Anytime we take a risk, do something new, or put ourselves out there, our bodies respond physically. Our brains think we’re about to do something extreme, so it responds with intense, physical responses.
You start taking short, shallow breaths. You start to sweat. Even your palms and your pits sweat. Your hearts start pounding, and you might even feel dizzy. Or like you have to throw up.
It's just an interview! Why does this happen?
That’s your fight or flight response kicking in. It doesn't know the difference between taking fire and talking to someone who hires.
The response is great if you’re about to face down a saber tooth tiger.
It’s not great if you’re about to enter a job interview.
Interview anxiety is common. Even people who have sparkling credentials still get nervous. It’s a natural response.
However, since you want to make a good impression, you need to find ways to crush that interview anxiety so you can nail the interview and land the job of your dreams.
How To Handle Anxiety Before The Interview
In the days leading up to your interview, you're bound to feel nervous. You might start thinking things like:
“Why did I apply for this job? I don’t have the skills!”
“They’ll never actually hire me. Why bother?”
“I suck. I suck. I suck.”
It’s OK to think these things. We all do from time to time. But, if you dwell on them, you’ll continue to feel anxious. And, if that happens, you’ll probably tank the interview.
So, in the days leading up to the big day, there are tons of things you can do to crush your interview anxiety and ace that interview.
All our dreams can come true —
if we have the courage to pursue them. — Walt Disney
Practice makes perfect
Just like anything in life, when you practice, you are prepared. Why? Because you know what to expect. Knowing what to expect can help calm your interview anxiety.
Get together with someone you trust, and run through some interview questions. Practice your response, so you have some idea of what to say when asked common and uncommon questions.
Too embarrassed? I get it. Try this instead:
Come up with a list of questions you think the interviewer will ask. You can google all sorts of common interview questions and practice your answers to those.
Don’t feel shy about doing some recon on the company. Check out their website. Lots of companies post about their hiring process, so you know what to expect.
Also, some websites (like Glassdoor), let people post actual interview questions they were asked. It doesn’t hurt to take a peek so you can prepare.
Picture your success
Instead of dwelling on what might go wrong, imagine what will go right.
No really, do this:
Try visualizing yourself in the interview, and just nailing it! Imagine the interviewer loving everything you say, laughing at all your jokes, and being crazy-impressed with you.
In fact, you kill it, and they offer you the job before you make it to your car.
Ridiculous, I know. But fun, right?
Imagining the best outcome possible can help you feel more confident and positive about your interview. And, when that happens, you’re likely to feel less anxious about your interview which helps reduce your interview anxiety.
And then maybe you can say:
It’s stupid. It’s cheesy. But, you know what? It works!
Smile. It doesn’t matter how fake or how awful your smile is. Do it anyway.
It tricks your brain into thinking you’re happy.
There’s a lot of science behind this, but it boils down to this:
When you smile, you have to use a certain set of muscles. And when you use those muscles, your brain knows you’re smiling. But, it doesn’t know why you’re smiling.
So, your brain goes “Oh. We’re smiling. Cool. We must be happy!”
Yes, you’re tricking your brain. And, it may not work. But, try it anyway. Smiles are free!
Do some prep work
Before the interview, sit down with a pen and paper and prepare two lists.
On the first list, write down all of your strengths. Come up with at least two examples that demonstrate that strength. Find examples of your leadership skills and examples of when you handled a difficult situation.
I promise. Almost every interviewer will ask about these things.
While you don't want to read off your list during the interview, just sitting down and writing out the answers to these likely questions will help you remember the answer and reduce your interview anxiety. This way, you won’t feel like you’re fumbling when the questions come up.
On the other list:
Write down all the questions you want to ask the interviewer. They’re going to ask if you have any questions at the end of the interview. Good examples include:
Interviewers love it when you ask questions. It signals to them that you’re interested in the job.
Don’t ask about the “taboo” topics. That includes things like salary, vacation, or benefits. While you should definitely ask about these before you start a job, it’s better to wait until you get the job offer.
