this. My two favourites – and ones I’ve already begun practising myself – are:
1). Wiggle your toes: As Fox Cabane says, this forces you to conduct a mental sweep of your body and brings your focus back to the present. This is also a great way to manage discomfort if you are feeling awkward.
2). Focus on your breath: just notice the sensation of it going in and out of your body. Taking deeper, slower breaths will also help settle any nerves.
“We look for clues to power in someone’s appearance, in others’ reaction to this person, and, most of all, in the person’s body language” (p.18)
Whilst not directly interchangeable, this one of Fox Cabane’s charismatic behaviours is most obviously linked to confidence. Because body language is such a fundamental part of this, I also think it is one of the easiest to project, even if you do not feel it. You can “fake it ’til you make it”.
I had a real light bulb moment about confidence – or the perception of it – when I was training to be a Careers Adviser. As part of my qualification I had a lot of observations and feedback; both of individual interactions, group work and teaching.
I had always hated public speaking: I avoided it wherever possible throughout university and in my previous career. It is pretty much unavoidable in the careers profession. I used to spend hours and hours preparing for any group sessions or presentations I had to deliver. I would have sleepless nights worrying about what could go wrong or that I would make a fool of myself. During the sessions I would constantly be battling nerves and feeling like an imposter; terrified I was about to reveal myself as an idiot who did not have a clue what I was talking about.
After one of my observed sessions, my observer had completed their own feedback and also got the students’ feedback and was relaying this to me. One of the things that both the observer and the students highlighted was how confident I was. I was gobsmacked, remembering what I’d been feeling throughout the session.
Unknowingly I had projected an air of confidence even though I was a nervous wreck inside. I had no idea this was even possible! On reflection – and with further feedback – I was able to identify what it had been about my delivery that gave the impression of confidence and focus on refining this in future presentations. And – similarly to what Fox Cabane identifies in her book – it really came down to my body language and delivery.
How to appear more confident:
- Stand/ sit up tall, shoulders back and head high: look like you want to be there, not like you’re willing the ground to swallow you up or are trying to hide.
- Plant both feet on the ground (whether standing or seated), slightly apart and avoid the urge to slouch onto one foot or the other. (Just be careful not to over-egg it in the way that members of the Conservative Party did with their ill-advised “Power Stance” last year).
- Keep your body language open: Avoid crossing your arms or legs or creating physical or psychological barriers between yourself and your audience.
- Voice: When nervous, we tend to speak more quickly and more quietly. When given the floor, pause for a couple of seconds before starting to speak, slow down your speech and try to project your voice. Finally, dropping your voice at the end of sentences, as opposed to the increasingly common upspeak, will convey greater confidence in what you are saying.
Presence without warmth will prevent you from connecting in a genuine way. Power – or confidence – without warmth becomes arrogance. To quote Fox Cabane;
“Warmth, simply put, is goodwill towards others” (p. 18)
When someone takes an interest in you, you are automatically more drawn to them. Being present and focusing on the other person, rather than yourself and your internal dialogue, enables you to project warmth and interest in the other person.
Smiling more is probably the easiest way you can project warmth and interest in others. In addition to conveying warmth and interest, smiling actually relaxes you and can help banish your nerves.
After another previous interview, despite being offered the job, I was strongly advised to smile more in future interviews. I happen to have a pretty severe RBF, and when I am nervous, this gets even worse. When I’m not smiling I can end up looking anything from bored, to disinterested to downright angry. As it happened in that particular interview, a member of the panel knew me (and knew this about me!). They told me afterwards that -despite the panel being in agreement that I was well qualified for the job – that they had had quite a hard job trying to convince the other panel members that I was actually interested in and excited about the job; largely down to the fact that I came across as bored and disinterested.
- You can apply the principles of Fox Cabane’s core “charismatic behaviours” of presence, power and warmth to improve your confidence – or others’ perception of your confidence (which is what really matters)
- All of these can be learned, improved and developed
- The more you practise these behaviours, the more natural they will become and the more confident you will feel
“Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you are right”
There is a lot of advice and further tips on interviews, presentations, assessment centres and networking on our website. We can also run mock interviews for you. Talk to us or make an appointment for further help.