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I tend to get stressed during job interviews. Nothing out of normal I guess, but I've received feedback from interviewers that I seemed quite reserved and they didn't like it. It was a justification of why they didn't want to hire me.

The field I apply for is full of very self-confident, even arrogant, and extroverted people, who can sell themselves very well.

I do smile, try to speak with confidence and keep the eye contact. But of course I don't feel as relaxed and self-confident as during e.g. social occasions, so I don't "crack jokes", although I always try to do some smalltalk ("So I've been told the company restaurant is very good", "How long have you been with the company?", etc.).

Job interviews in my field frequently include tests and brainteasers, where you need to focus, which is another reason why I find it difficult to relax - I find it difficult to be totally relaxed and solve maths puzzles at the same time.

How can I change it? How can I come across as less reserved and more relaxed in job interviews?


It's not an intrapersonal problem. I'm not asking how to get more relaxed or less reserved. I'm asking how to make an impression of being so in a very specific context of a job interview.


Unfortunately, I can't add comments, so let me answer them here. I'm not a very reserved person generally. I'm definitely self-confident and in some situations even chatty, although I'm not as extroverted as many people in the industry. In group discussions I'm normally the most active or one of the most active participants.

I could mention here that working in another company in the same industry before I did know a lot of more introverted managers and senior managers. Some of them were extremely introverted even to me. It's just that now, during job interviews I tend to meet people to expect me to dance and joke around a second after meeting them.

When going to job interviews I need to mind what I'm saying and the culture of interviewing is quite confrontational in my country. You get negative feedback expressed very directly. You also need to take many tests. I find it difficult to be chatty and smily and "bubbly" under these conditions. I always tell myself upfront that I should behave like that, but then I come in and even the interviewers themselves mostly aren't like this. They are negative. They use stress interview techniques. I manage to remain calm but these aren't conditions that make me relaxed and chatty. I've received the negative feedback already twice or trice, so I would like to change it. (To be accurate, I also received the opposite feedback - that I would be a good culture fit and passed "the airport test" with flying colors" twice or twice, but it's the negative feedback that sticks. It was always expressed very negatively like "I can't imagine you ever working in our industry").

After some thinking I suppose it might also have to do with my hitherto experiences as an employee. I've already had two jobs where I was super enthusiastic and engaged at the beginning but where I was criticised, punished and at one of them mobbed for my professional input, being proactive and sharing thoughts. This made me feel quite uncertain in work-related situations, which can result in my appearing reserved.

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    Hi european333, and welcome to IPS. Unfortunately, this sounds like an intrapersonal problem, and not an IPS. Working on yourself with the help of professional or internet ressources might be a good start. But as it stands, I'm voting to close this question as off-topic. – OldPadawan Jun 23 '18 at 7:09
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    @OldPadawan I unfortunately see this “vote to close” way too often, and I think it shouldn’t be used so often. The OP came here looking for an answer or some help; telling him/her to look for an internet resource is not helpful when he is using one of the best internet resources! While I understand that this is not the usual case for interpersonal skills, I believe this is a big part or heavy effector of interpersonal skills. Instead of leaving the OP at square one, we should at least point him/her in the right direction. – Sean Jun 23 '18 at 11:28
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    'A reserved person' is usually used to refer to someone that doesn't share feelings, thoughts or emotions. Did you get any further feedback than just 'too reserved', or can you add a more specific example of topics that come up in an interview where you exhibit these behaviors? (maybe there's certain questions?). How does the cracking jokes and smalltalk fit in with being too reserved, did you get feedback on that as well? Are you really supposed to be totally relaxed when making these puzzles, are these people being bothered by you not being relaxed as well? – Tinkeringbell Jun 23 '18 at 12:29
  • @Sean : to me, you can't pretend that (or look like) you are "more relaxed" and "less reserved" as these attitudes come from the inside. If you want to show something that isn't, it's not call Interpersonal Skill, it's called makeup :) – OldPadawan Jun 24 '18 at 10:42
  • You need to specify the industry and role you are trying to fulfil. I say this because a management role, or technical role, or customer facing, or senior management handling role are all very different and the interpersonal aspects vary a lot. In some job interviews power plays are needed to awe the interviewer, or showing submission to the boss etc. which are very different approaches. So you need to give more information – PeterJens Jun 24 '18 at 16:12
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I too struggle with this during job interviews.

