Transcript #81. A career coach's top tip for job interview preparation to guarantee your best performance.

Click here to see the episode show notes.


Renata: Hello and welcome back job hunters and career enthusiasts. I'm so happy you have joined me for this episode because it is about one of my favorite things on earth. Coffee. In fact, it's not just about coffee but caffeine in general. So even if you don't like coffee, there are other caffeine drinks and gums that you can take to help you perform at your best during job interviews. Or when you have those important work presentations, boardroom meetings, crucial negotiations, anything that you may be preparing for that may be causing anxiety and stress, but they are part and parcel of an executive career. You may have something like that coming up in your work or as part of your career developments. So don't shy, shy away from this episode. And let's dive right in. And if you're thinking of skipping this episode because you don't take any caffeine at all, you will be surprised by what I have to say towards the end of this episode. So please stick around because I have options for you too. And I will discuss them later in this episode.


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Renata: So, as you know, one of my services is I provide one-on-one consultations with anyone that needs help with their careers. You can book that on my website, and mostly people book them to prepare for job interviews. There is a range of reasons why you would book a one-hour coaching session with me, but I have to admit, a lot of the time, it’s people that are getting ready for job interviews and good on them. Because preparing for job interviews is it makes a huge difference. It's highly correlated to your success and getting the job, which is ultimately what you want to do. So I'm very happy to do those consultations. And one of the first things that I ask that really surprises my clients is I ask them about their caffeine intake. Tell me about your caffeine intake routine.


Renata: And there are lots of other weird questions that I ask when people sign up with me for those consultations. And I can see, because it's a zoom meeting, I can see that they're puzzled and quite surprised. I'm not going to give away all of my tricks and secrets because that's my IP, and I share that only with my clients. But I decided that it would be great to talk to you about coffee. You know why? Because caffeine is consumed by over 80% of US adults. Now I don't have statistics for other countries. This podcast is listened in dozens of countries. So apologies for that. But I am assuming that wherever you are in the world, you are drinking coffee or caffeine, or you know a lot of people that do. And, you know, it's part of our 21st-century culture. It's what we do now.


Renata: And there are ways to use coffee and caffeine to boost your performance. There are several research that have been done in US, in Australia, and in many other countries that examine the effects that caffeine has on your cognitive and physical function and performance. Job interviews require a lot of complex decision-making, really high cognitive functions, and also moto processing and movement as well. You know, another trick that I talk to my clients about is about body language and the tone of your voice. You have to have this holistic and very complex set of strategies in motion to ensure that you're wowing the interviewers, that you are really making a high impact and a successful presentation to them. So, there are things that will impact you before a job interview that can negatively affect your performance. And we are going to counteract that with caffeine intake if you are, you know, keen on taking coffee or tea or chewing a caffeine gum. And I'm going to talk about all the different options with you in this episode. What research has found is that low to moderate caffeine doses improves alertness, vigilance, attention, reaction time, and attention to improve your performance, whatever it is that you're doing. Less consistent effects are observed on memory and high order executive functions, such as judgement and decision making.


Renata: But I have to put a critical eye on that because you see most of the observations are done with people in the military, first responders, transport workers, factory shift workers, all of which require optimal physical function to ensure success and safety in the workplace and productivity and all of that. So I'm not really sure that there has been a lot of research that has observed memory and higher-order executive function, which are necessary for a successful job interview to happen. Right? But I'm going to just extrapolate and use those caffeine research focused on performance, in high-performance to say, look, I think it's very worth you considering your caffeine intake before a job interview, to make sure that you are maximizing your chances of success. Right? 


Renata: So we've been discussing low doses of caffeine intake. Now, what about high doses? Research has shown that high doses of caffeine intake have a positive effect on physical performance, on a vast array of physical performance metrics. Such as time to exhaustion, time trial, muscle strength and endurance, high-intensity sprains, things that are typical of team sports.


