How can I appear confident at interview without sounding boastful?

A student having a job interview

Students often share their discomfort with ‘selling themselves’ in an interview situation and struggle with appearing confident.  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) – 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 is an encouraging quotes for you:

Remember you are not alone in your interview preparation!  Visit Employability & Careers in The Hive everyday between 2 and 4pm for help or book an appointment with a Careers Adviser for a mock interview or interview guidance.

A selection of videos to help you prepare for interviews, assessment centres and telephone interviews are available here.

Sources *
  • 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).

Article written by Vicky Ransley – Careers Adviser for GSA, Digital Media, Music, Food Science and Dietetics