Help! I Get Nervous When I Interview for a Job

Dear Work Coach,

I moved to the U.S. four years ago. Since then, I studied English and then I completed my master’s degree in January 2008.

During these four years, I worked in a gift store for one year, then in a shoe store for a bit longer than a year. After I started my master’s I did not work for one year because I had to complete my two semesters in order to work for a company because of my student visa status. Then I started to work as an intern in a financial company for 4 months during the fall session. After that I did not work. Instead I went home to my country and got married in summer. Now I’m done with my school and looking for a job. I have work authorization until January 2009.

I have been interviewing with staffing agencies mostly. I had an interview last week, but I got very nervous so I could not speak really well. The interviewer said communication is going to be a problem and she was right. I found out I got rejected. During the interview she mentioned the communication issue in the middle of the interview and it only made me more nervous! My thoughts were going faster than my words.

Today I had an phone interview which I think it went well, but the interviewer told me he will contact the agency about the decision. I feel really frustrated about this process. Could you give me any advice how to communicate more effectively during the interview?

Also…people usually ask why I have not been with the company that I had internship. Reality is the internship was for 4 months and then I wanted to concentrate more on my school. But sometimes I feel it is not the right answer for people. What should I do with this kind of situation?

I would appreciate any interview tips you can give me.

Best Regards,
EB

***

Dear EB,

My heart goes out to you. My parents came here from Poland (by way of Italy) in 1949. English is not an easy language to learn and I think you have done very well. I remember how nervous my parents always felt when they had to speak in a formal situation. It’s not easy. I’ve studied 3 other languages and can barely say hello in any one of them! Interviewing is stressful for anyone, but when it isn’t your first language…well, I can only imagine.

That said…my advice to you is what I would give anyone who gets nervous while interviewing. There is a joke where a tourist in New York City asks a native New Yorker “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” The answer? “Practice practice practice!” And that’s what I suggest for you too.

You can’t change the fact that you still have some language difficulties. But if you know that your work skills are good and that you learn quickly, those are the things for you to emphasize – to yourself most of all!

Some places just aren’t as open as others to people whose English isn’t really good. But that’s ok. You only need one job. So your mental goal is to find a place open enough to recognize how good a worker you would be – and more importantly, how pleasant you would be to work with. That’s very important here.

So for you to get comfortable enough to show them who you really are, you need to practice interviewing. Ask your friends or family to help. Your school should also have good resources for these purposes. Don’t be shy. Call them and ask for help. Keep practicing until you can relax a little. Even use a tape recorder and play both parts (interviewer and interviewee) yourself. Also record yourself being interviewed by a friend. It helps! Don’t worry…you’ll get better. :)

And about that internship…it really is a shame that you let that connection go cold. Here, the best way to get jobs is what we call networking. From now on, stay in touch with people from every job you have and always leave a good impression. If there is anyone at that former internship you can contact, please do that right away. Tell them you are looking for a full-time job and was wondering if they know of anything or could at least give you some advice.

If they would be willing to meet with you, even better. This is true for former instructors or friends who work in an industry you like too. The more you make an effort to get people to meet with you and offer you advice, the more likely a real job will eventually show up. And meanwhile, you get to practice just talking about yourself.

This gives you a chance to practice interviewing some more even if there is no real job for you there at this moment. It will help you start to think of an interview as nothing more than a meeting between two or more people…just talking. The more you practice such meetings, the better you will do in a real interview.

As for your statement “My thoughts were going faster than my words.” Slow down! It’s ok to take a moment and pause before answering. Let them know you are a little nervous. It’s all right. It’s just being real. (Doing some yoga breathing exercises before the interview starts might help. Breathe in counting slowly to 8 and out slowly to 8. Gently. Again and again. Smile to yourself. It will be ok. You are someone they will like if they can get a chance to know the real you.)

And when they ask about the internship, what you are saying is ok. It was important to concentrate on school. Just let them know you did a good job (I hope) and mention something you especially enjoyed about it. Tell a story if you have one about some problem you solved or something you handled well. Basically, they just want to know what kind of an employee you’ll be for them and what kind of attitude you bring to the job.

To help you get a little more comfortable with the whole process, please also read these previous Work Coach posts that might be of help:

Please Help Me Ace My Phone Interview!

Job Interviews: Practical Tips to Help You Ace That Job Interview

The Single Most Important Thing in Any Job Interview

Good luck, EB! Please let us know when you get a job.

Ronnie Ann

 

About the author…

Ronnie Ann, founder of Work Coach Cafe, bases her real-world advice on her many years as an organizational consultant where she helped interview and hire people, added to a certificate from NYU in Career Planning & Development and her own adventures as a serial job seeker. She can also be found on her new blog, and on Google+.

Comments

  1. Ronnie,

    I feel much better right now about telling my situation to you. I will listen every advice you gave to me. Hope I will do much better next time. Thank you so much for your response here. Hope it will also help other foreign people who are looking for a job.

    By the way I just want to add that I did a good job in my internship :) and my boss told me that he would be saying good things about me as a reference. They were a start up company and they did not need interns at that time…That was what I was told.

    Well thank you so much again,and I will keep you updated…

    EB

  2. Oh I am so glad I could help – even if only a little! And now that you tell me that your internship was with a small company, please know it is fine to say that the company was small and there were no openings at the time when asked about it in an interview. But also add that story about how you helped them in some special way. :)

    Oh…and please don’t listen to everything I say! I only offer the best advice I can come up with considering what I know about your situation. Please adjust my advice to fit your needs and personality!

