I’ve played soccer my whole life. I was on the varsity squad in college and traveled abroad with the team. If a soccer ball is nearby, you’ll find me kicking it. Not only is soccer a great way to unwind, it’s also proven quite useful in my current career as a recruiter. Lessons that I learned on the field – how to read your opponent, how to prepare for a big match – are lessons that help me better prepare candidates for tough job interviews. Even if you’ve never played a match before, these lessons from soccer can still take your interviewing game to the next level.
Review past performance. Top athletes prepare for the next match by reviewing game footage, analyzing previous mistakes and talking with other players. Job candidates should do the same. Hiring managers expect a candidate to come into the interview already familiar with the company’s mission statement, executive leadership team and industry challenges. But this prep work – reviewing a company website and LinkedIn profiles – is just the first step.
Take your preparation to the next level by reviewing your past performance. First, think about your previous work experience. When have you performed tasks similar to the job description requirements? Organize a brief anecdote about this experience using the STAR method: situation, task, action, result. Second, consider how you’ve performed in previous interviews. Are there questions that tripped you up or times you stumbled over answers? Thinking through what went wrong is key to avoiding a repeat misstep.
Start every match with confidence.
Starting every soccer match with a confident, positive attitude can be tough. I’ve stepped onto the field before thinking, “I don’t feel great today; we’re not gonna win.” And you know what? If I didn’t shake that negative attitude, I struggled. I’ve seen the same attitude challenges sink otherwise strong candidates. It’s normal to feel a little anxious or nervous before a big interview. But if you walk into the room thinking, “I’m not qualified for this position,” you’re going to struggle, too.
I always tell my candidates to keep these truths in mind: I’ve connected them with this company because I believe they are an exceptional match for this position. The company has agreed to interview them because they are impressed with their background. The candidate needs to believe this is true, too. If you don’t think you have enough experience or the perfect set of skills, these concerns will show during the interview. Try visualizing yourself signing an offer letter or starting your first day at the new job. You belong here! Now channel that confidence into your interview.
Be ready to adapt. For most of my soccer career, I played center midfield and sweeper. Playing sweeper gives me a view of the entire field and defense. I stay back and direct people where to go. If the attacking team shifts, my job is to adjust our defense accordingly. The ability to adapt quickly is key.
In an interview, you need to adapt quickly, too. Maybe the hiring manager asks a question you never expected. Maybe a member of the executive team decides to join the interview halfway through. Or, maybe your interviewer tells you the position requirements have shifted – and begins quizzing you on an entirely different role. The unexpected will happen, and when it does, take a deep breath, relax and answer with confidence.
Read your audience. Part of adapting is reading your audience. In an interview, you won’t be looking downfield at another team. Instead, you’ll be reading the body language and energy levels of the room. Observing your surroundings and adjusting accordingly is key to a successful interview experience.
For example, I had a candidate fall flat when asked how he handled a negative experience with a supervisor. Rather than quickly summarizing the situation and focusing on the resolution, the candidate spent 15 minutes detailing the bad experience. Had the candidate paused at any point to read the room, he would have seen that the hiring manager wasn’t engaging with his story, and he could have pivoted his answer.
This is a great example of why you should observe your surroundings during the interview. Look for clues like the interviewer leaning forward, smiling, and asking follow-up questions.