how to stop nerves from wrecking your job search

If you’re like most people, you get anxious before a job interview. But don’t let jitters stand in the way of doing your best in an interview. Instead, try these six ways to fight off interview nerves and anxiety.

1. Remember that the employers thinks you’re qualified. The fact that the employer invited you to interview means that they have already determined that there’s a very good chance that you might be the best person for the job. If they didn’t think you had the basic qualifications they’re looking for, they would have called other candidates instead.

2. Remember that they’ve never seen a “perfect” candidate. When you’re nervous about an interview, it’s easy to imagine that the other candidates for the job – your competition – are perfectly qualified and giving flawless interviews. But no candidate is perfect, and most people don’t give perfect interviews. In fact, perfection isn’t the standard you need to strive for. Just aim to give a good interview that conveys a sense of what you’d be like to work with day to day.

3. Know that you have some control here too. Job seekers often feel as if an interview is a one-way transaction, where they just wait for a company to pass judgment. It’s important to remember that you have power in this situation too; part of the point of the interview is for you to do your own due diligence and decide if you even want this job (or this manager or this employer).

 As a side benefit, approaching an interview this way will make you a more attractive candidate. When interviewers can tell that a candidate is interviewing them right back – not just hoping for an offer without truly considering whether or not this job is right for them – it makes the candidate seem like someone with options, which makes them more desirable.

4. Remember that this is a business transaction. When you go to an interview, think of yourself as a consultant with a service for sale (your work) and the employer as a potential business partner who might be interested in purchasing that service. Approach the meeting just like a consultant would – as a collaboration where you’re trying to figure out if working together makes sense, not an interrogation by someone who holds all the cards.

5. Pretend that you already know that you’re not going to get the job. How often have you heard people say that their best interviews were the ones they weren’t that invested in? Use this to pull a mind trick on yourself: Pretend that someone else has already been selected to fill the job (the boss’s kid, an internal candidate, etc.) but they’re interviewing you because they have to talk to their top three candidates anyway. This works because it means that nothing is on the line, and their decision won’t be a reflection on you – and as a result, you might perform a lot better.

6. And if all else fails and you’re feeling like a complete mess inside, remember that it’s probably not obvious to your interviewer. First, lots of people in interviews seem nervous to some extent, and interviewers are used to it. So for nerves to stand out, they have to be particularly unusual – such as uncontrollable shaking, or being so paralyzed by anxiety that you can’t answer questions. This is extremely rare, so it’s probably not the case with you. (And if it is, any normal person would feel understanding and compassion toward you anyway, rather than judgmental or snarky.) What’s more likely is that you seem pretty normal on the surface and you’re the only one who knows that your stomach is a churning pit of despair.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 37 comments… read them below }

  1. James W*

    I’ve found that breathing exercises really help me calm down before any nerve-wracking experience. Seriously. Breathe in for a slow 5 count, hold for the 5 count, then exhale for the 5 count. Do this over and over until you can feel your heart slow down.

    This has helped me through phone interviews, Skype interviews, in person interviews, tests, presentations, etc.

    Calm your body, and your mind will follow.

    1. Audiophile*

      But you have to be able to hold your liquor if you’re going to do that.
      I had an acquaintance recount a story, where she unfortunately realized too late, that she had had too much to drink before an interview. She was a little too relaxed.

      1. the gold digger*

        Mine is the one teaching people how to tie their shoes. I have gotten so much mileage out of that one – I teach total strangers how to tie their shoes all the time. I feel as if I now have one of the secrets of the universe.

    1. Zahra*

      I have. It definitely made me more confident for my interview, although I can’t tell if it got me the job.

  2. MR*

    Also, don’t forget that you are interviewing with a person. Unless you are interviewing with the founder of the company, that person had to interview for their current position as well.

    Remember, the person isn’t going to lunge across the table and attack you if they don’t like an answer. Just be yourself…you will be fine!