    Again…good luck, EB. I look forward to hearing some good news from you.

    Ronnie Ann

  3. Hi Ronnie,

    I just wanted to let you know that I got a job as an temporary employee and start working already.
    Thank you so much for your advice…

    EB

  4. Great news! Thanks for letting us know. I had no doubt you would make something good happen for yourself. ;-)

    Best of luck in your new job, EB! And thank you for sharing your experience with the rest of us. I’m sure there are other people in your situation who found it helpful.

    Ronnie Ann

  5. A great conclusion! I agree with with Ronnie – sharing experiences like this can be an enormous benefit to other individuals.

  6. Thanks! Appreciate your thoughts. So many people out there can relate.

  7. This is 2011 and your stuff on here is still great. Thanks for the advice. Have an interview in 3 hours and was just looking to brush up and only just found your site. Definitely saving it for a more detailed vist with a cuppa in the near future. Thanks again

  8. What a lovely comment. Thank you Ceci! Hope the interview went really well. Feel free to let us know what happened. And I’ll join you in that cuppa. ;-)

    ~ Ronnie Ann

    • i read some of the reply on this topic by accident…because i was searching for an answer on how to answer some question in the interview.my problem is, that i dont know how to constract a right sentence in english with the right grammar…im afraid that it will be the reason for not get pass the interview.because im afraid that the intervier might not understand what im saying.im frustrated right now and i have an interview this coming july 29.i dont know if i can make it.please help me.give me some advice that may help me to passed the on coming interview,i really appreciate any advice you will give.thanks in advance

  9. Hi Raymund!

    I would never laugh at you. My parents came from another country and I know how hard it is to learn this language. ;-)

    Unfortunately, I’m not sure how I can help you. If the job requires good English skills, then you know the answer. If it doesn’t, they will do their best to speak with you in a way where your skills will speak for you.

    In the meantime, my best advice is to practice as much as you can with someone who speaks English well. And then, during the interview, listen very carefully (looking at them as they speak), ask questions if you don’t understand what they asked (it’s ok), and then take your time to answer, again looking at them and smiling a little to help connect (but not so much it looks unreal of course).

    The more comfortable YOU seem – even though your English may not be great – and the more pleasant you seem (like someone they would enjoy working with) the more chance they will give you.

    Apart from that, all I can suggest is some intense English classes as soon as possible – and lots of out loud practice with friends – in case this interview isn’t the last one.

    Good luck!

  10. Hi Ronnie,

    I want to share something with you if you dont mind.
    I am sumit and have done MBA in International business and finance. My Area of interest has always been into some finance line.Initially ,before i did graduation, i was too bad academically but with the passage of time I noticed some improvement in myself academically and did MBA with good score bt ya from an average University. I was extremely bad in english and evn now I am not so good. I did lot of effrts in improving my vocablary and it worked to some extent. But still I have a lot of hesitation in speaking.That precluded me into getting job till now.
    My question starts now
    1) I did MBA in may2011 and since then I am sitting idle.TOday its 25Nov 2011. I was interviewed with good co . They asked me why you sitting idle…..I had nothing to say….coz the truth is I dint i did not get ay call for interview and genuinely have applied to many companies.
    In whteva companies i got a call was for sales profile , for which i am least interested in doing….
    Pl. help me in formuulating answer for this particular question.and also for one more question and that is
    2) What are your achievements till now ????……. I have actively participated in many extra curricular activities like organizing events , participating in dance shows, mimicry , acting , singing …. but i can not say….coz If i will do so…they will put one problematic situation/question …why dont u join that industry/acting field?
    I cnt…coz i am nt interested in makingmy career thr and i have a short height which obviously wont allow me to become and actor……
    I am a fresher….and no such professional achivements i have experienced………

    PLLLLLLLL PL. help PLLLLLLLL PL. help PLLLLLLLL PL. help PLLLLLLLL PL. help PLLLLLLLL PL. help PLLLLLLLL PL. help
    SO now what should I answer about my achievemets ?…

  11. Hi Sumi!

    I really don’t know how to answer your question. You raise so many issues. And there are so many things I can say about each point.

    I happen to have an MBA and a background in theater. I’m not sure what country you are in, but in the U.S. there are many entertainment business careers that might mesh well with your interests and skills, and for which it would be easier to make a case for transferable skills.

    BTW… It’s not all about acting and height. There are many famous short actors who are successful and there is more than one type of performance work so this is not a real reason to avoid it completely. Still, if that is not what you want to pursue for a career, than it’s up to you to use the concept of transferable skills in a way that makes you case for why you fit the job you are applying for.

    But if you want to find jobs in other fields, especially in this economy, it might also help to get some directly relevant experience asap. You can volunteer, find freelance work, create your own project, join a group that is related to the actual work you seek and get active in that – anything you can put on a resume and/or talk about in a cover letter or interview that shows how you fit the job in question. You will also be opening up networking opportunities for yourself as you do this – a huge key to finding work nowadays.

    In your situation, your cover letter is your best ally. It’s up to you to make a case for why you fit a certain job. And if you can’t make the case now, figure out what experience to add so you can.

    Good luck!

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