Reduce Your Interview Stress: Unplug from Your Phone

A job interview is one time it pays to disconnect

It’s easy to get mixed signals about cell phone use.

A full 79% of us who use a smartphone say that it makes us feel productive, the Pew Research Center reported in 2015.

And, 77% of us feel happy about using the device. Even if you are among the 57% who admit to feeling distracted by their phone, it’s just standard practice in business and life to be connected all the time.

There is one exception and that’s during a job interview. The best advice is to shut down your phone.

But when the new normal requires staying connected, you risk escalating your interview stress when you shut off your connection. 

What can you do? Strengthen your ability to be disconnected. You’ll reduce your stress, increase your ability to focus and function better in the interview.

How did we get here?

You’ve built a competence in 24/7 accessibility, even though it’s not listed on your resume. Your phone is essential to your career accomplishments, which helped you get the interview. 

Our routine behaviors with our devices create habits. It’s not right or wrong, it’s just the result of repeatedly checking the screen, listening for notifications and thinking about a message or call that might come in.

This habit gets fed by the feel-good dopamine burst we get with every screen refresh. Our bodies crave more of that, no matter how mindful we try to be. We repeat the listening and checking behaviors in the hunt for more.  

During an interview, your smartphone waits for you, silent in your bag. You can’t hear it. You can’t check it. And you’re thinking about it.

You don’t want to be distracted during an interview. You don’t want to be detailing your ability to focus and get things done…and then lose your train of thought because you think you hear your phone. 

Strengthen your ability to disconnect and boost your interview-readiness. 

Employers consistently rate interpersonal communication skills high on their wish list. You’ll demonstrate yours with more eye contact and less fidgeting, no matter how long the interview lasts and with all of the people that you meet.

When you’re communicating effectively you’re listening. No person in the interview is competing with your smartphone for your attention. When you’re listening, you’re free to answer questions effectively. 

With the practice of unplugging, you’ll realize when your attention drifts. That’s important because you want to stay present for every minute of the interview. In addition to answering questions, it will help you to gather clues about the job and the company that help you decide whether this is an organization you want to work with.

Practice: Build your strength to unplug

This is one practice that it pays to begin before you need it.

“People learn fastest when the problem solving they are asked to do requires them to make small and steady leaps, when problems are challenging but not sink-or-swim-ish,” Doug Lemov writes in Practice Perfect

A job interview is sink or swim. Why add to the stress? Choose one of these steps to begin your practice today. 

And remember: your current behaviors developed into habits over time. Give yourself leeway, compassion and permission that it will take time to create a new mindful habit. 

Collect data about what you’re doing. A good place to begin is to spend a work day noticing when you have the urge to connect with your device whether it’s to look at the screen, check to make sure it didn’t just ring or touch it. Resist the urge to label your behaviors as good or bad; rather, take a step back and see this step as collecting data. 

Pause to make a choice. Let’s say the data shows that you’re checking your phone 10 times in an hour. Each time you want to or do reach for the refresh button, notice that that’s what you’re doing. Then pause to consider: Do I need to check? What am I doing right now? Can I wait? Delaying the connection strengthens the muscle of awareness of your unconscious behavior and to be mindful of what you’re doing.  

Schedule your connections. A job interview can last for hours, so you need endurance to be without your phone for that long.  

Gretchen Rubin, the author of Better Than Before, advocates giving yourself a 15-minute delay. Research shows that our urges quiet down in about 15 minutes. When she faces a temptation (which she's able to pause and notice), she gives herself permission to act on it in 15 minutes. "The delay of 15 minutes is often long enough for me to get absorbed in something else," she says. "If I distract myself sufficiently I may forget about a craving entirely."

Create a 15-minute practice. Set a timer (if it's not electronic, all the better) to let you know when 15 minutes has passed before you check again. Increase by 5-minute intervals and you're rewiring your habitual behaviors and building endurance.

Go cold turkey. Make a plan to step away from technology for a half-day or full day. Yes, this is a big challenge. Yes, there are lots of reasons why and how this may be difficult. No, you don’t want to do this on a day when you have an important event such as an interview. 

I’ve included this as an assignment in a class I teach, to give people an immediate experience of the benefits and possibilities of living without their connections. It turns out that 99% of the people who try it, like it. They enjoy their time. They are very aware of not being connected. And, they become aware of how much time they spend thinking about the phone and make the choice to not be on the device.

What do they do when they’re not connected? Most often they spend time with another person, talking, listening and engaging.

Isn’t that good preparation for a job interview?

I help mindful and ambitious women get on a path to a career they love. That can include interview preparation and practice. Are you ready to elevate your professional potential with concrete action and self-care? Check out my services page to see how I can support you.