Renata: And that's why these researchers have focused so much on caffeine intake. It's usually to help athletes, like I said, and also people in the military, first respondents, and all of that. So it's really interesting to see the correlation between caffeine and high performance. Whenever I read articles that have a title that seems to contradict the link between caffeine and high-performance, it’s, in fact, inviting people to consider taking less caffeine so that they can respond better to caffeine when they need it for high performance. So it's not like, you know, you might sort of Google it and see a few articles that say, Oh, you know, athletes shouldn't be taking caffeine. And, what the article actually is saying, if you read it fully, is that caffeine does help you perform better, but it's probably a good idea for you to lower your dose or don't take any caffeine, go cold Turkey, as they say, so that when you actually need that boost that the caffeine can do to your body and your mind, you will be more sensitive. You’ll have more of that sensitivity to it. 


Renata: So I have tried it this week, and I'll tell you a little bit about it. I've done myself like a Guinea pig experiment with a sample of one to see if that works. So, you know, you have all that research, but you may have also noticed from personal experience that, you know, if you stopped taking caffeine, it has an effect on you. It does have an effect on me, for sure. I have to admit that if I stopped taking coffee and tea and any caffeinated drinks, my personality actually changes. I become another person. I become somebody who is very relaxed and calm, and easy-going. And I go from being an extrovert and a type-A personality, a go-getter, to being somebody really laid back. And I kind of love myself in that situation. But I don't like to be in that kind of zone for too long. It just doesn't agree with me. I prefer myself with a dose of coffee. 


Renata: And since I was very, very young, I had caffeine in my body. My father is from the Amazon. As you probably know, I'm Brazilian. If you're following this podcast or you follow me on social media, you know this. And my dad is actually from the Amazon region, which is quite unusual. There's not a lot of people that I know from that area. And, guarana has been part of his diet for a long time. And his uncle used to send guarana powder to us in the South of Brazil. We lived near Sao Paolo. And dad, bless his heart, we were very young. I remember being probably maybe seven, eight. This was before we moved to America.


Renata: So yeah, it’s either seven or eight years old, he would get like half a teaspoon of guarana powder and mix with half a glass of water and give it to my sister and I before we went to school. Now, I don't know if that's recommended or not. Remember, this was in the seventies. Things were very different back then. And it tasted like clay, I remember very clearly. And at first, I didn't like it, but then I really liked the taste, and I really liked the energy that it gave me. And also, I started drinking coffee with milk at a very early age. So I know that in most Anglo-Saxon countries, even in Brazil, young children will eat, will drink coffee with chocolate, like hot chocolate or, you know, cold. I said coffee, I meant milk with chocolate. So hot chocolate or cold milk and chocolate powder.


Renata: I used to drink coffee with milk and sugar. I remember that very clearly. And I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the taste of it. My sister never did. I'm not sure if my sister drinks coffee at all. I don't think she ever really enjoyed the taste, but I really did enjoy the taste. I've always wanted coffee. I also think it made me feel like I was an adult, and I really loved, you know, that sort of feeling of hanging out with my grandmother and her friends and drinking coffee with them. And yeah, I really enjoy that. I remember that clearly. So yeah, now I am an addict to caffeine, and I know that a lot of people are, and a lot of people take coffee without a strategy to it. And even though I'm saying coffee can help you with your interview as part of your career, in how you respond to stressful situations that are coming up, it can definitely be problematic, right? If you take too much of it, if you take it at the wrong time, if you decide to go cold Turkey when you, in fact, need it, I think it's very important to manage your caffeine intake. And, I will invite you to consider that. In fact, I will link all of these sorts of, not all, but some of the research that I have followed. And sometimes I share with my clients, I will link them to the episode show notes, so you can have a read as well.


Renata: I should point out that not all researchers are convinced that caffeine raises cognitive performance above the normal level. There are a minority of researchers that believe that taking caffeine will simply overcome the dropping performance that results from the caffeine withdrawal in people who are used to taking coffee every day. I mentioned that before, and I think you should take that into account as well. There are definitely many different ways to manage stress. I like to talk to my clients that call me for consultations and discuss caffeine intake with them because I only have an hour, an hour, and a bit to help them with their interviews. And I know that most people drink coffee or tea, and that is usually, you know, a good conversation to have for about five minutes of that time so that I can give them some tips on how to manage that caffeine intake to help them with an interview. And I'm going to give you all of those tips now.