I'm quite introverted (9th percentile for introversion). But I also wouldn't exactly call myself shy. If anything, I would say that I am definitely more reserved than most, in that I don't like sharing personal details about my life to anyone, even close friends. This can be quite a barrier in some instances, particularly job interviews, as when asked about my personal life, I can get quite nervous and unsure how to answer (I work in IT though so usually this isn't a huge sticking point for most hiring managers).

For example, I interviewed for the job I currently hold about 5-6 months ago. I was very aware of these shortcomings of mine and as such, prepared some responses to questions I knew they were going to ask. Because I knew more or less what they were going to ask, I didn't have to divulge any information I wasn't comfortable with, and remained relaxed and focused throughout the interview.

When it comes to appearing more confident, this is more of a skill that needs to be practiced. I think it should be fairly common knowledge what "confidence" looks like. Eye contact, firm handshake, sit up straight, no mumbling, speak from the chest and not from the head.

Also, when speaking, don't use uhms, ahs, uh's, errm's etc... Just leave a pause there. The pause makes you seem relaxed and contemplative, while the uhm's and ah's make you seem nervous and unsure. Don't be afraid to take a moment to collect your thoughts before answering a question. This cuts down on the need for pauses and/or the aforementioned uhm's and ah's.

Another thing to note, the Interviewing Manager sets the tone for the interview. If the interviewer is stern and serious, you should appear focused and to-the-point. Make them feel as if you know that their time is important and you don't want to waste their time with unrelated chatter. People like people who are like them, so by matching their tone, you make them more comfortable with you as well.

Alternatively, if the interviewer is chatty and enthusiastic, match that with your own enthusiasm. Crack a joke or two, smile a lot, and ask questions about the company that display that you would be an enjoyable person to work with. The point is, read the interviewers demeanor and match it.

The way I like to imagine it is like, I'm a Customer Service Rep, and the interviewer is the customer. It's my job to make them feel as comfortable with me as possible so that they want to buy my product (in this case the product is my labour).

Though, this answer applies mostly to North America. However, I can't imagine things being much different in Europe.

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Two things stand out. Firstly you are convinced that you are an introvert and you are too reserved at interviews, and secondly you feel that you are stressed during the interview.

Both of these feelings may not be real - you can look into yourself and try to discover the reasons why and what to do about it.

You could make up for any lack of confidence by really trying hard to discover what your prospective employers are all about - knowing them will make the interviewers more comfortable with you, and you would have useful facts to fall back on if you get stuck.

Also in fact being reserved or stressed is not an unique feeling. You could have a pre thought out structure for these feelings - like a nice story about yourself and how you interact with others now or in the past.

Also what about the job? Are you sure that you have covered the requirements fully and are prepared to show them that you are up to them.

The main comment is that you have got to try to see interviewers as people and not antagonists. Just be very calm, do not get drawn by criticism - just answer these by saying that their remarks are interesting and of note to you. Smile when you feel nervous and do not worry about being attacked - the process will soon be over one way or the other - and you have as much chance as anyone else of success - especially if you are mindful of your perceived shortcomings and are compensating for them. You may also ask your interviewers to explain who they are looking for in the person - then answer them positively.

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I work in the software industry, where interviews almost always include "Here is a coding / algorithms problem, now solve it in front of me."

At an interview a couple years ago, I was in a waiting area calming my nerves and thinking I was doing a good job of seeming chill - then the interviewer arrived and told me not to be so tense and relax!

This year, I interviewed at a company notorious for difficult interviews, was again quite nervous beforehand - but no comments this time, felt like I got along well with the interviewers, and got the job! So I've been there, and I like to think I've learned a few things.

