Are you currently experiencing some pre-interview performance anxiety?
First, rest assured that you’re not alone.
Everyone experiences nerves from time to time. It’s a normal human response to impending, potentially stressful interactions.
It’s our body’s way of preparing itself for a perceived or imagined threat with a boost of adrenaline. It causes our heart rate to quicken and our blood pressure to rise.
And if we were cavemen outrunning a pack of mountain lions, that would all be quite helpful.
However, if you’re reading this right now, I’m going to guess you’re not a caveman. Which makes that extra shot of adrenaline coursing through your body more of a nuisance than an aide.
So how does one control these pesky and seemingly uncontrollable, stress responses?
In this article, I’ll provide my 23 best tips and tricks for calming nerves before an interview.
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1. Be prepared
First, you’ll want to make sure you’re well prepared. The more prepared you are, the more confident you’ll feel.
Confidence and preparation are nature’s best antidote for fear.
True athletes never just step into the ring or onto the court and hope for the best. They train, they practice and they keep their eye on the prize.
Think of yourself as a Rocky Balboa in an Eye of the Tiger montage.
Google sample interview questions. Brush up your subject matter expertise. Study the company website.
Keep that resume handy and even consider printing out extra copies to take with you if the meeting is in person.
Editor’s Note: Freelancers, you don’t need a resume, that tip is mostly for traditional career-seekers.
You might even want to consider a practice interview or two out loud with yourself or with a friend (more on this later).
2. Get some rest
Also, be sure to get a good night’s sleep the night before.
If you’re like me, you may tend to toss and turn the night before a big event. Which leaves you feeling even more stressed by morning than when you went to bed.
Counter that lack of sleep by giving yourself plenty of time to wind down and going to bed extra early the night before.
Avoid late-night screentime on your cell phone and other bright screens like televisions.
Instead, consider reading a book or listening to soothing music to help your brain settle.
3. Schedule morning interviews
When possible, you may also want to consider scheduling your interview early in the day. And if you have multiple interviews in a single day, group them together as much as possible.
This is the real-life equivalent of ripping off the Band-Aid.
Don’t give yourself time to overthink the situation.
This tip is also helpful to those of you – who like me – tend to also experience an upset stomach when nerves set in. Get those interviews out of the way early enough and you can just eat afterward.
4. Plan to be early
Here’s a common stressor you can easily avoid – plan to arrive early and you won’t worry about being late.
Why let a traffic jam or an unexpected Zoom technicality set you back or cost you precious minutes that you can never get back?
There’s nothing worse than being late to an important meeting.
Plus, employers prefer to hire punctual, reliable employees.
5. Wear your favorite outfit
Everyone knows, when you look your best, you feel your best.
Wear your favorite blazer, suit or outfit.
Just make sure it’s within the company’s dress code guidelines if the interview is being conducted in person.
If it’s a remote interview – like over Zoom – you might even be able to get away with something a bit more comfortable or “business casual”.
However, I would strongly suggest – and men, I’m mostly talking to you here – getting fully dressed from head to toe, even when video conferencing in from home.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people stand up in the middle of a Zoom call or drop the camera only to reveal what’s really going on below the waist.
I never thought I’d actually have to tell people to wear pants in an interview but here we are. Thanks, 2020.
6. Plan a positive post-interview reward
Also, consider giving yourself something to look forward to after the interview is done.
Post-interview rewards distract the mind by giving it something positive to look forward to. And hopefully, if you practice this self-reward system regularly enough, you’ll start to retrain your brain into seeing interviews as rewarding, positive endeavors instead of events to dread.
We can retrain our own brains! Psychology is a fascinating science.
7. Challenge negative thoughts and emotions
Oftentimes, when we are experiencing nervousness, our brains tend to focus on negative thoughts and outcomes.
Don’t get me wrong, in some ways, carefully considering things that could go wrong can help us be better prepared.
But hyper-focusing on bad scenarios can cause more harm than good.
So try challenging some of those bad thoughts by making a list of each concern and then asking yourself the following questions:
- Is this bad thing really that likely to happen?
