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In Job Interview Prep, Positivity Pays Off

How to be mentally prepared for your interview

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Prepare and take the right mental attitude into a job interview.

We've all heard the cliché that "attitude is everything." But if you're a job-seeker getting ready for an interview, it's more than an empty phrase: It's a critical component of your successful preparation.

Until recently Rick Nagy, a 63-year-old lawyer and contracts administrator in Fairfield, Conn., had been out of work for over a year due to a company downsizing. He faced the same dilemma as many older job-seekers: He hadn't interviewed for a job in decades. The landscape appeared daunting.

He hired a career counselor, polished up his résumé and lined up a promising job interview. Through mock interviews, he designed a strategy that focused on positivity and emphasized the values and skills he could contribute. When the time came to interview, he kept the discussion upbeat, effectively highlighting his job-related accomplishments. He landed the job and is back to work full time.

"My preparation helped me approach my interview with a calm, confident and positive demeanor," Nagy says.

Staying positive all the time may not be realistic, but too much negativity can really hurt your chances. If you take the time to prepare, you'll present the most relaxed, focused and confident version of yourself. Here are six ways to be sure you're at your best for your next interview.

1. Give serious thought to your hard and soft skills.

Review your top, job-related strengths, and be ready to emphasize technical or functional skills such as account management, business development, sales support, project management or staff supervision. Soft skills — personal attributes unique to you that will set you apart from other job applicants — also help you work effectively with other people. Use words such as "adaptable," "collaborative," "resourceful," "intuitive," "influential" and "cost-conscious." Think about them often so that when you're asked, "What skills would you deem most important in this position?" you'll not only have the answer at your fingertips, you'll sound self-assured.

2. Think about your top accomplishments.

This requires putting pen to paper first and carefully choosing key success stories likely to resonate with potential employers. If you have difficulties organizing your accomplishments, try thinking about them in terms of problem, action and end result.

3. Invest some time and work with a career coach.

You'll have to pay for the service, but mock interviews provide powerful preparation. Consider them mental workouts for your confidence. Just as importantly, you will be uncovering problem areas, nailing down key strengths and skills, and reviewing career successes. And you will better anticipate questions that the interviewer might ask about your employment history and other considerations.

4. Put yourself in the interviewer's shoes.

Imagine that while you're talking, the interviewer seems far away or uninterested. You can feel your opportunity to sell yourself fading. Recognize the moment, and switch gears — think about what questions you would ask a potential employee if the tables were turned. This shift in perspective isn't easy, but it will help you to be more compelling and succinct and possibly rekindle the interviewer's interest.

5. Manage your stress.

This is huge. Plan so that you can prepare a calm, positively energized environment for yourself the morning of your interview. Try to limit unwanted distractions that day, and if you're very nervous, use deep- breathing techniques or meditation to reduce anxiety levels (just don't fall asleep!). One more excellent way to minimize stress is very simple: Don't rely on your GPS the day of the interview. MapQuest or Google the company address ahead of time (be sure to factor in rush-hour traffic if you have an early-morning appointment). Plan to arrive 20 minutes early, and take 10 of those minutes to give yourself a pep talk and organize your thoughts before going inside.

6. Picture yourself in the job.

This exercise can be done any time during your job search. Find a quiet spot, get comfortable and close your eyes. Visualize yourself in the job you want. See yourself sitting at your desk, talking with your coworkers, working with your team. Envision yourself being happy! This type of positive visualization practice is effective and can boost confidence and candor during the interview process.

Elizabeth Kaufman, owner of Keystone Consulting and managing director of HireResources, is a career management consultant, professional résumé writer, interview coach and talent acquisition specialist. Find more from Liz at and