You’re in the hot seat. Your palms are sweaty; voice is shaky; face is flushed; and mouth is dry. Maybe you’re bouncing your knees and talking too fast. Perhaps your heart is racing or your stomach is turning.
Why does this happen to so many job candidates?
“When we perceive that we are in a high stakes situation, the brain doesn’t distinguish the high stakes of a job interview–where it would help to be calm, cool and collected–from the high stakes of being under threat from attack (say, from a tiger),” says Dr. Tamar Chansky, author of Freeing Yourself from Anxiety. “The body responds the same way–gearing up to run or fight for our lives. We experience a myriad of highly inconvenient and uncomfortable reactions which would make complete sense if there really were a tiger there.”
Andy Teach, author of From Graduation to Corporation, and host of the YouTube channel FromGradToCorp, adds: “I think that nervousness prior to a job interview is caused mostly by the fact that there’s so much at stake. Getting a job, especially one you really want, can certainly impact your self-worth and general happiness. It enables you to pay your bills, save money, have health insurance, and do something every day that you look forward to doing. It makes you feel like you are contributing to the greater good of the company; that you are a part of something bigger than yourself.” Not getting the job could put you in a weak financial position, lower your self-worth, and, in some cases, put you in a make-or-break situation. This all creates a lot of stress and pressure on the job candidate, which results in nervousness, he says.
“In most cases, it may be the first time that the interviewer has met you and they will be making some initial judgments or first impressions,” says Nichole Lefelhoc, associate director of career development and internships at Mansfield University. “We want them to be good, of course, which makes us nervous. There could be some outlying issues that make us even more nervous; for example, being unemployed or having little experience with interviews.”
Lack of preparation is another common culprit.
Ashley Strausser, associate director of the Center for Career and Professional Development at Otterbein University, says: “The more time you spend preparing, the more confident you’ll be. Those who have done their research and can articulate how their skills and qualifications align with the position will be prepared, even when they’re asked the tough questions.”
Also, feeling rushed when getting to the site by getting lost, not finding parking easily, or not allowing enough time to arrive, can all increase nervousness, says Kim Heitzenrater, director of career and leadership development at Sewanee: The University of the South.
This kind of anxiety can make it difficult to think clearly, Chansky says. “Our focus is on hiding our anxiety and so our attention is divided.”
“People can be on two spectrums when they’re nervous,” Lefelhoc says. “For some people their thoughts will move faster and they feel as though they need to jump right into an answer without thinking it through. For others, their thoughts go completely blank and they can’t think of an answer at all. You could be a perfect fit for a position, but if your nerves are getting the best of you, then you’re not showcasing yourself to the best of your ability.”
Another consequence of nervousness: You won’t come off as a confident contender. “Employers want to hire the best and the brightest,” Strausser adds. “Know yourself, reflect on your experiences and be able to articulate how you’ve developed the skills and abilities they seek.”
Worst of all, nervousness could prevent you from getting the job.
“I once had a job candidate who was extremely nervous, more than all the other candidates,” Teach says. “He shook my hand with an very sweaty palm, told me more than once during the interview that he was nervous, and his voice would crack at times due to his nervousness. As a hiring manager, I just couldn’t seriously consider him for the job. Being nervous during a job interview is one thing but when you are so nervous that you can’t function properly, then you’ve just ruined your chances of getting the job. I felt that if he were that nervous during the interview, what would happen if he were to step into this very high-stress level job? Based on my observations during the interview, which is all I had to go by, I had to assume that he may have cracked under the pressure of the job. Needless, to say, he did not get the position.”
If you remain cool, calm and collected during an interview, you’ll project an air of confidence that is attractive in a candidate, Heitzenrater says. “You’ll give strong, thoughtful answers and ask interesting questions of those you meet. You’ll be able to demonstrate that you’d remain calm when stressful situations arise in the course of your work with them, and you’ll be the person they want on their team.”
Here are 14 tips for staying calm during a job interview:
“My biggest piece of advice to students is always do your research,” Strausser says. Research the organization. Know their products, what they do, and who their competitors are. “You should also research the folks who will be interviewing you. View their LinkedIn profile and learn about their roles within the company. Knowledge is power. The more you know, the more confident you’ll be in responding to their questions.”
Heitzenrater agrees. “The best way to stay calm is to be very prepared in every way possible,” she says. “Research the company and the industry, write down the questions you have for the interviewer, practice answers to anticipated questions aloud–either by yourself or with a friend or family member who will give you honest feedback, and write down the three to five things you want the interviewer to know about you before the interview ends so you can tailor your answers appropriately.”
Employers want to know that you’re a good fit for not only the position, but also the organization. “Know the company’s mission statement and think about how this position can contribute to the overall company mission,” Lefelhoc says. “Just like you wouldn’t go to an exam without having studied, you shouldn’t go to an interview without having done your homework.”
Being prepared also includes doing what you can ahead of time, Strausser says. The fewer details you have to worry about the day of the interview, the better.