Embrace your fears
In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity. —Albert Einstein
This is kind of like the visualization exercise from above. Except, this time, picture yourself messing up the interview.
Why would you want to do that?
Sometimes, it’s important to embrace your fear. This way, you can identify what your worst interview fears are and crush them with reality.
Imagine yourself heading for the interview. You show up 40 minutes late due to an unforeseen traffic accident. You arrive, soaked in stress sweat (which means you probably smell), and you forgot to bring your resume.
If that's not bad enough:
Then, you spill coffee, and not just on yourself. You manage to knock the coffee cup across the desk, and into the interviewer’s lap.
Clearly, you’re not getting the job.
Also, what are the odds that this happens?
But, thinking about it and then laughing about it can help calm your fears and get rid of interview anxiety. There’s no way all of this could possibly happen at once. So, why worry about it?
And, even if it did, you’ve got a great story for later, so who cares? You probably weren’t right for that job anyway.
Make a plan
But, if you’re still worried about traffic and sweat, spend some time making a plan.
A plan will take care of some of the easy stuff that you’re bound to forget on the day of the interview. Try to do the following at least a few days or the night before your interview:
It’s all easy stuff. But, the day of you’re probably going to be a bit anxious, and when that happens, you’re likely to forget these small, but important things.
Crush Interview Anxiety The Day Of The Interview
To be a great champion, you must believe you are the best. If you're not, pretend you are. — Muhammad Ali
It’s the big day! You’ve practiced, you’ve prepped, you’re ready to ace this interview. But, you’ve still got the jitters.
There are a couple more things you can do to help calm your interview anxiety.
Eat the right breakfast
Some experts say you should eat a big, healthy breakfast before an interview. It fills you up and keeps you sharp all day.
On the other hand:
If you’re a half-bagel and coffee kind of person, you shouldn’t change that up on interview day. Suddenly eating a big breakfast might mess you up.
And, if you aren’t used to a full stomach and you’re nervous…
Well, I’m not going to finish that sentence.
The best advice is to do whatever makes you feel happy, healthy, and calm.
However, keep in mind that sometimes an interview isn’t one hour. Or two. Some places may decide to have you meet everyone at once. And that means you might have a four-hour interview (this has happened to me).
Hopefully, you’ll know before the interview that this is the case and you can plan accordingly. But, this isn’t always the case (this has also happened to me).
If you aren’t sure:
Stash a water bottle and some kind of power snack in your bag, in case you need a quick pick me up.
In long interviews, there’s usually a break in between. That will give you time to eat, drink and even hit the bathroom. Hopefully, your interviewers are offering you that chance. If they aren’t, though, speak up!
We talked about the fight or flight response and how it rears its ugly head before and during a job interview.
One of the easiest ways to interrupt that fight or flight response is to breathe.
When you start feeling anxious, pay attention to what your body is doing. You should notice that you’re taking short, shallow breaths.
Here's what you have to do:
Make a conscious effort to stop this. Take five deep breaths. In through the nose, out through the mouth. Or just in and out through your nose if the mouth part makes you self-conscious.
After those five breathes, you should be feeling a little less anxious. If you’re not, repeat the cycle. After 10, you should be cool as a cucumber.
Bust out the playlist
While I don’t recommend you do this in the waiting room, listening to your favorite playlist on your way to the interview is a great way to psych yourself up and calm your interview anxiety.
The best part is:
It doesn’t matter what you listen to. It can be jazz, metal, rap. Whatever pumps you up and makes you feel happy and confident.
Give yourself a pep talk
Just like visualizing yourself being successful in the interview, you may need to have a chat with your inner coach. Again, you might want to do this before you get inside, but, giving yourself a pep talk is a great way to psych yourself up.
We're not necessarily saying have a full-blown conversation:
It can be a quick
on your way inside. Or, it can be a longer pep talk before you go to the interview. It can even be the recording of a speech or person you find inspirational.
