When I used to interview for jobs, I felt self-conscious about my accent. I was born in Santiago, Chile, earned a doctorate in the U.S. and worked for the Washington, D.C. government before launching my company. When I applied for government jobs, I feared that my accent would trigger what systems scientist Peter Senge calls mental models, the ingrained assumptions that invisibly steer our thoughts and behaviors. Unconsciously, I feared, interviewers would hear my accent and conjure stereotypes about Hispanic women.
Instinctively, we imagine why interviewers could reject us because we fear that outcome. Maybe you're self-conscious about a record of job hopping, a low GPA or a lack of experience, all of which could trigger a mental model. Such insecurities distract us from performing our best.
You can't delete your fears. However, you can prepare for your interview in a rigorous and holistic way that elevates your confidence. Let's upgrade how you prepare for in-person interviews.
1. Repeat: They're on my side
Whatever your fears may be, know that interviewers want you to succeed. The interview process is time-consuming and expensive, and the company needed you yesterday. Repeat when anxious: The interviewers are on my side.
2. Sound like a local, not a tourist
When you research an opportunity, dissect the job description and the company's web content. Then, incorporate this language into your answers. How do your experiences and abilities speak to the job description and its lingo? Your answers will be more persuasive if you sound like a "local" in the company, not a tourist in a strange land.
3. Why this job? = Do you care?
Every interviewer eventually asks, "Why do you want to work here?" Translation: Do you know enough about this company and care about what we're doing? Candidates who understand the company's history, values, mission, culture, products and recent news give the most compelling answers.
4. Scout the office
Before you show up for an interview, scout the physical environment. Drive the neighborhood or walk the corporate campus. How do people dress -- casually or formally? How do you get to the right reception desk? How long will it take to walk from your car or public transit? Calculate when you need to depart for the interview to be at least 30 minutes early, just in case.
5. Get intel on the interview room
Ask your contact about the interview setting. Is there a whiteboard? You might plan to diagram an idea from your latest research, or the interviewers might ask you to show your logic on the board. Maybe you'll have to present a marketing portfolio, do a coding exercise or show your Github. Know what computing resources are available and bring backup cables, a USB stick and cloud-based copies to cover every contingency.
6. Prep your body
Physically prepare to be alert and confident. I used to ask for interviews at 10 a.m. so that I could get in a morning run. The endorphins boost me up. Exercise, the right time of a day, a good night's sleep and a tested pre-interview meal make a difference. Many women feel more confident wearing high heels. Maybe a haircut or a new shirt tells your body to be poised and calm.
7. Build rapport
Find out who will be conducting the interview so that you can build rapport. Examine their web presence for commonalities. Do you share a hobby, alma mater, hometown, college major or favorite sports team? Those connections foster cultural affinity between you and the interviewers. By the way, the interviewers will research you too, so clean up your online portfolio and social profiles (preferably before you apply for jobs!).
8. Who are you on the worst days?
Interviewers assume you can do competent work on an ideal day (or they wouldn't have offered the interview). What about in the most stressful and difficult moments? Talk about times you messed up or confronted great challenges yet came out as winner. Companies don't want perfect employees -- they want resilient workers who fail fast, learn and adapt. Be the person a company needs in difficult moments.
9. Share facts, not boasts
Boasting repels interviewers, but you still have to sell yourself. Don't use empty adjectives. Terms like determined, hard-working, strategic, collaborative, organized, etc. say nothing without facts and anecdotes backing them up. Tell stories of what you have done and the measurable results. Let the facts speak for themselves.
10. Answer affirmatively
Inevitably, the interviewer will ask a question to which you don't have an immediate answer. Don't answer with "ummm," "uhhh" or "Let me think about that." It snowballs into more uncertainty and a defensive posture. Answer with "yes," "sure" or "of course" to reinforce your confidence. If you need to, ask a clarifying question to buy time.
Focus on them, not you
An interview is a conversation. If you make the exchange engaging for the interviewers, you win. If you're fixated on your accent or other fears, your focus turns inward and weakens the connection. A fear-stricken interviewee comes across as distant, like someone trying to talk and text simultaneously.
When you prepare the way I've described, you can tame fears with reasons to be confident. Ultimately, interviewers want to find a co-worker they'd enjoy working with for years. Bring that version of yourself to every interview.
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This article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com. Minor edits have been done by the Entrepreneur.com.ph editors