The psychology of job interviews – challenge your negative thinking to build your confidence

When you receive an interview invite, how quickly does your anticipation and enthusiasm turn into anxiety and negativity? Do you expect to fail before the interview has even taken place?

Point in businessman's life where he has doubt on himself where he will be able to do it or not.

This can ultimately become a self-fulfilling prophecy, expect to fail and this is exactly what happens. How we think and feel about situations can determine how we behave and in terms of a job interview, how we perform – if you do not feel confident as you walk into the interview room this is likely to be reflected in your body language and demeanour. If you reframe your thinking however and adopt a more positive mental approach this could help you to feel more confident in a highly pressurised situation such as a job interview.

Cognitive behavioural therapy, which has become increasingly influential in counselling and psychotherapy, is essentially an approach where clients learn to adopt more reflective and less emotional thinking which may have a positive impact on behaviour. Prof Steve Peters in his book the ‘Chimp Paradox’ (1) suggests that mentally using the word could instead of should can significantly affect our emotions:

“The word should implies a standard or expectation. If you fail to reach that expectation then you have failed in your own world…should is typically associated with such feelings as failure, blame, guilt, threat and inadequacy…could does not evoke feelings of failure or set standards. Instead it is associated with feelings of opportunity, choice, possibility and hope”

In an interview context the regret and frustration of ‘l should have performed better in that interview and been offered that job’ can be more positively interpreted as ‘I have learnt from that interview, I could be successful next time.’

Female using scissors to remove the word can't to read I can do it concept for self belief, positive attitude and motivation

So what are these negative thoughts and feelings that many of us may experience before and during an interview and how might we re-frame them so that more objective and considered reflection helps us to perform better? Peters suggests that we do have a choice, we do not have to listen to that unhelpful voice in our heads and can counter it with alternative perspectives:

  1. ‘My last interview was terrible, I was really nervous’ could alternatively be viewed as ‘nerves are only to be expected, it is an indication of my enthusiasm, commitment and how much I want this job.’ Perhaps some breathing exercises, for example, will help you to relax but remember that a little adrenaline can help you to perform
  2.  ‘I don’t know why I have been shortlisted, I never perform well in interviews, there must be better qualified candidates than me’ could be re-framed as ‘I am being interviewed because I have the potential and attributes for this role, I would not have been shortlisted otherwise’
  3. ‘My last interview was a failure, this one will be too, could translate as ‘I have learnt so much from my previous interview experience and understand how important eye contact and enthusiasm are’. Peters recommends viewing what you originally perceived as a failure or a setback as a challenge, ‘an opportunity to develop yourself and your skills…see failure as a learning curve, accept the outcome and work with it’
  4. ‘The panel don’t like my answers, they look disinterested and I won’t get this job.’ How can you read a panel of interviewers you have only just met? It could be a very formal interviewing style, the panel could be nervous as well! Continue to make eye contact, smile and try to engage with a panel who initially at least, may not reciprocate.
  5. ‘I have to get this job’ can in reality be seen as just another job which may or may not be the ideal opportunity for you. There will be others and the experience from this interview will have helped you to succeed in forthcoming interviews. Why increase the stakes in an already pressurised situation?
  6. ‘I am never confident in interviews’. Recognise that you can only do your best and if you remember that ‘this is the best I can be’ you will be confident that you couldn’t have done anything more. Of course, preparation is the key to doing your best and in the words of Abraham Lincoln, ‘if you’ve got 8 hours to chop down a tree, spend 6 hours sharpening your axe’.
  7. ‘I have no relevant experience’ All experience is valuable and can be presented in a relevant way. A PhD graduate being interviewed for a non-academic job for example, can describe their experience of delivering a paper at a conference in a way that highlights their communication skills and ability to engage an audience rather than summarising the specific content and outcomes of their research.

How we think and feel about ourselves can determine the perception other people have of us and there is significant research demonstrating that employers make hiring decisions in a matter of minutes. If you can re-frame your thinking, just think how much more confident you will be when you meet the interview panel. Expect to do well and this will be reflected in your posture, eye contact and non-verbal communication – all factors that can contribute to a successful job interview.


(1) The chimp paradox: the mindmanagement programme for confidence, success and happiness Prof Steve Peters 2012

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