Renata: So, some of my favorite studies that I have read are from the Australian defense force here in Australia. And also from the university I used to work for, Monash University. Monash has a lot of very interesting research, not only in regards to coffee but also sleep. They have a wonderful sleep Institute called Bays. And they also do a lot of research on IBS, which is irritable bowel syndrome. All those issues tend to play up when you're stressed, and Monash is world-class in that type of research. So the time I spent there, I investigated a lot. I was able to sit doing presentations when those academics and researchers were presenting to football teams and athletes, and I was very lucky to be in the room. So all of that, and I also attended some meetings with the Australian defense during my time at Monash. So that gave me some grading site, which I now use to help my clients during my coaching session, my group coaching sessions, and my one-on-one consultations. So, these will be linked below for you to have a look. And I'm going to address some of the findings here for you as well in adapting them to interview situations which are different from how athletes and the military would adapt those findings.


Renata: So I believe there is little room for doubt that caffeine can greatly help you, at least in some aspects of your cognitive performance, particularly following sleep deprivation. Right? And I know that many people struggle with their sleep before an important interview or an important meeting. And, you know, I would recommend those moderate doses of caffeine, not high doses, but moderate doses of caffeine. And I think that it is beneficial to your performance during a job interview. If you are strategic about how you take your coffee. In fact, if you are job hunting, or even if you are, you know, having a difficult time at work, or you know you're going to go through a very high pressure, stressful change or project that will last a few weeks or even a month, it will be interesting for you to also consider some of the ideas that I'm going to share with you.


Renata: Now, it's not just about coffee. Coffee is my preferred way of taking in caffeine, and some people might prefer black tea. And you know, if you don't like the taste of coffee or tea, I will discuss with you some options, specifically chewing gums that you can use to get that dose of caffeine in your body. So don't worry, I have options for you, and I will discuss all of them today. And look, there is also the option of not taking any caffeine at all. Some people don't like it, and I will give you some options for that as well. 

Renata: So according to the Caffeine Informer, which is a website, you can find them online, energy drinks have 80 to 200 milligrams of caffeine. And I'm talking here about the red bulls and some other caffeine drinks and brands that you can find in your country.


Renata: That is pretty much the size of a Starbucks tall. And I'm using Starbucks because there are lots of Starbucks all over the world. So tall is the smallest of the cups that Starbucks uses. So in Australia, that would be like the normal size here in Australia, or maybe the large size here in Australia would be the equivalent to a Starbucks tall. I find that in America, everything is so big and the tall is the smallest. Imagine that. And in Australia, the tall is probably our largest if you go out for a takeaway coffee. So I would recommend that the Starbucks tall as our, you know, caffeine intake here that I'll be talking about. The equivalent of that would be two cans of Coke. Now I do not recommend you drinking Coke before a job interview. Okay. All of the sparkling drinks could be Coke, could be sparkling water, or even if you don't drink caffeine, you decide to drink a Sprite.


Renata: I do not recommend anything that has the sparkling taste to it because you're going to be burping during your interview. And that's an absolute no-no. So avoid Coke and stick with either tea or coffee or chewing gum. Now you can buy chewing gum, I believe online. I have never used caffeine chewing gum before, but you can find what they call the military-grade chewing gum. The only thing that I would recommend if you decide to buy the chewing gum and, by the way, can buy them in different flavors like mint, and you know, those sorts of spearmint flavors. And that might be a solution if you don't like the taste of coffee or tea. But try them first because they will take effect much sooner than a coffee cup. So if you drink coffee, it will take about 30 to 60 minutes for it to take effect.


Renata: If you take a chewing gum, it will be between 10 to 20 minutes. Right. And it can be quite a spike in energy. And I will link below a video of somebody testing a chewing gum, and you can see that the guy's sweating and he's speaking very fast. I don't know if that's for the video and the whole effect of it, but it just made me think that it's something that you should probably test beforehand because you want to have total control over, you know, how you present yourself during a job interview. And you don't want the chewing gum to kind of make you too restless, and definitely, you don't want to be all sweaty. So, one cup of tall Starbucks would be the equivalent of two caffeine gums. So you would have to chew two of them, and you can buy them in many flavors.


