how can I stop being so nervous in job interviews?

by Ask a Manager on May 11, 2010

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A reader writes:

I have approximately ten years of administrative and clerical experience. On the other hand, I interrupted the career trajectory in order to pursue a baccalaureate degree. Now that college is over, I am rusty with interviewing (my skills are not due to temporary assignments). During the couple of interviews I have received, if an EMT read my physiology, I probably would be rushed to the emergency room. In addition, my nerves affect my answers. My answers are rambling and lack expansion.

I am not sure how to solve this issue. I am ready for a career position, yet I feel a sense of capitalistic urgency due to student loans. I seek your wisdom and advice.

I know of only two solutions to this:

1. Practice. Practice the crap out of it. This could be anything from writing down interview questions and making yourself answer them out loud, over and over and over, until your answers fly off your tongue automatically, to practicing with a friend playing the role of your interviewer, to seeking out professional help from a job coach who will coach you on your interviewing skills. I think that the more you practice, the more comfortable you’ll feel.

2. One of the reasons that some people get really nervous in interviews is that you feel like you’re being judged … and worse, judged by someone who holds all the cards, someone who has something that you really want (a job opening) and who may or may not deign to give it to you. The power dynamics are all screwed up. That’s nerve-racking. You can combat that a bit by changing the power dynamics in your own head — by remembering that you may not want to work for them, for all you know, and that part of the point of the interview is to allow you to collect your own information and decide if you even want this job or these coworkers.

By the way, doing this may even make you a more attractive candidate, totally aside from the issue of your nerves. As an interviewer, when I can tell that a candidate is interviewing me right back — and isn’t just hoping for an offer without truly considering whether or not this job is right for them — it’s really appealing.

What other tips do people have for overcoming interview nerves?

{ 16 comments }

Anonymous May 11, 2010 at 12:10 pm

AAM is correct. I try to approach job interviews as an opportunity for me to get to know the company I'm interviewing with, as much as it is an opportunity for them to get to know me. Further, as she pointed out, you may not WANT to work for the company you're interviewing for. I think the solution is to ask almost as many questions of your interviewers as they have questions for you, without being annoying or over the top. Some of the best advice I ever got about interviewing came from my dad – remember, if they don't think you're the right person for the job based on your merits and your interview, you probably aren't.

Charles May 11, 2010 at 1:30 pm

To add to your suggestion of practice, the OP might try looking at what her alma mater offers as some schools do offer such job interviewing practice.

Another option, albeit one that I have not taken advantage of yet, is that sometimes one can find such groups on yahoo or Craigslist (has anyone else tried any of these groups?)

Anonymous May 11, 2010 at 1:52 pm

I don't have any tips because I haven't been successful in getting a job in my college major. I am working, just not in my field. I'd most certainly be another ear to hear any tips.

I am definitely in the second reason why interviews are not successful. I get so nervous. I feel like I'm being judged, and then when I get the rejection notice, it's the same "Your qualifications are noteworthy, but we decided to go with another candidate." Then I'm hopeless in knowing what I could have done better or could have better explained. I know AAM has an earlier post about sending a follow-up asking the employer for feedback, but I didn't know that at the time. I think I need more practice in the interviewing back part. Please bring on the tips!

Anonymous May 11, 2010 at 3:02 pm

Practice is absolutely right. In fact, I even go so far as to actually write out all of my answers to what I expect the 10 most likely questions will be. Not just think about, think about and write down completely. While it takes several hours, you will wind up with several pages of notes. The act of formulating your answers on paper will help ingrain them. About 30 mins before your interview, just read back through all of your responses and your resume.

I tried this recently and it took my stress level way down. Even though you can't know every question they will ask, if you've gone through this process, you've probably written some things down that pertain to just about any reasonable question.

Also, this method will keep you from rambling (which exacerbates nervousness) because your story now has a beginning, middle, and end.

Anonymous May 11, 2010 at 3:14 pm

If you realize that your chance of actually getting any individual job is probably pretty low, you may be able to relax and have a normal conversation. So, just assume you aren't getting the job, but want to find out as much as you can about the organization, the work and whether you could fit in with the people. ;)

Anonymous May 11, 2010 at 4:01 pm

I am the one who asked the question, and I appreciate the advice thus far.

Excellent bits of advice, and I enjoy the reverse psychology angle (presume I shall not get the job). From recollection, the interviews, which led to a position involved a perception of, "I will not get this job." For one, I did not feel qualified. For the other, I was two minutes late for the interview; therefore, I assumed my name was then crossed off the list. I apologized profusely, and I proceeded with the interview feeling very calm. After all, I believed I was out of the running!