- Has this ever actually happened in the past?
- Is this a rational concern?
- Is this really a big deal?
- Will I care about this next week? Next year? In the next 5 years?
Fans of the TV show This Is Us will recall how Randall and Beth – a married couple on the show – often played the “Worst Case Scenario” game.
In the game, they speak every possible negative outcome out loud to one another– no matter how outlandish. And in the process, they usually help each other realize that those negative thoughts are, for the most part, rather unlikely. Or at least not that bad.
But it turns out, that this practice doesn’t just make for an endearing TV moment – challenging negative thoughts and emotions can be an effective tool for reducing stress in real life too. In fact, it’s a thought exercise that therapists often ask their patients to practice as a means of reducing anxiety.
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8. Make a list of possible positive outcomes
After you’ve diminished those previously mentioned negative thoughts, it’s time to practice some positive manifestation.
Make a list of all of the possible positive outcomes you might experience when the interview goes well.
And make these outcomes tangible.
Write them down, and speak them out loud to a friend or partner.
According to an article in Psychology Today, “research shows that our expectations, positive or negative, tend to be confirmed. This is what is known as a self-fulfilling prophecy. So if we expect to bring our idea to life or reach our goal, we’re more likely to.”
Positive self-talk is a powerful thing.
9. Think about your “competition’s” nerves
Here’s a strategy that I always find personally comforting – I think about how nervous the other applicants must be.
In fact, your “competition” might be even more nervous than you are.
I find, that thinking about how I’m likely not the only one acting like a ball of nerves, helps me get out of my own head a bit and makes many of my negative thoughts seem silly and overblown.
10. Get moving
Here’s an ultra-easy action item.
Just get moving. Take a walk and get some fresh air prior to your interview. It’s a great way to distract your mind, produce mood-enhancing endorphins and expend some of that nervous energy in a positive way.
11. Turn your nerves into fuel
Speaking of fuel for your body, you can also turn those nerves into fuel for your mind.
Instead of calming yourself down, consider using those jitters to pump yourself up.
In a paper in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, Professor Alison Brooke claims that, instead of trying to calm yourself down, it may be easier (and more beneficial) to turn nerves into excitement. Her theory is that excitement and nervousness are “arousal congruent”.
In fact, one of her studies involved asking a group of people to prepare a 2-minute speech. They were told, to heighten anxiety levels, that those speeches were going to be judged by a committee of their peers.
Before delvering those speeches, participants were assigned, at random, to either say “I am excited” or “I am calm”.
The study found, that participants who said “I am excited” spoke longer, reported feeling more excited, and felt more satisfied with their speeches than their “I am calm” counterparts.
12. Practice the power pose
Thinking along those same lines of pumping yourself up rather than calming yourself down, you may also want to attempt something called the “power pose”.
Some people believe that posture can have a dramatic impact on mood and performance.
The power pose – a.k.a the expansive pose – involves standing with a straight back, legs somewhat spread apart, with your hands on your hips (like Wonder Woman).
Some studies have shown that people who practiced the power pose prior to completing tasks felt more powerful and performed better in interviews.
Here’s one more way to trick your brain – just smile!
According to this study in Experimental Psychology, researchers found that smiling can have a positive impact on mood.
In the study, researchers hypothesize that even a fake smile triggers facial muscles associated with smiling that essentially “trick” your brain into thinking you’re happy.
14. Drink plenty of water
Did you know that hydration can actually improve your mood and reduce anxiety?
In fact, one study found that people who drink lots of water experience more happiness and contentment than those who don’t.
So consider upping your water intake a bit.
And try to steer clear of highly caffeinated beverages. Too much caffeine may only make your jitters worse and could lead to dehydration.
15. Have an anxiety-reducing snack
Speaking of healthy things to put in your body – you may also want to consider eating a good breakfast or, at the very least, a small anxiety-reducing snack (unless your stomach is upset).
