Tips to Calm Interview Nerves: How to Relax Before and During a Job Interview
Interviews can be intimidating. Of all the work-related conversations you’ll have in your life, interviews can often be the most frightening, simply because you’re putting yourself out there. You’re risking the chance of being rejected and failing. That’s a hard thing to deal with, and for many of us, it can create a lot of anxiety prior to the actual conversation.
Workplace anxiety is definitely a common problem, but pre-interview anxiety might be even more so. With so much lying on the line, it can be easy to succumb to your brain’s anxious tendencies. You might be worrying that you’ll say something ignorant, or might ask the wrong question. Maybe you’ll try to tell a joke to lighten the mood, but what if they don’t think it’s funny? On, and on, and on your brain might go, imaging the worst possible scenarios, until you’re almost unable to go to the interview at all.
However, just because your brain might be having a hard time computing a successful interview, doesn’t mean that everything will be forfeit. There is a way to beat back anxiety and take control of the situation before you walk in that interview room.
Here are some tips to help you better prepare for an interview, calm your nerves, and help you overcome your anxiety to get the job you deserve.
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How to Relax Before an Interview
Interviews are an understandable cause for stress and nervousness. Instead of letting your anxiety get you down, let your anxiety fuel you into being better prepared, motivated, and alert. Unfortunately, anxiety can also be detrimental to your memory and recall, but there are ways to help yourself relax before you go into the interview room.
Here are some common methods or tricks for combating interview anxiety before the interview:
- Be conscious of your food and liquid intake before the interview. Make sure you’re drinking plenty of water, and avoid caffeine, alcohol, or sugary drinks. The extra sugar or caffeine can make you even more shaky and irritated. Additionally, eating sugary snacks or heavy meals can make your anxiety turn into nausea or exhaustion. Instead, eat a light snack to prevent your stomach from rumbling, and plenty of water to help your body stay alert and hydrated. Some say eating a banana beforehand is perfect for calming your anxiety, keeping you stay hydrated, and helping you stay energized and focused.
- Don’t try to force yourself to calm down. If anything, it can make your stress even worse, since your body will be fighting against it. Instead, let the anxiety come on, and use other methods to try to it calm down, such as:
- Breathe more deeply and more fully. Anxious breathing is often shallow breathing (your body is trying to prepare for danger, even if there is none). Try breathing in through your nose for a count of 4, holding for 2, and breathing out of your mouth for a count of 4. Do this for a couple minutes, and feel your body relax. This is also a really useful trick to try while you’re in the waiting area prior to your interview. If you find it difficult to slow your breathing, try sighing instead. It can sometimes force your breathe to slow down, and it can help you release some of the tension around your neck and shoulders.
- You can also do a “power pose” and hack your body language to feel more powerful and confident. Studies have shown that “power posing” can help improve your mood significantly. Stand up tall and place your hands on your hips and take a deep breath. Keep this pose for two or more minutes. Try this at home or in the bathroom, but maybe avoid doing it in the waiting room of the office.
- Control what you can by thoroughly preparing for the interview. Study up on the business, practice answering typical interview questions, and read some interview tips. Write out any questions you might have about the business in a notebook, and bring that notebook to the interview (both so you can write notes, and so you can reference your questions in case you forget). Check out Glassdoor (or a similar online service) to find out more about the internal workings of the business, and maybe even read some reviews by previous interviewees and employees. Plan out your outfit, your driving route, and cover all your bases.
- Practice! If you can build some muscle-memory for your interview, it’ll be easier to do in real life. Plus, it can help you distract yourself immediately before the interview, because you’ll be able to slip into routine once you get started. Perhaps even ask friends to interview you so you can practice with someone else, and they can provide tips about your language, mannerisms, or answers. They might be able to notice a nervous tick that you have, and then you can practice stopping yourself or trying not to let it show.
- If your brain is having a hard time focusing, write down all your spinning thoughts. Often times writing down your thoughts (whether in a list, or like a journal entry) can be a very therapeutic solution, and not just for interview nerves. Let your pen do the talking, and make a list of all your thoughts.
