Sweaty palms, racing heart, blood pumping through the veins. Only 60 minutes to prove yourself and wipe the competition to the floor. Winner takes all, no prizes for runners up. These days, interviews are a fraught process, brutally competitive and require nerves of steel.
Many of these emotions are also experienced by athletes before entering a big competition. Sports psychologists have been employed by world class athletes since the 1988 Olympics, to help them manage the intense pressure that comes with competing in world championships. In this article we will look at some of the mental exercises used by elite athletes to ensure they excel in their field and win that coveted gold medal.
Good Nervous Energy
Anxiety is a normal and healthy reaction to threats in our environment – the body gets into the primeval “fight or flight” mode, we experience a surge of adrenaline which typically results in shallow breathing and tensing of muscles. Competition on the sports field promotes similar psychological and physical responses as our ego and self esteem are threatened.
Nerves and adrenalin are an essential part of any competitive environment and when channeled positively help us perform at optimal levels. In order to facilitate this, let us look at the following four areas – self confidence, relaxation, preparation and concentration:
Performance is related to thoughts, expectations, and how we talk to ourselves. Self-talk includes all of the thoughts that we allow to run through our brains – both positive and negative. Research shows that negative thoughts lead to classic problems such as fear, extreme nervousness, intimidation, lack of belief and worrying about things out of our control. Athletes are trained to become aware of their self-talk – to replace negative with positive thoughts during their competition as rethinking past errors tends to cause repetition of these same mistakes.
Athletes are shown how self-talk can be used to get back on track after encountering an unexpected setback. If the athlete thinks negative thoughts about what just happened, they will experience anxiety, a change in breathing pattern, and a waste of energy. However, if they think positively and remind themselves of past success, they will recover quickly and become successful again.
Relaxation techniques are helpful for reducing the physical symptoms of anxiety such as an increased heart rate, tension and quick and shallow breathing. These techniques can be used at any time leading up to interviews, and may be particularly helpful when practiced the night before or in the hours preceding the meeting to help keep nerves at bay.
Exercise psychologists teach athletes how to manage stressful situations using deep breathing – combating the rapid, shallow and erratic breathing we naturally adopt in stressful situations. Meditation, yoga, pilates are all also very effective ways of relieving anxiety. The longer these techniques have been practiced, the more beneficial they become. If you suffer from extreme nerves – remember to breathe slowly throughout an interview and between questions take a few extra deep breaths.
“If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend six sharpening my axe” …………..Abraham Lincoln.
The more thorough the preparation; the better the performance. In an interview setting, most questions can be anticipated and should be prepared for. Job specifications should be analysed, you need to ensure that you match your skills to the job requirements outlined, company background must be researched………nothing should be left to chance.
The ability to deeply concentrate is an important skill in acquiring and perfecting athletic skills. Mental energy should be focused on factors the athlete can control, such as his own performance rather than that of any competitors.
In an interview setting this means, listening intently to the question and remain focused when answering it. If you feel your performance was poor in one question, you need to recover quickly, keep positive and mentally move on to the next question. Stay in the moment.
In the sports field, if an athlete is not mentally prepared, it does not matter how fit or tactically brilliant they are. The same principles apply in a business setting.
By using the techniques developed in sports psychology you can improve your self confidence, effectively manage your anxiety levels and most importantly deliver a winning performance in interview.
About the Author
Laura McGrath is the owner of Interview Techniques, a leading provider of interview coaching services. She has spent the last 20 years in staffing and recruitment and is a regular contributor with Irish Jobs, Recruit Ireland and the Sunday Business Post.
For a consultation contact Laura on 087 669 1192