I'll skip the usual "study and practice" tips as that's not an interpersonal skill ;) (But don't skip it IRL - it's easier to act cool and confident when you really are!)

The interpersonal things I improved included...

Body language

This is a big one! When people are relaxed and comfortable, they tend to use more sweeping, expressive motions which are "loose" rather than "tight".

Before, I had been keeping my arms close to my body, using controlled motions only when necessary. When writing a problem, I would stand in one spot next to my work, mostly looking at my work and trying not to show if I was confused or unsure. I kept my hands together and fidgeted when not using them.

Now, I am more comfortable with wider motions and don't immediately return my arms to my sides after reaching to write something. When working on a problem, I took a stance or leaned on a chair, and made a puzzled face when I was puzzled. I took steps back from the board and used more space. I kept my arms loose at my sides or rested on the furniture.

If you practice with a friend, ask for feedback and/or consider recording yourself and playing it back so you can observe areas for improvement. This would also help identify if you're talking too fast or mumbling, another giveaway of nervousness. Eye contact is very important as well, as you mentioned.

Mirroring

Try to pick up on social cues from the interviewer and reflect their gestures and energy level. Although some question the effectiveness, I find that the interviewer's gestures and attitude do give a good guideline for the sort of behavior that they would consider a "good fit" (and as a naturally reserved person I'm not really at risk of taking it too far).

Don't match them motion for motion, but observe things like how they are sitting in their chair, or the type of vocabulary they use, and adjust your behavior to a similar level.

Treating the interviewing relationship as if they were a collaborator, rather than a teacher or an adversary

When I first started looking for jobs, I always did much better when practicing with a friend than the real interview. There's several obvious reasons for this, but I noticed that because I felt comfortable with the friend, I would

  • brainstorm out loud
  • ask more questions
  • display a little personality, via both body language/facial expressions and chatting

Doing that in the real interviews made the atmosphere feel more friendly and open. Remember part of the interview is to decide if you can see yourself working with them, not just the other way around.

If the interviewer acts hostile or gives you negative feedback, don't let it get to you. Smile and accept, reframe it as them being helpful in identifying an issue, and respond accordingly.

Faking extroversion

I am very much an introvert and struggle with social anxiety on top of that. Interviews are very stressful and draining! However, with practice I can put on a convincing show for a few hours. Besides the things mentioned above:

  • Share interview-appropriate stories. These don't have to be very personal, just something that you can show interest in and carry on a short conversation about. You can prepare these beforehand so it sounds natural (taking cues from the great orator, Winston Churchill). Even something as bland as "Wow, traffic this morning was horrendous" - "I know, right?!" helps to break the ice and build a rapport.

  • Don't let the interviewer monologue while you sit taking notes and nodding. If you can relate something the interviewer mentions to something in your experience, share it! At the least, make sure you look engaged: eye contact, listening noises ("ah", "mhm!"), leaning slightly towards them, etc.

Good luck!

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Whenever you encounter a question that you don't mind answering, misunderstand it as a compliment and change the meaning of it. I want to illustrate this in a situation where we suppose you're a computer programmer and you're interviewing to get a Full-Time job in Microsoft :

Hello Mr X! We're pleased to have you here. Would you mind working with a group of novice programmers?

Your answer may be:

Novice ones? Novice ones on asking stupid questions occasionally on different situations?

It baffles interviewer and he/she will be trying to get the meaning of it. Whenever possible, try to avoid questions (as the following one) by changing the subject:

Have you ever been in a relevant interview before?

You've got to answer this in a smart way, but try not to be so impressed with your answers on this:

Yes, I've been and many of those interviews were interested to get my attention as they've tried and failed with their smart and funny questions.

Try to keep in a track and go on.

You can also be in a role of mirror. Try to mirror the interviewer with all of your possible ability as much as you can do. All of us when we were younger as kids, we were trying to build rapport with other kids around us, we were happy to get their full attentions and play with them.

You may have them in their fully smile faces or crying ones. It is all on you and your creativity of creating fun.

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