Are job interview nerves or anxiety holding you back? Understand why it happens and the techniques you can use to calm your self doubt.
Does this go through your head when you think about job interviews?
What if I don’t perform well?
What if they don’t like me?
What if they ask me something I can’t answer and I look stupid?
What if, what if, what if?
That little voice inside your head can get out of control – if you don’t do something about it.
But what can you do?
How do you calm interview nerves so that you can perform your best and prove you are the right person for a job?
In this post we will go through some proven tactics you can use before, during, and after your next interview.
Before we do this though, I want you to ask yourself this question.
Is it really bad to be nervous about job interviews?
If you struggle with confidence in this area your immediate response is likely to be “yes, of course it is,” closely followed by “I wish I could be different.”
But before you go on beating yourself up about your apparent ‘failings’ and reliving past experiences that ‘support’ this, I want you to consider these three things.
Job interview nerves are normal
It may not look like it but most people feel some degree of interview anxiety.
On the outside people may seem confident and self-assured but it is often very different on the inside.
Your job is a major part of your life.
It’s a big deal and, as humans, we are hardwired with a fight or flight response when we feel challenged in some way.
That is all that is happening and, although it can feel extremely uncomfortable, it is perfectly normal.
Job interview nerves can actually be good thing
If you learn to harness them properly, they can actually raise your game and fire you up to do your best.
For example, in one survey, 96% of orchestra musicians surveyed admitted to anxiety before their most outstanding and successful performances.
Even superstars aren’t immune.
In an interview with the Rolling Stone, British singer songwriter Adele opened up about the fact that she gets really scared when facing an audience.
“One show in Amsterdam, I’m so nervous I escaped out the fire exit. I’ve thrown up a couple of times. Once in Brussels, I projectile-vomited on someone”.
Did these crippling nerves hold her back? Absolutely not. She is one of the world's best-selling music artists, with sales of over 120 million records.
So, whilst job interview nerves may not feel great, they might actually help you to perform better than if you didn’t have them at all.
Over confidence can be bad
This may seem hard to believe but let me explain.
Being overly confident in an interview can actually put recruiters and hiring managers off.
For example, clients have often called me after they have interviewed one of my candidates to say something like this.
“They performed well and they have all the right skills but can you just check their motivation? I’m not convinced they really want this position.”
Nerves signal to an interviewer that a candidate cares whilst over confidence can imply that it really doesn’t matter to them if they get the job or not.
Sometimes those who may have shown some nerves but also displayed passion win the day over those who gave no indication of their emotions at all.
But how do you control your interview nerves to an acceptable rather than unacceptable level?
Let’s take a look at some practical tips for the whole process.
How to calm your nerves before a job interview
This all comes down to one thing – preparation.
Although this may seem obvious, there are many excuses we use to avoid this at all costs.
Are you guilty of any of these?
“I don’t have time.”
“I don’t want to rehearse and come across as fake.”
“I have no control over it so there is no point.”
“I don’t want to think about it now because it will make me more nervous.”
“It’s just the way I am. Nothing will change it.”
Whatever reason you may have for not doing this in the past here is the truth.
So much of the anxiety surrounding interviews is based on not knowing what to expect.
Trust me that you are going to feel a lot more confident and have a much better chance of controlling your nerves if you go into this knowing you are well prepared.
But how should you do this?
What is the best way to prepare for interviews if you are prone to nervousness or anxiety on the big day?
The 4 steps to calming nerves before an interview
Step 1 Get the basics right
Whether you are confident or fearful there are 3 things that everyone should do prior to a job interview.
To give yourself the best chance, you need to understand more about the company, the people who will be interviewing you, the position itself, and your own resume and where it fits.
Prepare for interview questions
Get to grips with common and behavioural interview questions, prepare questions that you will ask the interviewers, and have a strategy for not being able to answer a question that may throw you off track.
Plan for practical elements
This includes journey planning or your tech set up if it’s over video or Zoom, what you are going to wear, and what you are going to bring with you into the interview.
Sounds a bit complicated? Don’t worry. Use this guide that will walk you through all of this.
Step 2. Tame your inner voice
Doing the preparation I described in the guide above will go a long way to easing your nerves because you will feel more in control of the process and what is likely to happen.
However, we are all creatures of habit so if you have always suffered with nerves in the past, it’s very likely that the voice inside your head will start pulling you down the day before your interview.
Stuff like “it might be a bit better now I have done this but, let’s face it, I am still me and I know I am going to panic as usual when I get in there.”
Then your stomach churns, you imagine all sorts of things going wrong, and you are back to square one.
First, expect this to happen. If you have been stuck in this cycle your whole life it isn’t going to stop overnight is it?
Don’t despair, and certainly don’t let this define you.
You can break this pattern and this is how to do it.
Why your inner voice is so powerful
Remember I referenced fight of flight earlier on? This is what is happening to you prior to your job interview.
Your amygdala, a set of neurons in the brain that process emotions, and your limbic system are there to protect you and tell your body how to react to threats.
Depending on the level of imminent danger, it’s going to tell you to stay and fight or run away as fast and as far as possible.
And this is the important thing for you to understand.
Your amygdala and limbic system can’t tell the difference between what you tell yourself and something physically happening right in front of you.
In other words, the reason your interview anxiety is so powerful and all-consuming is that it essentially stems from the thought that your quality of life hinges on your performance in an interview.
So, for example, if your inner voice says “I’m going to fail this interview” it will treat this in the same way it would if you were being hunted by a predator with the prospect of being killed.
It sees it literally as a life threatening event.
See, you are not crazy or lacking in some way if you suffer from job interview nerves.