Whatever it is, make sure it’s
After this little chat with yourself, all of your interview anxiety should be contained.
Get there early
There’s nothing worse than being late for an interview. Try to get there at least 10 to 15 minutes early. Maybe more if you’re worried about traffic.
This gives you enough time to get lost, miss a turn, and find parking. But, still leave you will a little bit of time to spare so you can mentally prepare for the interview.
Did you overestimate and get there way too early?
Anything more than about 15 to 20 minutes and you probably shouldn't wait in the interviewer’s office. Instead, hang out in your car.
Or, if that’s not an option, try the building lobby. Or, the nearest Starbucks. There’s always a Starbucks around.
Use that extra time to prep. Review your notes, listen to your playlist, give yourself a pep talk. Whatever you want to do.
Or, use that time to not focus on the interview. Meditate, read a book, check social media. Do something to take your mind off the interview. A little distraction might help calm your interview anxiety.
And definitely don't...
lose track of time! Set an alarm if you need to. Just make sure you get to the interview on time.
Eat a mint
This isn’t about bad breath.
It goes without saying that you’ve avoided all stinky foods the day of your interview.
But, sucking a mint just before an interview does more than freshen your breath.
While there’s not a ton of scientific proof to this, sucking a mint might help boost your mental performance. Some people claim that the smell and taste of mint help their brains focus and function more efficiently.
So, even if there’s no science to back this up, if nothing else, you end up with fresh breath.
And that can't hurt.
Be a superhero
This doesn’t mean swooping in and saving the company. (I mean it could, but…)
This is about striking a superhero pose.
If you’re feeling nervous, anxious, or even scared, don’t show it. Instead, of slouching, cowering, or even avoiding eye contact, stand-up tall and confidently.
Just in case you were wondering:
Same goes for when you’re sitting.
It’s another way to trick your brain. When you stand or sit in a “power pose” you’ll feel powerful and confident. Sure, you’re faking it, but the interviewer doesn’t need to know that. If you stand like you’re confident, you’ll feel confident, and that will help you ace this.
And here's an added bonus:
Sitting and standing in an upright position can help you breathe deeply. And, as you know, that can help interrupt your anxiety.
During The Interview
You’re in the interview, and it’s going well. But, the interviewer asks a question you did not see coming. You have no idea what to say, so you start panicking.
First, you’ve got this.
Second, remember a few simple things, and you’ll destroy that interview anxiety and get back on track in no time.
It’s a first date
I realize that’s a weird analogy but think about it.
On a first date, you get all dressed up. You plan out where you’re going, what you’re going to do. You probably even figure out what you’re going to say.
During the date, you ask each other questions. You learn about each other and get to know each other.
After the date, you think about whether or not there was a connection. If there was, you try to for date number two. And, if there’s no connection, that was that.
As much as you’re trying to impress the interviewer, the interviewer should be impressing you. It’s not just about figuring out if you’re right for the job, you need to figure out if the job is right for you!
Is there still a power imbalance? Sure. The interviewer will always have a bit more control in these situations. But, that’s OK.
Remember: They need to impress you, too.
It’s OK to let your interviewer know you’re nervous. They’ll probably respond with “That’s OK,” or “Don’t be.” And, while that may sound hollow and empty, remember that the interviewer was once an interviewee.
Believe it or not, they probably remember feeling anxious during their interview.
Feel free to hit pause
The interviewer has just asked you a question that you just can’t answer. And you’re starting to panic.
Hit the pause button.
There are a few ways to do this:
Still can’t find the answer. Ask for clarification.
I’ve done this before, and it helps. Don’t say, “What do you mean?” Try softening it a bit first. “I hate to answer a question with a question but…” then ask for clarification. This helps you drill down and figure out what the interviewer is really asking and lets you give just the right answer.
Let’s face it. You’re going to do a lot of the talking during the interview. And that likely means you’ll end up with a case of dry mouth.
The bad news is:
Dry mouth can give you bad breath. Also, it just makes you feel weird.