Renata: And that would also be equivalent to one red bull, like a small red bull. If you have those energy drinks available to you and if you prefer this. My youngest son and a couple of people I know love things like red bull. I don't like the taste of it. So I never really got into red bull at all, but I know that they do. And they use that when they're studying when they're getting ready for work. I see them drinking red bulls, not a big fan of that. But if that's something that you enjoy, you can try that as well. 


Renata: So, how do I recommend my clients use coffee? First of all, if you know your interview or your important meeting is coming up in a few days, drink coffee in the morning, although way up to midday, but avoid coffee or any caffeinated drink in the afternoon because you really need your sleep. And it's important for you to understand that chances are, you are going to struggle a little bit with your asleep. If some of that anxiety and stress gets in the way as you prepare for your interview. So avoid in the afternoon. Now, if you have on the day of your interview, you wake up, and your interview is in the morning, wake up and have your cup of coffee and then have another cup of coffee an hour before your interview. Right? Now, if your interview is in the afternoon, let's say your interview is at 4:00 PM. You wake up, and you have a cup of coffee in the morning, have another one at midday. And then you have another one 30 minutes before your interview. I would recommend that. That's really important because, like I said, normally, on average, people will struggle with their sleep.


Renata: So waking up and having that coffee in the morning will help them with alertness and, you know, using the day to prepare, using the day to do some exercise, and other activities. And then having another one at midday is really important too. And another one 30 minutes before the interview begins is also very important. Especially after the pandemic, people are having interviews at very odd times because they are interviewing for jobs overseas, they're interviewing for opportunities. I don't know if that's happening to you and if you're seeing that, but you know, the world now is your oyster, right? So I do have clients that are interviewing for jobs that are not in the country where they live. And I have had clients with interviews happening at 11:00 PM at night, for example, even midnight because they're being interviewed by somebody based in another country.


Renata: And that's very common. As an example, Amazon is, you know, the sort of company that, even if you are in Australia, let's say, and you're going to work for Amazon in Australia. You might be interviewed by somebody based in America or in India. You really never know. So I find that very challenging. Personally, if I was being interviewed at 11:00 PM at night, I would be very worried. So I would have coffee in the morning. I would have a coffee at mid-day, and then I would have another coffee 30 minutes before the interview. So if the interview is at 11:00 PM at night, I would have a coffee around 10 30. And yes, maybe you wont sleep well that night, but gosh, it will really help you with alertness and making sure that you're not sleepy because normally, by that time, your body's just shutting down. Your batteries are low. So you really need to make sure that you use all the tools and resources you have available to perform and be alert. And at your best, even if an interview is at 11:00 PM at night.


Renata: Let's say you don't drink coffee anymore. Right? Look, I've made a mistake. Last week I was traveling, and I saw a lovely shop selling organic groceries. And I bought a bag of decaf coffee, thinking it was proper coffee. And I'm like, Oh no, what do I do now? So I decided to use that decaf coffee as an experiment because there is research in fact done by Monash University and the University of Toronto that has found that the placebo effect of coffee can heighten arousal, ambition, focus in people, you know, without them actually consuming the beverage. So if they smell it, if they drink decaf, that may have a placebo effect, and you know, the placebo effect is, in fact, very real. And I thought, okay, let's give this a go. I don't know that it worked for me because I, the placebo effect for it to work, you have to think that what you're drinking is actually coffee with caffeine.


Renata: And I already knew it wasn't. So, I have to say the decaf coffee I bought smelled really great. It tasted really good too, but by midday, I was not feeling myself. I wasn't feeling like how I normally do. Usually, I wake up, I don't drink any coffee until nine, 9:30 AM. And then I do drink two cups of black coffee. They're weak, it's a weak coffee. I don't drink too much coffee every day. Again, you know, so that I can maintain a tolerance, a low tolerance to caffeine, and I can boost it if I need to. And also because that's all I need. Really, to get me going. At 9:30, I do a weak French plunger, and I drink that entire thing. So it's usually two, two, and a half cups of coffee, but it's weak black coffee.


