When you are preparing for an interview, it's perfectly normal to feel nervous. Is there anything you can do about it, though, and could it even be useful to you?
Why we get nervous
We human beings like to think that we are all very clever with our big brains and our reasoning, but underneath it all, we are animals responding to our instincts. That means that when we are in certain circumstances, our fight or flight response kicks in. Adrenaline is released into the body, your heart races, you feel anxious, hyper-aware of your surroundings and your breathing increases. It's pure instinct at work. You are hard-wired to respond to danger or strange circumstances in this way. All of these symptoms were, therefore, really useful during our evolution, and still are if you are being chased by a tiger because they prepare you for action. They are not so much fun (or much use for that matter) if you are sitting in reception waiting for an interview. What is happening is that the stress of being in the interview situation is triggering your instinctive responses. The bad news is that there is no way to stop this response entirely. The good news is that the big brain we mentioned earlier can help you control, and perhaps even use, your nervous response to the interview situation.
Five things to help with interview nerves
It's accepted that the nervousness is perfectly natural; you have taken a big step towards dealing with it. Understanding what is happening and why gives you the perspective to deal with it better. So here are five things you can do either to prepare or during the interview to help with those nerves.
1. Separate rational concerns from irrational ones before you go to the interview. The fear of the unknown makes up a big part of interview anxiety. The more irrational things you can get rid of, the better. You are not going to make a fool of yourself, and this is not some weird nightmare where you will arrive in your underwear by accident. It is an interview, and that is all. However, there are certainly some unknowns to deal with, and preparation will help reduce them.
- Make sure you are 100% certain of your timings and build in a good margin for problems that may make you late.
- Practice your interview questions
- Do the research on the company and, where possible, who will be interviewing you.
- Think of how to present yourself positively and practice that where possible.
And so on. The more you prepare, the less you will worry about the unknown.
2. Stay hydrated and eat properly before the interview… and go to the bathroom. Stick to your routine, eat your meals as normal and drink water. Your body is used to its routine, so breaking it is not a good idea. If you have an early interview, have breakfast. If you have a later one, eat as normal but beware of stimulants such as coffee and energy drinks which will only increase your nervousness. There is a theory that if you need the toilet, then you will focus more. Well, that may be true giving a speech, but not in an interview where it's just something else to worry about. You are trying to be more comfortable so being hungry, thirsty, or desperate for the toilet is clearly a bad idea.
3. During the interview, don't allow your body to go its own way. What I mean here is that you can control the physical symptoms of nervousness by recognising they are happening. One of the strange things about how we behave is that how we present ourselves actually changes how we feel. So, don't sit ramrod upright; relax a little but maintain your posture. If your hands are shaking or you feel a bit a little bit unsteady, don't fight it by tensing up because that will only make it worse. Smile and look relaxed, and you will probably find you start to feel that way. Take a few deep breaths before the interview and try to maintain a steady breathing pattern.
4. Focus on the room, not yourself. Stay in the moment by focusing on the questions and conversation, not your own nervousness. If your attention is focused on the situation, then you will have less time to worry about how nervous you are.
5. Slow down and take your time. Your anxiety will want to push you and make you rush through things. You are in charge, not your nervousness, so don't let it push you along. When you answer questions, use a measured, easy voice. Again, this will actually make you feel more relaxed while keeping the energy the situation is creating for you.
Rationally you know that everyone in the room is on your side. The interview panel want a new employee, and they must be fairly certain that you are an option, or you wouldn't have been asked along to interview. There is no combat here. Remember that, and your rational and thoughtful approach will help keep the nerves under control.
So, can you use the interview nerves to help you? Well, if you recognise what is happening and respond to the situation with a suitable approach, then, yes, you can. The list above means that you are aiming to be planned, relaxed, informed, and comfortable in the interview. In short, by recognising and controlling your response, you are helping your interview technique.
One final thought on being anxious about your interview. For some people, the natural response to interviews and other stressful situations is magnified and becomes a more serious problem. Some nervousness is fine and even helpful. If you find that the anxiety you are feeling is uncontrollable, causes some severe physical responses or creates a disproportionate amount of mental distress, then it is important you seek out some focused help.