Whatever people may say about interview nerves being a positive thing, about anxiety keeping you on your toes, the truth is being nervous gets in the way of a good performance. If you’ve got an interview coming up, here are some thoughts to help you stay calm and give yourself the best chance of success.
Interview nerves multiply in the dark
A large component of interview nerves is fear of the unknown. While of course you can’t predict exactly how the interview is going to unfold, you can prepare a great deal more than you may realise, both practically and psychologically. Doing so will shine a light on the situation and the nerves will recede.
Knowing you are well prepared will give you confidence. Ironically, the more nervous one is about an interview, the stronger the temptation is not to prepare for it. If every time you think about the interview you get anxious, the danger is either that you’ll slide into denial and try to pretend it’s not going to happen, or that you’ll sabotage the preparation process by spending all the time wondering how you’re going to cope, rather than actually getting to grips with how you’re going to put yourself across. As soon as you force yourself to make some concrete progress with preparing for it, your dread of the interview will reduce. By the time you’ve finished preparing, you may find you’re even looking forward to rising to the challenge of this interview!
Find out as much as possible about who is going to be interviewing you and what to expect at the interview, as well as about the organisation you’re applying to and the position you’re applying for. Think through the questions that might come up and rehearse your answers out loud till you’re happy with them.
Put aside your own nerves and spare a thought for the person or people whose responsibility it is to assess you as a candidate and make the right decision: they also have a stake in the successful outcome of this interview. However intimidating they may appear, these people are human beings, just like you, and – believe it or not – they may be nervous about interviewing you. Imagine yourself in their position, with the task of representing the organisation to a series of outsiders, of asking the right questions to elicit illuminating answers, of weighing up and choosing between several or more strong candidates.
Focus on making life easier for the interviewer(s). This will automatically help you feel calmer, since the spotlight will be off you.
The interviewer wants you to succeed
It’s in the interviewer’s interest for you to give the best possible account of yourself. How can they assess your suitability for the position if they never find out what you’re really capable of? Part of the reason they may be as nervous as you are is the fear of losing out on the ideal candidate because the interview didn’t allow that candidate to shine.
Anyway, in human terms, it’s painful for an interviewer to watch an interviewee floundering. In the same way as an audience wants a presenter to speak confidently and not feel anxious, an interviewer wants the candidate to give a robust performance. Yes, they’re testing you, but they want you to succeed. However unlikely it may appear in the moment, the interviewer is on your side.
Your interview may be a simulation as much as a conversation
Something else to bear in mind is that the interviewer(s) may be deliberately behaving in an unnatural way. Instead of asking you how you cope under pressure, they may put pressure on you and see for themselves how you deal with it. If a question seems off the wall or a reaction feels negative, the chances are this is what’s going on – they’re roleplaying giving you a hard time in order to test your mettle.
If this happens, it’s a good sign! They’re not going to put you (or themselves) through a gruelling interview if they don’t believe you can handle it. Look at the big picture and remember it’s a game. They’re not really criticising you, they’re asking you to demonstrate how you respond to criticism.
Concentrate on the content
Interview nerves arise from the sense of being judged, so train yourself to ignore that aspect and to concentrate on the content of what’s being discussed. Be congruent and sincere. Ask questions. Listen carefully. Be confident and enthusiastic. Rather than ‘performing’ into the space, connect and communicate with the interviewer(s).
Do not mention any anxiety you’re feeling. Although the interviewer will forgive you for being nervous, there is nothing to be gained by drawing attention to it. In fact, dwelling on it only exacerbates the problem: the more you tell yourself you’re nervous, the more nervous you’ll become. Focus instead on staying grounded and putting yourself across.