Using Mental Rehearsal to Prepare for Interviews

You're hyperventilating in that itchy suit you almost forgot to pick up at the cleaners and can't recall a single fact about your employment history. The worst part is you haven't even set foot in the employer's lobby yet.

Sound familiar? Sometimes the prospect of a job interview inspires such feelings of anxiety and dread that we anticipate every conceivable aspect of the process going wrong as soon as we utter the words, "I'm looking forward to meeting you." Most of us have envisioned ourselves committing dozens of interview sins long before we attempt the process live.

Rather than allowing your imagination to work against you, think about employing a tactic sports psychologists have used for decades to ready athletes for competition. Mental rehearsal is a simple technique in which you visualize your desired performance in high-pressure situations. Research supports that mental rehearsal can effectively alleviate anxiety while increasing desired performance behaviors and outcomes.

Visualizing Success

Atlanta Braves' pitcher John Smoltz experienced a turnaround in his career when he learned to visualize his past successes on the mound. Jack Nicklaus, championship golfer, visualizes his ideal body posture and how he will execute the perfect putt. Likewise, mental rehearsal for interviews requires that you envision how the ideal interview will unfold. The more detailed our vision, the more effective your rehearsal will be. Find a quiet space where you're unlikely to be disturbed for 10-15 minutes and use these basic guidelines for practice:

  • Get into a comfortable position, either lying down or reclining. Take a few deep breaths, and as you exhale imagine all of the tension slowly leaving your body. Allow your mind to focus.
  • See yourself in the waiting room before your interview. Notice the color of the walls and the style of the furniture as well as the sounds you would normally hear in this environment.
  • Remember not to act as a passive observer-you are in your own body. Notice what you are wearing. Make sure you select clothing that makes you feel confident and comfortable.
  • Imagine the interviewer approaching you in the waiting room. You smile and extend your hand, thinking to yourself, "I am a terrific candidate for this job.
  • You walk into the room where you will be interviewed. This time, focus on the questions you will be asked. Imagine yourself answering the questions intelligently and confidently. If you're not sure what kinds of questions they might ask, check out the list in the Interviewing section (PDF) of our Career Readiness Workbook. As the interview comes to a close, tell yourself, "That went very well."

Consider some of the thoughts and feelings that emerged during the rehearsal process. Try to combat negative self-perceptions with upbeat self-talk, such as, "I have terrific communication skills," or, "I have a wonderful eye for design." Personalize your statements so that they make the encounter seem more realistic.

As you become more accustomed to the visualization, try adding scenarios that have been anxiety-provoking during past interviews (for example, being asked a question to which you don't have an answer) and practice thoughtful ways of responding to them.

Words of Caution

No amount of visualization will be effective if you haven't bothered to research the employer or if you neglected to set your alarm clock. Mental rehearsal is a supplementary tool intended to reduce anxiety and promote confidence; it isn't a panacea for interview preparation. Mental rehearsal has been proven to be more effective if you practice on a daily basis -- just don't let your practice run over 20 minutes. Research has shown that if the visualization lasts too long, the law of diminishing returns kicks in, and you are doing little more than practicing mental Feng Shui.

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