Andy Lester May 11, 2010 at 4:32 pm

Remember this always: The hiring manager wants to hire you. You both want the same thing. You are not enemies.

The hiring manager is hoping that you are the answer to her prayers. She is not interviewing for her health. She has a problem that needs to be solved, and wants you to be the person to do that. If she hires you, then she gets someone to fill that empty position, and she can get back to the real work of the business.

Your job at the interview is to show her that you are indeed able to do the job so that she can hire you and get back to work.

Anonymous May 11, 2010 at 11:53 pm

I don't know if you'd want to go this route, and I feel kind of weird for suggesting it here. But there is a natural anti-stress/anxiety medicine at most healthfood stores called kava kava. It will not intoxicate you but will help you to be calm. It has been suggested to potentially cause liver damage. So be careful. But I have never had any problem with it, just using it once in a blue moon for occasions like this.

Anonymous May 12, 2010 at 12:07 am

I know this is very hard one to follow up on, but after an interview if you don't get a job you can always call the interviewer to thank them again for taking the time to interview you and then ask them if there was a reason why you didn't get the job and ask if they have any suggestions on how to improve your interview skills.

Terry Alleman, Ph.D. May 12, 2010 at 2:56 pm

I agree that nervousness is often the result of thinking that the employer has the upper hand. I encourage all my clients to approach the employer as a business partner. The interview is about determining whether there is a good fit for you both. I wrote a blog post that might interest you titled "Seek to be an Employee but Think Like the Self-Employed" at http://occupationalzen.com/blog/. Best of luck with your job search.

Rebecca May 12, 2010 at 5:27 pm

Remember that all employers/bosses basically want to know the same three things:

1. Can you do what we want you to do?
2. Will you actually show up when you say you will, and do what you say you're gonna do?
3. Will you be a pain in my butt?

You and the interviewer have to work together to answer #1, because they don't know exactly what you can do, and you don't know exactly what they want.

Meanwhile, as long as your interviewer is reasonably sane, #2 and #3 will be answered simply by you showing up on time and being polite, friendly, and professional. (You would be stunned by how many people really don't do this.)

So really, as long as you behave professionally, the only thing you have to do in the interview is collaborate with the interviewer to figure out whether you're right for the job.

(It's true that the interviewer/company might not be reasonably sane — but since you can't control or prepare for that, there's no sense worrying about it. Only worry about the things you can control.)

Anonymous November 23, 2011 at 7:18 pm

I try to remember that I really don’t need that particular job. There are other opportunities out there if I don’t get it. When I have the attitude that I don’t really need that job, I am a lot calmer.

cc September 9, 2012 at 5:12 pm

I get the interview nerves and my mouth tends to go dry but I find if you think that your not going to get the job you tend to be yourself because the pressure if off.

On the other hand you can say to yourself if I do get the job I will inevitabily end up disliking it after a few months anyway. I dont know one person that enjoys working!

So to be honest whats the point in letting yourself get worked up and nervous

Deanna Miller September 28, 2012 at 4:19 pm

I need a job ASAP !! I am very educated and hold a AA degree as well as a Account Clerk II Certificate. I have 10 years Administrative experience, and well qualified for job opprtunites I have appled for. I get so nervous during the Interviews that I think I am not getting the jobs because of it. I am a excellent worker if they would just take a chance on me and not judge me by my stupid nervousness. What should I do, I nee a job now…

Please help
Deanna

Ask a Manager September 28, 2012 at 5:03 pm

You might take a look at my free guide on preparing for interviews. Click on the Books tab at the top of the page.

Sarah March 26, 2013 at 4:58 pm

I’m about to go into a dinner interview in a few hours and just began freaking out about it and googled what I should do. I agree with AAM, but also what’s working for me right now is forcing myself to not think about it. Think about something else, it helps keep you calm and being calm leads to more natural answers that you take the time to think through. I think its like imagining the audience naked, I don’t think its so much them being naked, but the idea of distracting yourself which helps with nervousness. I plan on distracting all the way up to the interview. This isn’t a test where cramming at the last second is really going to help. Having some loose answers in mind for basic questions, and reviewing your resume beforehand will help. I would suggest, stay busy all the way up to the interview itself so your mind is active and you aren’t sitting around psyching yourself out.

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