Founder of Virtus Career Consulting, speaker and author of the career empowerment book
Have you ever visited a friend or family member with a dog that gets so nervous when people enter the house it starts to shake and pee on the floor? It’s quite pitiful, isn’t it?
When I was a hiring manager I interviewed a lot of people, and many of them were nervous. While being a bit nervous in an interview is normal, the image of the shaking, squirting little dog is not what you want to bring to a hiring manager’s mind when interviewing.
People get nervous for a variety of reasons. They believe a lot is riding on the interview. They’re concerned they may stumble on a question they haven’t prepared for. They lack confidence in their ability to perform well in an interview situation. They dread questions about their past, or the reason for leaving their last job, just to list a few.
Nerves that are detectable by an interviewer are self-sabotaging. Knowing you’re preparing to sabotage yourself should make you more nervous than the interview!
Here are 3 reasons why nerves kill an interview:
It undermines the interviewer’s confidence in you and calls your competence into question.
If you aren’t confident in your ability to do the job, the hiring manager has no reason to be.
You may also be giving off the impression you can’t handle pressure situations. Your manager isn’t going to feel comfortable giving you challenges, putting you in front of clients, asking you to give presentations or anything that could potentially undermine confidence in his or her team.
It creates a distraction that prevents you from building rapport with the interviewer.
An interviewee has two goals during an interview: connect your abilities to the position (I’ll talk about this later), and connect with the interviewer. Period.
Nerves don’t materialize out of thin air — They’re connected to anxiety-provoking thoughts you’re permitting to rent space in your head. If you’re nervous, you’re mentally focused on yourself, not the interviewer.
You can’t build a good rapport with someone when you’re focusing on yourself.
It affects your interview performance.
When you’re nervous, it’s because your brain is telling itself you’re in danger. Unless you walk into the room and find a venomous snake in the chair you’re about to plop into, an interview is not a dangerous situation, and turning it into one puts your body into fight/flight mode.
Let’s look at what happens when you’re in fight/flight:
The stress hormone, adrenaline, is released into your bloodstream causing your hands to become cold and sweaty (not pleasant to shake), your mouth to become dry (it’s not easy to speak eloquently with a dry mouth), and the pre-frontal cortex (which is responsible for personality expression, complex cognitive function, social behavior, and plays a role in memory), to experience lower levels of oxygen. This impairs your ability to recall interview stories when someone asks you to “Tell me about a time when…”
The decreased oxygen in your pre-frontal cortex also impairs your social interactions, your ability to portray your authentic personality, and your ability to think clearly. This is why we sometimes say irrational things when we are upset or stressed.
How to Keep Your Nerves in Check
1. Pay attention to the thoughts going through your mind
Most likely your thoughts will subconsciously carry your confidence off like a runaway train. Consciously identifying your thoughts allows you to challenge them and counter-balance them with different thinking; not accepting them at face value.
Here’s an example:
“There is so much riding on this job. If I don’t get it, I can’t pay my rent.”
I’m willing to bet you’re not homeless, and if it came right down to it you have friends or family that aren’t going to stand by and watch you live in your car if you don’t get that job. When the thought surfaces, you must reassure yourself the right job is out there for you. And when the right job presents, you’re going to get it. I work with clients who are beyond miserable and gainfully employed. Not receiving an offer means you weren’t what they were looking for. But you’re exactly what someone else needs. Count your blessings you avoided a situation as bad, or worse, than the situation you’re in.
Take slow, deep breaths
Before going into your interview take three slow, deep breaths, holding them for a count of three, then slowing releasing. This will help oxygenate your brain. Yawning also accomplishes oxygenation.
Make sure you are prepared to interview for the position
You will rise to your level of preparedness in the interview. Preparation is a key defense to nerves. You will want to be very intentional in preparing for each specific job you interview for. This article outlines how to align what you do best to the job description. Also, this checklist will help ensure your ducks are in a row.
The brain can’t focus on a negative and a positive at the same time. Knowing this, focus on your positives; those strengths that make you stand out. Everyone has strengths and, in fact, only 1 in 33 million people share the same top five in common on the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment.
I highly recommend taking the assessment to speak more confidently about your strengths.
Another positive approach is to tell the interviewer how glad you are to meet them, and that you’re looking forward to this time together. You’d be surprised how you can convince your brain that you really are happy to be in the situation.
Laugh a little, and smile
Just as adrenaline has a negative effect on interview performance, positive neurochemicals (which are released when you laugh and smile) have a positive effect. People who smile and laugh are rated higher in likability, and there is a lot of research about smiles being contagious. I was in Walmart two weeks ago in Nashville, TN, and the cashier didn’t look at me, or address me when I was checking out. At the very end of the transaction she looked up at me to hand me the receipt. When she looked at me, I gave her a genuine, big smile. Her hard exterior immediately melted and she returned a big smile back at me. It was a thing of beauty.
Think before you speak
If you’re nervous, you’re at risk of rambling. Poor impressions are certain to be made if the interviewer is subjected to a deluge of poorly thought out responses. If you don’t have an answer at the ready, ask for a moment (10 – 15 seconds should do it) to give the question some thought, or ask to return to the question at the end.
Exercise, get plenty of rest the night before, eat breakfast
Our coping skills suffer when we’re not well rested or nourished. Exercising the day before your interview should help you sleep better that night so you can show up ready to go.
Best of luck to you!