So, whether you have water from the interviewer or you brought your own bottle, take the occasional swig to keep dry mouth away. Small swallows, not large gulps. And, try not to drink all of it. You don’t want to fill up and not be able to empty (if you know what I mean).
Not sure when to sip?
If the interviewer is writing something down, that’s a good time. Right after you finish, an answer is good, too.
But, don’t be shy about saying, “I need to take a drink first,” if you need to take a drink first. You’re human. And sometimes, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.
Crushing Post-Interview Anxiety
You’ve finished the interview, and you’re on your way home. Suddenly, you realize you should have said “this” instead of “that.” Or, worse, you wake up in the middle of the night, remembering you actually said “that” instead of “this.”
Relax, it happens.
If you find you’re still anxious after the interview, have no fear. There are ways to crush that “I messed up and I can’t fix it” feeling.
Figure out where you did and didn’t shine
Positive you messed it up? That’s OK. Not everything we do is a grand slam.
So, review the tapes. Take some time and figure out what you did right and what you did wrong. Relish what you did right.
Then, look forward:
Focus on how to do better next time. Don’t wallow in the mistakes you made.
This will help avoid interview anxiety the next time you're up for a job.
Write a thank you note
If you’re sure you messed up, don’t sweat it. You’ve got one more chance to fix it!
A big part of interviewing is writing a thank you note. I’m not going to cover the ins and outs of that topic here, but know that it is a chance to fix anything you might have messed up.
For example, if you’re sure you messed up an answer, answer it again. Mention the question you’re sure you messed up, then give a new answer.
“During our interview, you asked about X. I can’t believe I forgot about this time when…”
It’s a great way for you to take another stab at the question and gives you one more chance to demonstrate that you’re the best person for the job.
The interview process is long. Sometimes, too long. Just because you don’t hear from someone for a week (or even a month), doesn’t mean you didn’t get the job.
But, instead of thinking about it, convincing yourself you messed up the interview, just listen to Dory:
Keep applying for jobs, keep interviewing, and keep going. Because, eventually, you will find the right job.
But you’ll never get there if you give up.
Special Tips For Veterans
Most of these tips are great for every job applicant in the world. But, as a vet, you’re certain that status is going to make you stick out. And that’s got you worried and suffering from even more interview anxiety.
Basically, you're a snowball. And:
Being a veteran does mean you might have to work a little harder during a job interview. But, that’s no reason to panic.
All you need to do is prepare a few extra things for your interview.
Learn to translate
Most interviewers aren’t going to have any clue how military skills will translate to a civilian job. So, it’s your job to help explain and translate it.
For example, if you led a squad, you’ve got management experience. If you planned and carried out missions or operations, you’ve got project management experience.
Examine the job description and find the words that closely parallel your experience. Then translate what you did in the military (squad leader) to the job description (manage team including setting schedules and conducting evaluations).
Every job has its own language, and the military is no exception. However, not everyone knows the lingo, so it’s wise to try not to use those words during an interview.
Just because a certain word or acronym is used in the military, you can’t assume that the average civilian knows what it is.
For example, you can’t say “On my last OER, my XO said…”
You’ll just get a blank stare.
What you can say is “On my last performance review, my XO, who’s like an assistant manager said…”
You’ve taken the jargon and translated it into something relatable and understandable for the interviewer.
Be prepared for special questions
The odds are pretty good that your interviewer didn’t serve. Which means they’re probably pretty curious about service life.
You should prepare for questions like:
While you should never answer a question that makes you uncomfortable, be prepared for some “curiosity questions.” And have those answers ready to go so you won't suffer from interview anxiety.
Get Out There And Crush It!
Now you’re ready to wow the interviewer and land that dream job. You know exactly what to do when interview anxiety hits before, during, and after the interview and you’re not going to let it stop you.
So, get out there and start applying. Interview anxiety can’t crush you because you’re going to crush it!
Do you have any tips for a successful interview? Have a funny interview story? Let us know in the comments!