- Once you’ve written down all your thoughts, start to question them. Ask yourself questions such as “is this a rational thought?” or “is this likely to be true?” It’s very common for your emotions to control your anxiety, so combating that with logic can often help you overcome the more serious anxious thoughts. Ask yourself “what would happen if this did work out?” and try to imagine everything working out in the end. If more negative thoughts pop up, acknowledge them and then reverse your thinking.
- Practice being compassionate to yourself. If you’re anxious before an interview, chances are you’re talking yourself down. Instead of feeding into that, try to remind yourself of how talented, skilled, and smart you really are. Try not to critique yourself. Don’t say anything to yourself that you wouldn’t say to your best friend. Often times the best way to be calm and mindful is to be self-compassionate.
- Get outside of yourself and engage with others. Anxiety can cause you to collapse into yourself sometimes, so to avoid that try to talk with others. Ask the receptionist how their day is going, and share some polite conversation with them. Pay attention to when someone tells you their name, and do your best to remember it and other details about them. Instead of falling in, bring your mind back to the outside world.
- Some less conventional — but still worthwhile — tips include:
- Cursing — that’s right, profanity has been scientifically linked in some cases to provide stress and pain relief. Before you arrive to the interview, try cursing like a sailor in your car or at home, and see if it can help you calm down.
- Laugh — whether that’s through some funny memes or gifs online, or by calling a friend that is always good for a joke. Just like cursing, laughing can help release endorphins (happy hormones) that can calm your nerves prior to the interview.
- Exercise — this is another activity that can help your brain release endorphins. Get up extra early before your interview and go for a long jog. Or — if you’re low on time — do some quick activities to get your blood flowing and your heart racing. Not only will it help you release endorphins, but your overly anxious body might enjoy the sudden physical exercise to release some of that pent up stress. Just try not to get your interview outfit too sweaty.
- Listen to calming music. Whatever music it is that helps you calm down — whether hardcore rock, summer jams, piano/classical music, or Enya — put on those calming jams before you walk into the interview. Sometimes just a little bit of music can help you recenter and find a bit of inner peace.
Once you’ve fully prepared yourself — studying up on the business, writing down questions, and combating your anxiety — you can enter the interview room with confidence, poise, and a bit more calm. However, be sure to arm yourself with additional tips on how to remain calm while interviewing.
How to Stay Calm During an Interview
Anxious feelings almost always have a root cause. It can be fear of failure, rejection, or physical pain. It can also be based on a fear of the unknown. When you’re prepping for your job interview, fear of the unknown can be a major source of your interview anxiety. You aren’t sure what the interviewer will ask, how you should respond if they throw you off guard, or if you’ll get the job.
This is why it is so important to do your research beforehand: to remove that unknown variable. Don’t just interview the company, but be aware of all the possible information you need, such as:
- What is the company dress code? How should you dress for the interview?
- Take test drives to the office so you know how to get there and how long it will take.
- If an accident does happen on the day-of, then don’t be afraid to call immediately and let them know what happened or if you’ll be a bit late (and why).
- Where should you park, and where is the entrance to the building?
- What is the name of the person you will be meeting? What is their title or position within the company (ex: head of HR, hiring manager, or something else)?
- What have other people said about the company, and has anyone written about their interview experience with that company on Glassdoor?
Lastly, don’t be afraid to take notes — lots of them, even. Although you don’t want to read off your notes verbatim (it can make you sound very robotic and uninteresting), you do want to have notes available for you to reference, just in case your mind goes blank.
Another important tip to combat anxiety is to think positively about the upcoming experience. Although you might be spiraling into negative “what if” scenarios, try to imagine if everything worked out for the best. What if you walked into that interview with confidence, charmed the interviewer, and secured yourself a position in the company? In general, human minds favor being proven right, so giving yourself a positive pep talk before the interview might actually give you the upper hand.