    1. Felicia*

      I actualy am interviewing with the founder of a company on Wednesday, it’s a small company of 15 employees….possibly why i’m so nervous

  3. Eva*

    Alison, if you don’t mind an off-topic question here, I’d like to know how you deal with spam comments? I would have thought you would get a ton of them without any kind of CAPTCHA in place, more than anyone would want to deal with manually. What’s your secret?

        1. A Bug!*

          It would seem to me that low-traffic comment sections would need it even more. I know I’ve come across blogs where half the comments are obvious spam, and it makes me less inclined to read the comments at all when the signal-to-noise is so awful.

          (I get the feeling that a couple of them intentionally leave in the ones that are sneaky about it, because they do look on their surface like legitimate comments, and they think their blog looks better when every post has at least one comment. Little do they know that it’s discouraging me from making genuine comments.)

      1. Anonymous*

        I really appreciate that I don’t have to register and I don’t have to prove I’m a person AND that you have a fantastically helpful commentariat.

        1. Chinook*

          I second loving having no Captcha, especially since I sometimes post from my phone while on the bus. The ease of commenting is wonderful!

          1. Jessa*

            I despise Captcha. I have a processing disorder and there are times I have go through 20 of the things (really, I counted once,) before I get one I can read. And being hearing impaired means that I can’t use the audio thing. Makes me absolutely nuts. And some places just use it for no valid reason. There are so many other ways to verify things.

          2. Elizabeth West*

            I don’t mind Captcha, but I HATE registering. HATE IT. I’ll put up with occasional spam on my blog rather than make people sign in to comment.

            I may only be a fly-by reader who wants to chime in; if you make me register, it’s very likely I won’t be back, especially if I have to do it using Facebook.

            1. The IT Manager*

              I hate Capcha, and I think they’re getting harder because sometimes I can’t figure them out. I don’t think that used to happen. But that doesn’t stop me from commenting.

              I forcing me to register or even worse trying to get me to use my FaceBook login which has my real name and picture, turns me off and has prevented me from commenting. I might never have commented here or created a user name if I had been forced to register. There are some blogs – NPR, PlanetMoney, LifeHacker – that I considered commenting on multiple times and have always been stopped by the registration requirement.

              * I’ve accepted that FaceBook and LinkedIn requires my real-name to work and allow me to be found, but everywhere else I still like to be anonymous – like in the old days of the internet when it was considered the only safe way to be online.

  4. Elizabeth West*


    Interviewing them right back helped me not be nervous the first time I did so with my current company. However, I was VERY nervous for the second interview for my current job, because I really wanted it. But it was on the phone instead of in person, so that helped. And I had a long list of questions to ask–focusing on those helped calm me down a bit. It worked so well that when Boss asked about salary at the end of the interview, I was able to give a firm, well thought-out answer.

  5. RJ*

    #6 is so true! I used to be terrified of public speaking to the point where I would avoid any situation where it might be required. I ditched a required speech in high school and ended up with a C for the semester instead of the A I had before taking that zero score.

    Then I found myself in a position at work where my boss really wanted me to complete a communications course that our training department offered. It was terrifying, but it has been the most influential training I’ve ever had. We had a pre-work assignment where we had to prepare and deliver an introductory speech for 4 to 6 minutes. After that class, we then had to do a 10 to 12 minute “how to” speech on any topic we chose. All of our presentations were videotaped and we watched them back and gave each other feedback. Terrifying, right?

    But amazing! So first of all, being terrified meant that I really prepared and practiced. I don’t want to rag on the other participants too much, but the ones who weren’t nervous took a really lackadaisical approach and had some rather obvious issues. One lady spoke extensively in her introduction about how much she loved her boyfriend and how great he was and how much she misses her family back home, etc. Very emotional and completely inappropriate. One man presented his how-to speech on drag racing. It was very informative. Very, very informative indeed, since his 10 to 12 minute speech clocked in at just over TWENTY-TWO minutes. Oops. One of the first feedback questions was how long the speech ran when he practiced it, and the answer was that he hadn’t practiced. At all. Or ever looked at the huge clock in the back of the room.

