6 Ways to Make an Interview Less Painful

It’s that time again. Your alarm clock is set, resume is printed, and your transportation plans are mapped out.

Your interview outfit is freshly ironed and standing at attention on its hanger. If it had a face, its taunting glares and impish smile might threaten your sense of calm, as your inner critic chimes in with teasing laughter. Though you try to look away, the stiff collar of your dress shirt reminds you to “be professional. Be buttoned up. Be scared.” Because, come on, doesn’t everyone hate an interview?

What if you were able to stop that nonsense, right now?

Let’s make that interview a little less painful!

There are ways to put the power back into your hands. Here’s a few you can try:

1. You got in. Relish in the fact that you got behind the closed door.

Most company doors aren’t just open to the public on any random Tuesday. You get to be a fly on the wall for the day. Now that you’re there, take a look around. See what interesting things you discover.

Observe. Even if you aren’t selected for the job (or a better scenario, you decide you don’t want it) see what you learn from the actual, physical space.  

Take your best guess, for example, at how much they invested in the office furniture. Is it set up to beguile new recruits? What happens past the reception desk? Is it still delightful, or is the front area a well-designed facade to hide a fruit fly-infested madhouse with poor lighting?

Observe how employees interact with each other - do the walls echo with peals of laughter and camaraderie, or is the clock ticking in a most deafening way? Is there tension in the air, or a warm, welcoming presence?

2. Look at yourself as an investigator, NOT just the interviewee.

We’ve all heard the solid advice, “you are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you.” It’s a great recommendation, but remember it’s not a simple turning of the tables. Just as you don’t want your interviewer to interrogate you, avoid doing it to them too.

You’re investigating. This requires not just meaty, well-thought-out questions, but some great listening skills and powers of observation.

You win the game when you uncover the details that are important to you. While it may sound fun, the aim is not to fall upon juicy gossip or catch them in underhanded business practices.

So while you’re looking around at the office accoutrements and chatting with your interviewer, ask yourself:

  • Can I imagine having lunch with this person on a somewhat regular basis?

  • Could I make small talk in the elevator with them?

  • Who might I rehash the last episode of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel with here?

  • What is the level of company pride here and can I/do I want to match it?

  • What does my interviewer’s body language say about how they like their job, and working here in general?

  • Does this company have their ducks in a row or are they holding it all together with spit balls and paper clips?

Taking an inquisitive approach indicates to your interviewer that you care (bonus) and gives you a place to shift your nervous jitters. Adjusting your focus so you are mindful of not only making a good impression on your interviewer but learning what impresses you about the company can do your sense of confidence a world of good.  

Also, in the instance that you’re not selected, taking an investigative approach to your interview will give you perspective on why this role may not have been the best fit and how to better evaluate your next opportunity.

3. Prepare three important details that you’d like to uncover.

This gives your investigation focus. These details might be about the job itself, the company, or performance expectations. Remember, you are gathering the information you need to make a great decision about the opportunity.

If there’s anything unclear about the job listing, this is a good time to ask! Remember that the answer itself is important, but so is how they tell it- do they mince words, does their body language change or posture stiffen up?

When I interviewed recently at a company that was revamping a new customer program, one of my goals was to have a clear picture of the program logistics. There was not much information about the program online. As a consumer of the brand, I was interested in learning more. It was also curious to me why it hadn’t been rolled out to consumers in a bigger, more noticeable way.

When I asked for more details, none were very clear and my interviewer spoke in lots of “maybes”. This signaled to me that the program was put together in a haphazard way the first time around, and that there wasn’t much structure in its newer incarnation, either. It begged the question, “do I want to work in this type of ‘building as we go’ environment?” The answer for me was “no,” but you might feel differently! There’s no right or wrong, but when encountering this type of scenario, it’s important to evaluate what’s right for you.

4. What was the background of the person previously in this role?

Interesting question, right? Of course, if this is a newly-created role, it won’t apply, but in most cases, you learn a lot by uncovering details about the person previously at the helm.

What are you looking for when you ask this question? See if the answer sounds like you! If not, find out why- did the role evolve as the previous employee gave it new shape, molding it to her own strengths? Just the very fact that the organization was open to this type of evolution can be quite telling!

As you uncover how the role changed over time, ask what direction they see the role going if they hire you. What support will you have in reaching those goals? Next, ask yourself what else that tells you about their commitment to the role and ability to support your growth and coach you to do your best work.

5. What are their weaknesses?

It’s a dreaded question for the interviewee, but have this question in mind as you are investigating and evaluating. Try to come to it from a sensitive, helpful place rather than one where you are just trying to expose warts.

You are interested in this organization for a reason - while your goal shouldn’t be to see them at their worst, it’s important to not turn a blind eye to red flags.

Try asking, “where do you think there’s room for improvement on this team?” or “what’s one thing you think the organization's culture has room to improve on?”

Discovering their weaknesses can give you another bonus: it shows you your potential opportunities at the organization. When you discover weak areas, assess how you might be able to fill in and contribute your own talents- you may even find yourself creating a brand-new role for yourself!

Assessing with a “how can I help” mindset gives you insights into where you might move internally. It can also serve as an opportunity to offer an alternative to a permanent role at the organization- perhaps your skills would be better served in a freelance capacity or for a specific one-time project.

6. Ask yourself, “Am I excited about this company?”

Now with your insider’s perspective, assess how excited you get by this company. Ask yourself “would I use this company’s products or services?” Based on what you see and hear, determine whether it changes your stance. Imagine being an ambassador for this company- does it fill you with excitement...or dread? Your answer might change how much you anticipate hearing back from the hiring manager!

Armed with these six options for making your interview less painful, you can take your internal dialogue from “will they like me? Will I get hired?” to “what do I need from this company, and how can I do my best work here?” It’s an empowering approach, and might even make your interview a bit more fun!

I can’t wait to hear how you’re next interview goes.

Share in the comments below which of these six ideas worked best for you!

About the Author: Victoria Crispo
Drawing from her years of experience in career development, Victoria Crispo propels job seekers and career changers towards taking control of their searches with confidence and removing fear, uncertainty, and other blocks to success. In both the corporate and non-profit sectors, she has led in-person workshops and seminars, webinars, and conference programming. She previously served as a writer and content manager for Idealist Careers. Victoria is currently working on a series of career and personal development workshops- connect with her on LinkedIn and stay tuned for details!