Once you walk into that interview room, you should have everything prepared:
- Your notes
- A copy of your resume or curriculum vitae (and cover letter, if applicable)
- Your outfit
- All your technology is turned off (phone, smartwatch, tablet, or whatever else)
- Shake your interviewer’s hand and introduce yourself.
- Thank them for allowing you to be there.
- Maintain eye contact and give a genuine smile when first meeting them, and remember to provide eye contact occasionally throughout the interview. (if you do it too much, it can be intimidating — too little and it can appear distant and uninterested)
And if you want, be upfront about your nervousness. Interviewers can appreciate your honesty, and they might even find you to be more relatable. Simply acknowledging to them “Sorry, it’s been a while since I’ve had an interview and I’m a bit nervous, but excited!” or “My apologies, this is actually my first interview!” can help them empathize with your position. They should understand that they hold a lot of power in that situation, and that you might be a bit anxious to be there.
However, you do want to keep much of your jitters and nervousness to a minimum. Occasional slip ups are acceptable, but you don’t want to fall apart in the interview. Remember to breathe (even practice some meditative breathing, if you need to), drink water (if available), and listen to everything the interviewer is saying or asking you. Be aware of them, and try to ignore the time or any other potential distractions (such as your smartphone or smartwatch).
Take each question one at a time. Make sure your answers are coherent and relevant to the question being asked. Think of this interaction not as an interview, but as a conversation between two people who are trying to find out if they can work well together. If you can zone in on the conversation and the person interviewing you, then you’ll soon forget about your anxiety (or at least push it away for a short time). You’ll be surprised at how fast the time went by and how well you did, despite your nerves.
Interview Anxiety: Just Nervous or Clinical Anxiety?
Understanding the root of your anxiety can often be a useful tool in combating it. Anxiety happens when you’re stressed, and it often is a completely natural reaction. Something difficult is going to happen soon, and your brain is planning a route through that difficult scenario.
Think of it this way: humans have not always had jobs sitting at desks. Many humans had to fend off predators and other physical threats. Your body might not be under physical threat when going into an interview, but you could be opening up yourself for a psychological or emotional attack. Your body is being pumped with adrenaline and cortisol (the “stress-hormone”) in case you need to flee from danger, and your brain is computing different possible outcomes. Your body is simply reacting to that increase in adrenaline, and you might become shaky, sweaty, and nervous.
Stress and anxiety are completely natural reactions, but there are times when it can also be harmful if you have prolonged exposure. If you only get nervous and anxious when an understandably stressful activity is on the horizon, then you could very easily talk yourself through the stress. Your body is just acting as it should.
However, if you’re someone who deals with anxiety on a fairly regular basis, then it could be that you have a clinical imbalance of adrenaline and other chemicals in your brain — or, simply put, you may have an anxiety disorder. Although it’s not a life-threatening condition in many cases, it could require you to seek out medical treatments for clinical anxiety. It’s always best to speak with your doctor if you’re unsure of your condition, and they can often provide you with a more permanent fix to your chronic anxiety.
More Information on Anxiety Disorders:
Getting the Job You Deserve
As you prepare to walk into that interview room, remember that interview nervousness is all too common. Even some of the most powerful people around the world — presidents, CEOs, and politicians — can still get nervous or anxious before interviews. There’s no shame in being understandably anxious.
If you do have an anxiety disorder, be sure to speak with a physician, counselor, or psychiatrist to find treatment options that can work for you.
Regardless of your condition — whether medical or only situational — thoroughly preparing for the interview can help you overcome your fears. Eliminate the unknown variables, and be 100 percent certain that when you walk into that interview room you’re going to impress the interviewer.
Take a deep breath and assure yourself that you’ll do great. Chances are, you will!
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Katie McBeth is a researcher and writer out of Boise, ID, with experience in marketing for small businesses and management. Her favorite subject of study is millennials, and she has been featured on Fortune Magazine and the Quiet Revolution. She researches SEO strategies during the day, and freelances at night. You can follow her writing adventures on Instagram or Twitter: @ktmcbeth
This post was updated February 28, 2019. It was originally published April 25, 2018.