    The second revelation for me came when I had to watch my own videos. I swear to you, while I was making the how-to speech, I could hear how quavery and shaky my voice sounded. On the tape, nothing like that came across at all. I looked and sounded like a completely normal person instead of the gigantic freak I believed myself to be when speaking publicly. (Not that I didn’t have areas to work on, of course, but it was nowhere near as bad as I had expected.) It changed my life. I’ve never been that nervous again, I do public readings at my church, I contribute in meetings, I take control of conference calls, and I do presentations. I still get nervous, but I’m no longer paralyzed by the thought of how horrible I must be, because I know people can’t see the way that I feel inside.

    1. Chinook*

      “One of the first feedback questions was how long the speech ran when he practiced it, and the answer was that he hadn’t practiced. At all. Or ever looked at the huge clock in the back of the room.”

      I will sheepishly admit to never practising or timing myself before I do any public speaking. I do up some notes (either physically or in my head), ensure I have a clock somewhere in my eyeline and then go to it. Some of this may have come from being a teacher and having to do so much of it, but I was always like that. But, then again, I was also the student who would write her essay or story in school and then go back and make-up the brainstorming and outline sheets that teachers insisted would help you organize your thoughts. I think I am just weird.

      BTW, I do get stage fright, though, whenever I have to go in front of people but when I have prepared notes, I always forget they are there so I don’t even bother.

      1. RJ*

        Chinook, I used to do the same thing about writing the paper and then afterward creating the outline/notecards/whatever “preliminary” materials were required. Too funny!

        I didn’t mean to imply that it was necessary for everyone to practice / time a speech, but if someone is limited to 12 minutes max and goes over 22, they need some practice and awareness.

  6. AdminTO*

    #5 – I used to have good interviews when I told myself the outcome wasn’t important but now that I’ve been out of work for 7 months it’s hard to fake not caring about every little detail of your performance. “Were my hands too cold when I shook his hand?” “Am I laughing too much?” “Am I saying ‘OK’ or ‘Yes’ too much?”

  7. Felicia*

    I get my hopes up so much when I interview that no matter how much I try to tell myself I wont get the job anyways so i shouldnt worry so much, I always get my hopes up.

    1. MrSparkles*

      Isn’t that a natural feeling though? Especially, when obtaining an interview, if you’re unemployed and are in dire NEED of said job?
      I’d imagine it would be different if you already have a full-time/permanent position while interviewing as usually you have nothing to lose and much to gain. They have the luxury in not having their lively hood/future depend on the outcome of the interview.
      If unemployed however…your pride, not to mention ability to live independently, is at stake.

      1. Manda*

        Your sanity is at stake. The whole job search process can cause anxiety, not just interviews, and the longer it goes on, the worse it gets. I tend to get my hopes up when I’m getting an application ready but as soon as I send it in, I’m like, “No, they won’t call me back.” =/

        1. MrSparkles*

          I am slowly going crazy 6,5,4,3,2,1 switch!
          Slowly going crazy am I 1,2,3,4,5,6, switch!

          …I’m sorry, what was that you said?
          (You’re absolutely correct :P)

  8. HKITTY*

    One can practice till they need to be medicated but nothing really prepares you for the real situation. I’ve been to so many interviews and each one different, something always can you throw you off. I showed for one, and I was told it was the wrong day, waited for them to confirm and in fact it was the RIGHT day, well that needlessly raised the anxiety radar. Another one, they had all the behavior questions typed out very nicely for me and again, after I glanced at it, I found it distracting because I was busy thinking about the questions in advance, and not focusing on the one that was being asked. The best interview I had was a peer interview, where the team I would be working with got to test my knowledge of the job my giving a case study, which I easily solved. I was totally myself and felt very much at ease. None of these ridiculous behavior questions that are really designed for psychopathic liars and manipulators…

  9. S*

    All wonderful tips for my impending job search. By the way, Alison, is the “pit of despair” stomach a reference to “The Princess Bride”?

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