A winning attitude for interviews: confidence with humility


Students often share their discomfort with ‘selling themselves’ in an interview situation and struggle with appearing confident.  How can you appear confident in your abilities without sounding boastful?

If you’ve been called to an interview you have already done a great job, as most applicants fall away at the application form stage.  It costs time and money for companies to interview, so if you are invited, they really believe you have the ability to deliver in the role.  They want you to do well and will be hoping you can provide evidence that you meet their requirements.  This means talking clearly about your experiences and skills.  If this feels awkward, practise out loud beforehand – you must be ready to share your strengths and achievements with the interviewer or interview panel.

Feeling nervous about your interview?
The best way to calm your nerves is to prepare effectively beforehand.  At least you can tell yourself that you have done all you can!  Follow our tips on preparing for interviews (read our careers information leaflet The Job Interview here) – namely, make sure you know the company, the job role and how your skills match the position.  ‘There is absolutely no point in having confidence while being incompetent’* (Dr Thomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Professor of Business Psychology at UCL).

Breathing techniques are also helpful
Ensure you arrive early for the interview, so you can take some time to breathe deeply and calm any last-minute nerves.  As Business Psychologist Dr Sarah Connell explains: ‘When we are anxious our blood flows away from our brains as we are in fight or flight mode, and our cognitive functions can suffer.’*  So slow, deep breathing will bring the oxygen back to your brain and help you to think clearly.

Connecting with the interviewer is vital
In an interview you want to come across as likeable, so aim to connect with your interviewers.  To maximise confidence, your energy should be focused on building a rapport with your interviewer, rather than impressing him or her.  We often get the idea that confidence is about holding court whereas it’s more to do with putting people at ease.  It helps to focus on connecting with people rather than focusing on the performance,* says Dr Gary Wood, Psychologist and Author.

Louis Efron further explains the key to confidence when interviewing is coming prepared and staying present, connected and fully engaged in the process and what you need to convey about yourself.  Connect with your interviewer by providing helpful answers to questions and being actively interested in what they have to say.  The more focussed you are on what you are trying to accomplish, the less room insecurities, nervousness, and self-doubt will have to creep in.’*

Always balance confidence with humility and respect
If you have prepared thoroughly and undertaken your research you should perform well and modest people are unlikely to appear arrogant.  However, on the flip side, some employers have commented on a lack of humility amongst today’s graduates…  If you are very confident, I would highlight the importance of balancing your confidence and self-belief (both positive attributes) with respect.  This includes respect for:

  • the interviewer or panel – even the most talented and intelligent graduate cannot match the years of experience represented by the panel
  • the company – remind yourself of why you wanted to apply; what is inspiring about this organisation?
  • the opportunity or job role – remember that many other people are likely to want this opportunity too; many applications will have been rejected
  • the process – as mentioned, interviewing is costly in terms of time and resource; it is also a good opportunity to network and may lead to other openings in the future.

I suspect most students feel under confident rather than over confident where interviews are concerned, so here are a few more encouraging quotes for you:

‘Confidence is there somewhere – you’ve just got to release it.’*  Patsy Rodenburg, OBE, Voice and Leadership Coach.

‘That confidence muscle just needs to go to the gym again. It’s our perception or a bad experience that makes us feel it’s gone.’*  Dawn Breslin, Confidence Coach.

Remember you are not alone in your interview preparation!  Visit the ECC for further information or to book an appointment with a Careers Adviser for a mock interview.

This blog post has been written by Vicky Ransley, a Careers Adviser at the University of Surrey since Jan 2014. With her background in the arts, publishing and education, Vicky specialises in working with students from the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, GSA and the Department of Music and Media.


* Dr Sarah Connell and Dr Gary Wood quoted in The Guardian Careers article

* Louis Efron’s article in Forbes magazine

* Dr Thomas Charmorro-Premuzic, Patsy Rodenburg and Dawn Breslin quoted in Real Confidence by Psychologies Magazine (2016, Kelsey Publishing Limited).