According to WebMD, quick and easy snacks that may lessen anxiety levels include:
- Dark Chocolate (twist my arm)
- Herbal Teas (lavender or chamomile)
16. Engage your senses
Senses like hearing, smell, taste and touch can all have a powerful effect on our mood.
Try engaging those senses before the big interview with calming items like your favorite scented candle, your favorite music, or, if you’re at home and using Zoom – a soft blanket that you can lay across your lap.
17. Practice a deep breathing exercise
Consider practicing a deep breathing exercise to increase oxygen to your brain and “trick” your body into a calmer state.
Try this simple technique on for size:
- Close your eyes
- Take a deep breath slowly through your nose
- Slowly breathe out
Repeat those steps until you feel your heart rate steadily begin to slow.
18. Phone a friend
Try phoning a friend for some last-minute encouragement.
Again, in stressful times, we tend to be hypercritical of ourselves and fixate on negative outcomes. A comforting friend might just provide the right combination of distraction and affirmation to put a racing mind at ease.
19. Pet a furry friend
Don’t have a human friend to call? Try petting a furry one.
Petting an animal can actually reduce anxiety by lowering a stress hormone called cortisol.
Plus, your pet will appreciate the extra attention, too.
20. Flip the script: Interview the interviewer
This is another one of my favorite tricks.
Nowadays, I rarely think about how “lucky” I would be if I were chosen for a job. I think about how “lucky” the client or employer would be to have me.
In fact, I normally walk into interviews with the mindset of “is this job a good fit for me?” Rather than, “am I a good fit for this job?”
By taking the power back in my mind, I improve my overall confidence levels which help me perform better in the interview and helps me focus less on negative outcomes.
21. Use humor to break the ice
The next two are slightly advanced moves. So if you don’t feel confident about using them, just skip them altogether.
But once you’re in the interview, consider using a bit of humor to ease the tension, break the ice, lighten the mood and maybe even improve your chances of being hired.
According to an article in Fast Company, when managers with a sense of humor were rated by their subordinates they were rated as 23% more respected and 25% more pleasant to work with.
The same article also cites a study where adding a single lighthearted line at the end of a sales pitch like “my final offer is X and I’ll throw in my pet frog” increased their customers’ willingness to pay by 18%.
Plus laughter has been proven to increase oxygen intake, stimulate vital organs (like the heart, lungs and muscles) and produce endorphins. All things that will help you rock that interview.
22. Answer like a politician
Here’s another in-interview trick for the advanced interviewee.
Are you worried about the hiring manager asking a question you don’t know how to answer?
Just answer like a politician.
Have you ever noticed how politicians rarely answer difficult questions in a debate or interview? They instead tactfully reply with humor, deflection or redirection.
Quick disclaimer here – I am not encouraging you to use this trick often. It’s merely a safety net should you find yourself in the proverbial weeds.
The easiest way to do this is by answering a question with a question.
For example, if you’re asked salary expectations, instead of replying with a number, you could simply turn the question around on the interviewer by asking: “Do you have a number in mind?“
Or, use a bit of deflection to showcase your knowledge on a different but related subject.
For example, as a graphic designer, I am constantly asked about whether I prefer InDesign, Photoshop or Illustrator. To which I normally reply something like: “A professional graphic designer understands that different jobs require different tools.” I then begin a mini-speech about what each tool is important and how each can be used most effectively.
The best way to calm your nerves before an interview is to get lots of practice in beforehand.
And by practice, I mean both mock interviews and real ones.
Just remember, your first interview – whether it be the first interview ever or just the first in a long time – will always be the hardest. Everything gets easier with enough time and practice.
Interviews can be a stressful event. Try not to put much pressure on yourself. And try not to panic.
This isn’t an interrogation, it’s just a conversation.
And if you “fail”, it’s not the end of the world, there will be more opportunities in the future.
Consider each “rejection” as just another practice run that helps you better prepare for the next one.
Are you experiencing a bit of job interview anxiety? Do you have any clever ways to calm nerves before a big interview? Let me know in the comments below and don’t forget to connect with me on social media.