Keeping calm during an interview is easier said than done. When your dream job is on the line, it can feel like the weight of the entire world is on your shoulders. Feeling stressed can also amplify your emotions and give you a warped view of the situation. This is why so many people leave interviews feeling like it was an absolute disaster when the feedback says otherwise.
If you’re prone to pre-interview jitters, remember that you’re not alone. Even those on the other side of the interview table can be prone to nerves. By keeping everything in perspective and taking a few actions ahead of your interview, you could soon approach this with confidence.
In this guide, the interview experts at Nolan Recruitment have gathered some excellent and actionable tips that can help you to stay calm and perform better in an interview.
Start by turning your anxiety on its head. If you’re too relaxed, it might appear that you aren’t interested in the opportunity. You could come across as arrogant or overly confident. So remember that a little bit of nerves is a good thing. It makes you more human, more approachable and lets the interviewer know that this opportunity is important to you.
The best way to battle your nerves is to be prepared. When you’re prepared, you minimise the unknown and this makes everything a lot less intimidating. Preparing for an interview involves researching the company, researching the role, and making sure you know your own CV and cover letter back to front.
Getting control of your anxiety will also come with practice. Your first interview might feel very daunting, but once you have attended a few interviews, you’ll learn the structure and the pace. There is always an element of the unknown in an interview, but try not to let this get the better of you.
Every interview is unique, but they often follow a similar format. This means you can rehearse your answers to the most popular interview questions so you have a more confident delivery. The most difficult interview question is often “tell me a little bit about yourself?” So make sure you have prepared a polished answer to this question.
The night before your big interview, switch off all electronic devices by 9 pm and start to wind down. Have a cup of caffeine-free tea and try reading a book instead of watching TV or checking your phone. If you’re tired on the day of your interview, your stress will feel magnified and you might even struggle with headaches and a tired appearance.
Aim to arrive at least 15 minutes early so you have time to check your appearance and collect your thoughts. Running into an interview flustered, with spinach in your teeth will make you feel a lot more stressed than you need to be. When you arrive, find a quiet place to sit down and concentrate on the task at hand.
Some things may be out of your control. If you are running late, call ahead to let them know what is happening and when you expect to arrive. Try to stay calm and focus on the things you can control.
Breathing exercises can help to limit your stress response. When you slow down your breathing, your heart also slows down and this can remove some of the physical symptoms of stress that might lead you to feel out of control. When your heart isn’t pounding in your ears, you can gather yourself and focus on the task at hand. Breathing exercises aren’t hard to master and they will serve you well in a variety of stressful situations.
When you’re stressed, you will be more likely to have a dry mouth and throat. To avoid a coughing fit in the middle of the interview, ask for a glass of water instead of a hot drink. A glass of water can also help calm your nerves. If you need a moment to compose yourself and prepare an answer, you can take a sip of water. This looks natural and confident, but it also gives you time to decide how to answer a question or think of a good example.
Caffeine will amplify your nerves, so try not to overdo it on the day of your interview. A cup of tea or coffee in the morning is fine, but try to avoid drinking too much caffeine or you could start to feel on-edge and jittery. Remember that green tea also has caffeine, so if you want to switch to a caffeine-free hot drink, try mint tea, rooibos tea or decaffeinated coffee.
We’ve already mentioned that nerves are a good thing to sharpen your mind, but try to keep the whole thing in perspective. You are just a person, meeting another person for a chat about a job. If they didn’t think you could do the job, they wouldn’t bother to interview you, so keep some perspective here.
It might seem like your dream job at the time, but don’t view it through rose-tinted glasses. Make sure you scrutinise the position to make sure it is something you really want. An interview is a two-way conversation, and you should be able to take the opportunity to ask questions to determine if the role is right for you. If the interviewer doesn’t allow you to ask questions, this could be a sign that they aren’t interested in your needs, only the needs of their business.
If you need to remember statistics to back up your achievements, there’s nothing wrong with preparing a few notes for the interview. Bring an annotated copy of your CV, a few notes and a pen. This will allow you to give the interviewer your full attention, as you can make notes about questions you would like to ask at the end of the interview. Having something to do with your hands can also help to keep your nerves in check; just make sure you don’t click the pen cap or tap on the desk.
If your nerves originate from a place of insecurity, you need to find a way to focus on your strengths. It’s normal to have a touch of imposter syndrome when you are applying for a new role. Switch your focus to your strengths instead of your weaknesses and remember that the interview is all about finding out if you are suitable for the role. If you aren’t quite ready to take the step in your career, at least you will know the steps you need to take to get there.
Your body language says a lot about your mindset. Slouching, toe-tapping, fidgeting and playing with your hair are all signs that you are stressed and nervous. Rolled shoulders and crossed arms will also make you appear shy and unapproachable. Sit up straight and focus on projecting a confident image. Adopting a powerful stance for 2 minutes before your interview can make you feel more confident and less stressed.
Talking about how nervous you are will only amplify your nerves. When it’s the only thing you can talk about and you keep apologising for your nerves, you give the interviewer something to focus on other than your strengths and achievements. It’s okay to be nervous, but try not to draw attention to it further by dropping it into the conversation.
Think about your current job and the person who interviewed you for that role. Are they still scary? Are you afraid to talk to them? Or course not. Because once you are out of the interview setting, they stop being scary. When you’re heading into the interview, remember that you’re just having a conversation with someone. You might feel like you are on the spot, but they will be far less judgemental than you believe them to be. And if an interviewer does take an unfriendly or intentionally intimidating tone, it might make you wonder if you even want to work for the company in the first place.
When your mind goes blank in an interview, even a second of silence will feel like a lifetime. Don’t be afraid of silence. It’s never as long as it feels in your head, and the interviewer would much rather endure a few seconds of silence while you collect your thoughts than listen to you “umm” and “err”. If you hate leaving a silence, you can simply say, “that’s a really interesting question” to give yourself some time.
And just as much as you want to avoid silence, you should also avoid rambling just to fill the silence. When you have finished your answer, pause and ask “would you like me to continue?” If you have said all they need to hear, they will move on to the next question. But if they’re interested in hearing more detail, you can then continue talking without feeling like you are rambling.
Even if it feels like the worst interview in the world, try to remain professional until you have left the premises. Letting your professional demeanour slide and accepting “defeat” before you’ve even left the room could ruin a successful interview.
It’s common for people to leave an interview believing that they have ruined their chances, when in fact the person conducting the interview is very impressed with their performance. So remain professional until you are out of the building and don’t give up on the interview at any stage.