“Don’t wait until the last minute to print out copies of your resume. What if your printer runs out of ink?” she says. “Lay out your clothes and do your ironing the day before. You don’t want to pull your dress shirt out of the closet an hour before the interview only to realize it has a huge stain on it. Map your travel route and check the traffic reports. Give yourself plenty of travel time and arrive to the interview 15 minutes early. Nothing will get you frazzled faster than being late.”
And get a good night’s sleep, Heitzenrater adds.
Don’t memorize exact answers to likely interview questions; but outline points you want to make and think about the message you want to convey.
“Sometimes anxiety can make thinking about an interview so unpleasant that we under-prepare, and then we really have a reason to be nervous,” Chansky says. “Practice makes prepared.”
Strausser suggests conducting a practice interview. “Like with anything, the more we practice, the more skilled we become. If your voice trembles when you are nervous, conducting practice interviews will help you become more confident and keep your nerves in check. If you are unable to conduct a practice interview, then practice in front of a mirror paying special attention to your posture, facial expressions and eye contact.”
Eliminate the unknown.
There are many things that can cause stress before the interview, so as much as possible, try to eliminate them, Teach says. “For example, if you’re not sure what to wear to the interview, call the Human Resources department and ask them, just to be sure.”
Arrive early and relax.
When you arrive at the interview site, allow yourself plenty of time to sit in your car, gather your thoughts, breathe, and to center yourself, Heitzenrater says. “Remind yourself that this is a conversation to determine fit on both sides.”
Think of the interview as a conversation.
“While it may be difficult to do, don’t think of it as a job interview,” Teach says. “Think of it as a conversation between two people who are trying to get to know one another and to see if they will be compatible working together. Also, keep in mind that the hiring manager may be nervous, too, so if you walk in with a smile, you can put them at ease which will help put you at ease.”
Think positively and be confident.
Prior to the interview, visualize yourself doing a great job, answering the questions clearly and succinctly and impressing them with your knowledge of the company, Strausser says. If you experience shaky hands, then fold them and place them in your lap. If you have a trembling voice or butterflies in your stomach, take several deep, calming breaths. Try to maintain a natural smile, she adds.
“You were asked to come in for the interview for a reason,” Teach says. “Someone at that company liked your resume and felt that you may be a great fit. Always remind yourself of your skills and accomplishments and why you are the best person for the job. If you walk into an interview feeling confident, then the hiring manager will overlook any nervousness you may have.”
Think friend, not foe.
“The person interviewing you isn’t a friend, yet–but thinking of them as hostile or the enemy is going to get your adrenaline going so fast it will leave your good senses behind,” Chansky says. “Learn what you can about the person interviewing you—and make them into a human being rather than being a rejection machine. You’ll be able to relax more and be yourself when you remember that they need you; they want to learn about you to see if you’re right for the job.”
Sit up straight and don’t fidget.
By squaring your shoulders and sitting up straight, your voice naturally projects better than if you’re hunched over, Lefelhoc says. “You will also have the appearance of confidence, even if you’re trembling on the inside.”
Don’t stress about the fact that you are stressed, Chansky says. “Everybody feels nervous to a degree, you just want to dial your anxiety down so it doesn’t get in your way of being your best.”
Focus on your strengths and your purpose.
“Anxiety has a way of making the best of us feel like unqualified losers,” Chansky says. “To circumvent the doubter work backwards: ask yourself, if you were to get the job, what are the reasons why? Nothing burns through panic like purpose.”
Also focus on what you want to convey about yourself, rather than second-guessing what the interviewer is thinking. “You can’t be on stage and in the audience at the same time. You do your job, the interviewer will do hers.”
Breathe and take your time.
When we’re stressed or anxious we tend to take quick and shallow breathes, Lefelhoc says. “A deep and full inhale followed by an equal exhale brings more oxygen into the blood, which is a natural relaxant. When we’re relaxed we can think more clearly.”
You’ll also want to take your time. If you’re caught off guard by a question don’t think that you have to jump right in with an answer, she adds. “Take your time to formulate your thoughts, which will allow you to provide a well thought out answer that’s more likely to impress the employer. If you need to make quick notes to keep yourself on track, go ahead and do that.”
Fear and excitement can often produce the same physiological responses, but don’t confuse the two, she says. “Remember that while an interview can be stressful, it’s also exciting.”
Accept the fact that mistakes will happen.
“Employers aren’t looking for perfect, they’re looking for flexibility and resilience,” Chansky says. “Taking the pressure off the perfection valve will help you perform better and will show your future employer that you can have grace under fire. If you can do it in the interview, you can do it on the job.”
Remember that there are other jobs out there.
“Don’t put too much pressure on yourself because you’re interviewing for a job and you’ve put all your eggs in one basket,” Teach says. “If this was the only job out there and this was your only job interview, it would be understandable why you would be so nervous–but just remind yourself that if you don’t get this job, there are other ones out there.”