When people think of programmers and technologists, they often picture introverts who sit in front of a computer all day. And sure, some programmers are introverts (just like some people are introverts). But there are actually plenty of situations where a programmer has to present in front of a group, like during a whiteboard interview.
For some folks, this is a very stress-inducing experience: Your heart races, your hands shake, your mouth dries up, and your body sweats. This common experience is a form of performance anxiety, which is characterized by apprehension and fear of the consequences of being unable to perform a task.
Luckily, there are strategies that can help you feel at ease, so you can focus on showcasing your skills — here are some tips and tricks to try.
Practice and plan
Put some effort into preparing for your interview so there are no surprises: Plan what you’re going to eat the morning of, review the material regularly, and complete coding challenges for hands-on practice.
Then, practice by doing a run-through. For example, say you’re going into a whiteboard interview where you’re expected to explain your approach as you answer a problem to demonstrate your problem-solving and communication skills. Practice by describing your process while doing a task that’s totally unrelated to coding, like applying your makeup or cooking a meal.
“If you take the time to practice talking out loud these steps, this will make you a better communicator,” Farish, a developer in California tells Codecademy. “Talking out loud about it will make you think about the steps you might have missed.”
Harnessing your energy and trying to get excited is more effective than trying to calm down. In a Harvard study on performance anxiety, students were given a challenging set of math problems to complete. Half the group prepped with the mantra, “Try to get excited,” while the other half said, “Try to calm down.” The students in the “excited” group answered more math problems correctly, and said they felt confident in their skills afterwards. So, even if deep down you’re dreading this interview, telling yourself that you’re excited can lead to actual excitement.
Think about your purpose
A big reason why job interviews can be so nerve-wracking is because it often feels like you’re being judged — and in some ways, you are.
But instead of getting wrapped up in thoughts about how you’re being perceived, shift your focus to what your “true purpose” in the conversation is, suggests Janet Esposito, a licensed clinical social worker and performance anxiety specialist. The interview is really an opportunity to share your talent and perspective, so concentrate on why you’re there and the value that you’re bringing to the conversation.
Quiet negative self-talk
The way you talk to yourself can have a profound effect on your self-esteem and ultimately your performance. Studies have shown that people with low self-esteem tend to experience test anxiety, or tension and nervousness around taking a test that stems from fear of failure.
Running through all the potential worst-case scenarios before an interview or test will only trip you up more when the time comes. Catch when you’re doubting yourself, and replace those thoughts with positive affirmations. For example, instead of thinking, They’re going to ask me something I don’t know the answer to and I won’t get the job, tell yourself, I’m prepared to handle whatever they throw at me.
Let go of perfectionism
Part of coding is learning to get comfortable with failure, and a similar tenet is true when you’re combatting performance anxiety: “Give up trying to be perfect and know that it is okay to make mistakes,” Esposito writes in a post for the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. “Be natural, be yourself.”
In a technical interview, if an interviewer asks you a question you don’t know the answer to, don’t fret. Not knowing the answer isn’t a sign of failure, it’s an opportunity to flex your problem-solving skills. You can confidently tell your interviewer that you don’t know, but then take your time explaining the steps you’d take to find the answer.
Sarai G., a Senior Curriculum Developer at Codecademy suggests reframing the idea of failure altogether:
"One mental reframe I now use: If I try and fail, I'll be in the same place I would have been if I didn't try at all. At least, if I try, there's a chance at success. Realizing that failure usually has the same exact result as not trying at all has helped trying and failure seem less 'scary' to me. After all, not trying isn't scary, so why should failure be?"
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