Diane Costigan is Winston & Strawn’s Director of Coaching & Well-Being. She offers bespoke, one-on-one coaching to attorneys and professional staff, and develops industry-leading programs that reflect Winston’s commitment to mental and physical health and well-being.
There is no denying that preparing for Summer Associate Program interviews is an inherently stressful process—and it can feel like your entire future hinges on a few short conversations with decision-makers you’ve never met before. Taking particular care of your mental and physical well-being helps build stamina and confidence that will ensure your personality and unique accomplishments shine through in all your interviews.
Diane Costigan, Winston & Strawn’s Director of Coaching & Well-Being, helps hundreds of students navigate the nerves and stress that come with the law student recruiting process and with exams every year. Here, in her own words, are Diane’s tips for putting your best foot forward:
1. Get enough sleep
Sleep is the key to staying alert and engaged and presenting your best self in every interview. Here are some tips for getting enough:
I take a few, deep belly breaths where I visualize blowing up a big balloon in my belly on the inhale, then imagine I am blowing bubbles out through my mouth on the exhale.
I like to call this balloon and bubbles breathing. It’s a great way to slow your breathing down and stimulate the body’s relaxation response. Then, I like to do a body scan where I intentionally name and check in with each major body part, to see if there’s any tension or residual stress from the day. Before moving on to the next body part I visualize letting go of the stress, for example in my shoulder, and thank that area of my body for all it does for me throughout the day.
This is a great way to get out of your head and into the sensations in your body. (Plus, it works in a gratitude practice—which has many benefits.) Often, I don’t make it through the whole scan before I fall asleep. It also works well if I wake up in the middle of the night.
2. Eat healthy(ier) food
Digestion uses a lot of your body’s precious energy, which will be put to much better use acing an interview than processing junk food. Consider the following to help determine what “healthy eating” means for you.
3. Meditate or practice breathwork
Meditation or practicing deep breathing exercises are two powerful ways to stay on top of stress, and it’s easy to reap the benefits even if you’re a beginner.
Conscious breathing can help create pauses throughout the day that give you the space to step back from your impulses and make more mindful decisions.
With your eyes open or closed, bring your attention fully to your breathing, and as you take a full, deep breath, count “1.”
Completely exhale and count “1” again.
Continue breathing and counting this way on each inhale and exhale until you get to “5”; then repeat five more deep breaths in and out, counting backwards from 5, for a total of 10 reps.
This will result in a solid three- to five-minute deep breathing session. You can also use the stopwatch on your phone to time yourself to get in a full five-minute session.
Close your eyes, sit up tall but comfortably, and feel your feet on the floor and your sits bones in your chair.
Try picking each foot up and placing it back down slowly and with intention—imagining you are placing each toe down one by one. Really feel connected and grounded to the earth. You can even imagine that there are roots growing out of the bottom of your toes and feet.
Then imagine there is a beautiful golden string running from the base of your spine through the top of your head, that there is something greater than you that’s gently tugging on the string which lifts your head and chin and helps create alignment in your spine. Try to really feel the sensation of being both grounded and supported.
You can then do a few rounds of balloon and bubbles breathing and maybe pair it with an intention such as “Breathing in, I calm my body” (on the inhale) and “Breathing out, I calm my mind” (on the exhale).
4. Surround yourself with positive energy
Good (and bad) moods are infectious. People who exhibit confidence and positivity can change the mood in the room and empower those around them with greater confidence and a sense of calm. Conversely, proximity to people who are nervous or stressed can negatively impact your own confidence and demeanor. Here are easy ways to keep a positive outlook:
5. Keep up with exercise and other self-care
We all know that exercise releases endorphins and other chemicals in your body and brain that positively impact mood, improve sleep quality, and reduce muscle tension—all of which is key to staying healthy and energized during busy times.
Exercise can also provide much-needed alone time to counterbalance the intense social interactions and information saturation that comes with the interview process. So it’s important to stick to your regular exercise routine if you have one or find new ways to bake it into your day, so good habits aren’t lost whenever your schedule is disrupted for extended periods of time.
Any of these will do:
6. Calm Your Nerves with Acupressure
If you are finding it especially hard to calm pre-interview nerves, Emotional Freedom Technique or EFT tapping can be a powerful tool that is quite literally right at your fingertips.
EFT is a form of acupressure that can calm down your amygdala (an area of the brain that triggers a stress response), lower cortisol, and help your body come into the relaxation response. Here is a quick demo of an abbreviated version of EFT called finger tapping by my own tapping practitioner Julie Schiffman. Julie provides numerous tapping videos, if you want to learn more.
When I get nervous in meetings, I’ll do EFT, or I’ll gently tap my wrists together, which can have the same effect and is easily camouflaged from interviewers. I use this tool almost every day for myself, and it’s a fan favorite of several of the attorneys I coach to help them quickly reduce stress.
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