You are just human.
How to retrain your inner voice
There are two things you can do to train the voice in your head.
First, make sure you are being proactive with your job search.
If you are about to go to an interview for a job and you have no other opportunities lined up, it will feel much more stressful than if you had a number of jobs you are pursuing.
Sure, you go into the interview wanting the job but, if it doesn’t work out, it is not the end of the world.
Your inner voice will know this and will help calm you.
Second, be mindful of how you talk to yourself.
The language we use to talk to ourselves can have a powerful effect on our beliefs and actions.
So it makes sense that reframing unhelpful thoughts into more constructive ones can make a real difference.
For example, instead of saying “I’m so nervous about my interview” say to yourself “I’m so excited about my interview.”
Instead of saying “I bet the other candidates are better than me” say “I am so proud they recognised my skills and invited me for this interview.”
And instead of saying “I hope they like me and think I am good enough” say “I hope this is the right company for me and I am looking forward to finding out more.”
Always remember that an interview is a two way street.
It is not just the company that is assessing you – you are assessing whether they are good enough for you too.
Step 3. Practice breathing techniques
Have you been in an interview and thought your heart was going to pound out of your chest?
That’s because when we are stressed our breathing patterns change: our breath gets shallower, our rate quickens, and our hearts start to race too.
Breathing techniques can help to reduce your heart rate and make you feel calmer.
Don’t wait till you are at your next interview to practice this.
Do it now as part of your preparation.
Breathe in through your nose through a count of 4.
Hold your breath for a count of four.
Then breathe out from your move for a count of 6.
Repeat two or three times.
How did that feel?
Try to do this a few times a day from now on so that it feels natural for you.
For help with this try Headspace and download their app. You can start with a free trial to see if it is right for you.
While you are there you can also try their Sleepcasts to help you get a good night’s sleep before your interview.
Step 4 – Get a great start on the day
On the morning of your interview, try to get up early so you are not rushing around and panicking.
If you can, go for a walk or run because the act of getting outside also helps us get outside our own heads and puts things into perspective.
Get a good breakfast in you, even if you don’t feel like it, and lay off too much caffeine that can make you feel jittery.
4 tips for staying calm during a job interview
The key to being calm during your job interview is to be present.Concentrating fully on what is happening right then and there will occupy your mind and stop it from talking back to you with negative thoughts
Step 1. Think about your body language
Right from the beginning, be positive to everyone you meet.
It starts as you get out your car and continues with how you address the receptionist.
When you are in your interview, sit up straight in your chair whether this is in person or over video or Zoom.
Your voice will project better and make you look and sound more confident.
Step 2 Don’t forget to listen
When we want to make a great impression we tend to talk too much.
This in turn means that you will find it hard to listen and respond effectively to the interviewers questions.
So try to slow down your body's natural panic response and listen.
This will also help you to build rapport and make the other person feel acknowledged and respected as you will show you value their question.
Step 3. Don’t speak too fast
Nerves tend to make us speed up, so while you're waiting for your interview, practice those breathing techniques I spoke about before.
Also, do this during the interview when you get a chance such as when the interviewer is explaining aspects of the job to you.
Mindful breathing significantly lowers your heart rate which means that when you speak, you'll find you won't rush.
Step 4. Don’t worry if it is not perfect
If you feel that one of your answers could have been better, or that you are not making the right impression, try not to worry.
First, there is a very real possibility that you could be being too harsh on yourself. After all, we are all our own worst critics.
Second, remember that real perfection doesn’t exist. There are many ways to answer questions, and there are many variables in an interview situation.
The interviewers initial response may not be reflective of how they consider it later in context and when they have time to consider the whole interview.
Don’t assume the worst.
End the interview in a positive upbeat tone as if it has gone perfectly whatever you may be thinking internally.
How to handle post interview anxiety
So now the dreaded interview is over and it is time to breathe a sigh of relief – perhaps.
There is another very common anxiety that can now kick in – post job interview anxiety.
So what is post interview anxiety and why does it happen?
Do you find yourself replaying every moment that happened in your head?
Do you worry about how you came across and what they really thought about you?
Were they laughing with you or at you?
Was there a moment when you sensed that you gave them totally the wrong answer because of the way they reacted?
If you find yourself breaking into a cold sweat as you analyse every word, gesture and facial expression from the interview, relax.
It is absolutely normal and again it is biology.
During acute stress, the body releases key hormones – including glucocorticoids (like cortisol), catecholamines (like norepinephrine) and adrenaline – to prepare itself to fight or flee from danger and to trigger the immune system to step up certain types of surveillance.
After a highly stressful event, such as a job interview, you may very well experience what is called the Let Down Effect.
One study found that people experience more panic attacks on the weekends, and a 2015 study from Taiwan found that holidays and Sundays have more emergency room admissions for peptic ulcers than weekdays do.
So what does this mean?
It means that you need to give yourself a break.
People who experience stressful events or stressful jobs have difficulty when the adrenaline subsides and they try to relax.
If you are feeling a bit emotional or uncertain, or even feeling physically wiped out it is OK and it will pass.
On a practical level though here are 3 things you should do to feel better.
Write your thank you email
Learn from any mistakes
Get a piece of paper and write down the good and bad of your interview.
Acknowledge what went right and, if there is something that really didn’t work, think about how you will change this next time.
Then burn it.
Yes burn it. It is all done and you are moving on.
Even if you feel it went OK, always keep your options open and continually consider other opportunities.
It will help you stay motivated and realise that it may have felt like it was a ‘life and death’ situation at the time but it was just one interview in the grand scheme of things.