Interviews are often essential stepping-stones to the next career stage. You know you are qualified, yet you may worry that you will be too nervous to perform well enough to get the position. If even the thought of the interview makes your palms sweaty and your heart race, believe it or not, that’s normal. According to some estimates, as many as 40 million Americans suffer from situational anxiety. As interview season is in full swing, we are seeing and hearing a lot of anxiety from trainees about pending interviews. With the help of our Career Counselors and our Leadership and Professional Development Coach, we have come up with a few tips on managing your anxiety during an interview.
Before the Interview:
- Develop confidence in yourself. Interviews are important, and may have a say in shaping your future. However, they are not the only criteria under which you will be judged for a position. You were invited for an interview. That in itself means you are a strong candidate and the organization you are interviewing with wants you to do well. Often, anxiety in an interview can be linked to anticipation of the outcome. The same symptoms of anxiety for someone fearing failure can be interpreted as excitement by someone anticipating success. Be confident and think positive.
- Practice, practice, practice. There is an old adage, “Practice well, play well.” Review common interview questions. Give yourself a chance to practice and get feedback by participating in a mock interview with a career counselor. Practice breathing deeply and answering questions. Realize there will be questions that will require you to think in the moment. If you want to pause for more than a few seconds, you might even say, “Great question. Do you mind if I think about it for 30 seconds?” Then genuinely think about it for 30 seconds and respond.
- Be Prepared With Good Questions. This does more than show you have done your research. It gives you a break from answering questions and may even give you a sense of control in the interview. However, if you ask a question you need to listen to the answer.
- Get acclimated. Do not add extra anxiety by worrying about whether you will arrive in time for your interview. Get there early. Plan on enough time to take a walk and relax. Get familiar with the building and imagine being there once you get the position. Practice your answers to common questions while you are there.
During the Interview:
- Remember to breathe. Anxiety experts tell us that it’s impossible to panic while breathing deeply. This does not mean that you won’t feel anxious at all. It does mean that you can re-gain access to your frontal lobes. You will short-circuit the fight-flight-or freeze response and send oxygen into your brain so you can think straight. Practice this beforehand in stressful situations.
- Take it one small step at a time. Focusing on the interview as a whole may be more intimidating than considering a single question or response. Try to think of each step as an individual task. The handshake and greeting is just a handshake and a greeting. The first question is just one question. The same with the second question and the third and so on. Breaking down each step allows you to focus on a more easily conquered task than being concerned about the entire interview.
- Realize that anxiety is not a constant state. If you find yourself getting flustered or panicky during one part of the interview, then pause and breathe. Anxiety will not be constant throughout the interview. Just like you break down each step in the interview into a single task, take on each bout of anxiety one at a time. You may worry that you can’t recover from anxiety, but you can. Breathing and remembering that you’re the expert on your work can help.
Consider in advance how you will respond when your interviewers let you know that the interview is ending. Thank the interviewer(s) for taking the time to meet with you. Restate how interested you are in the position and that you look forward to seeing them again. To reduce post-interview anxiety, learn from the interviewer when you can expect to hear from them about their hiring decision.
For more tips on interviewing, including questions you may be asked or that you may want to ask, read our Interviewing Skills handout.
For more information about interview anxiety and how to overcome it, read this article.