Renata: And, it's kind of unusual for an Australian, but not unusual for a Brazilian. Brazilians don't really like very, very strong espresso coffee, they like it a bit more mild and smooth. So I drink that coffee, and I drank the decaf, and it didn't work for me. By midday, I needed another stronger, proper coffee. So I gave up on the decaf. I'm having it here now in case I have a guest visiting who prefers decaf. And I do have a few friends that drink decaf, but it's not for me. But look, it may work for you. So if you can't take coffee anymore, but you really like the smell of it, consider doing the decaf placebo and see if that works for you. If you don't like coffee at all, but you can take caffeine, I would recommend that you buy and then test the chewing gums because they don't taste like coffee. They have, you know, different proper chewing gum tastes like peppermint, and that may be a good option for you, but remembering that they will come into effect much quicker, 10 to 20 minutes, and it's kind of a big spike. So I would recommend that you get used to the chewing gum and not use it when you have a big interview coming up. Don't use it for the first time when you have a big interview coming up.


Renata: And what if you really don't like any of these options at all? Then the best thing that I would recommend for you to make sure that you are alert, and you can perform at your highest level, and you can not tolerate caffeine, go outside and go for a walk an hour before your interview. Go outside, not indoors, go outside and go for a walk. Go outside, even if it's at 10:30 PM at night, I would do that. If you are doing an interview in the evening, I would use light. Make sure that you are, you know, in a place that's very well lit so that you are alert and awake for those late-night interviews that you may have. 


Renata: And the other option that you can try is cold showers, right? Cold showers are in Vogue, they're trending at the moment. A lot of people are taking them. And, that's maybe an option for you. Not very practical unless you work from home. But again, it's one of those things that can keep you alert. And remember, it's a job interview. You were going to do that, and then you don't need to do that anymore. If cold showers is not something that you want to do regularly, I'm trying to build myself up to include that as part of my routine. I will be discussing my daily routine, my daily high-performance routine again. I've done a live coaching session once about it, and it was really popular. So I'm planning to do another one in a few weeks’ time. And cold showers is like, Oh, do I have to, but maybe it will be a good idea.


Renata: Now, it's also important to note this that the cognitive altering effects of coffee were more prevalent in people from Western countries. Because coffee is more popular in Western countries, and they are correlated with energy and focus and high-performance and ambition. So even if you drink caffeine in the Eastern countries, it's not really, because you want to wake up in the morning and, you know, those sorts of things that we have associated coffee and caffeine within Western culture. Coffee was also associated more with high performance and arousal than tea. You would have to drink, I should have said this before, but you would have to drink two cups of black tea, to be equivalent of one tall Starbucks cup of coffee. So there is more caffeine in coffee than tea, about two to one. So it would be two cups of tea.


Renata: And one thing that I would recommend that you drink less of when you're drinking your coffee is milk. Because too much milk, if you're drinking milk, every time you have to drink coffee, that will be a lot of lactose in your tummy. And I mentioned before, you know, irritable bowel syndrome, but, you know, lactose is probably not a good idea if you're going for an interview unless you have a very good tolerance to milk dairy lactose. But it can kind of, you know, not be very good for your tummy. And you don't want to sit in an interview and not feel, you know, that you were a hundred percent. And I find that milk definitely doesn't agree with me. I know it doesn't agree with a lot of people. So I drink my coffee black, but even if you have milk with your coffee or tea, try to have less of it. So that will definitely help. 


Renata: I hope that you have enjoyed this interesting, I think it is. I think it's an interesting take on interview preparation. A lot of people, when they’re talking about interview preparation, they talk about behavioral questions and cognitive questions, and how do I answer questions. But honestly, you're not going to be able to do any of that if you're not rested and if you're not alert. So think about that first before you start working on your questions and how are you going to answer them. 


Renata: Everyone, thanks so much for joining one more episode of The Job Hunting Podcast. And I look forward to seeing all of you join again next week when we are going to be discussing executive presence during a job interview—another favorite topic of mine. And I hope that you join me then. Don't forget that I have a free career developmental resource for you when you sign up for my newsletter, and you can access those career resources by going to there's a link on the episode show notes as well if you forget or can't spell my name. And don't forget to subscribe to this podcast, wherever you found it, give it a five-star review, like it. Or even better, write us a review on iTunes, if that's where you are right now, we love when we have reviews written by listeners. It makes my day. Thanks so much once again. And until next time.


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