How to conquer your job interview nerves

Stave off the butterflies for long enough to bag your dream job.

by Jack Torrance
Last Updated: 10 May 2017

Most of us get a bit nervous before a job interview and that holds true throughout your career. Whether it’s the selection day for a graduate scheme or being grilled by the chairman before being made CEO, butterflies in your stomach and feelings of self-doubt always threaten to make an appearance. 

Around two thirds of people feel that nerves prevent them from ‘showing off their true ability’ according to a recent survey by totaljobs. Here are a few pointers on staving off your tight chest and wavering voice long enough to wow your interviewers and bag the job. 

Be prepared – but not too prepared

How long you need to spend preparing for an interview depends on the specific job. Clearly you need to know a decent amount about the company and what’s required of the role, and think about the qualities you have that the interviewer needs to know about. ‘Confidence is key and the key to confidence is knowledge,’ says Holly Andrews, MD of KIS Finance.

If you expect some competency-based questions ('describe an obstacle you’ve overcome, a time you’ve worked in a team' etc.) then you ought to have some canned responses prepared. But you can definitely spend too much time trying to remember word-perfect answers.

‘Trying to rehearse every single situation is only going to stress you out, and chances are you’ll place far too much on your plate to remember anyway,’ says Lee Biggins, MD and founder of CV-Library. Instead of thinking of the interview as a Q&A session, approach it as a two-way dialogue. This will help you keep calm and present yourself in the best possible light.’

Remember that nerves are normal

'It’s important to remember that it’s natural to feel anxious about a job interview,' says Matt Humphires, MD of Babel PR. 'Many people think they shouldn’t be nervous and this can only add to the pre-interview jitters. By recognising that this isn’t a weakness, but something we all experience from time to time, candidates can focus on the task at hand.'

Think about why you’re perfect for the job

Self-doubt can be crippling. But you wouldn’t have applied for the role if you didn’t think you could do it, and you wouldn’t have been offered an interview if the employer didn’t like the look of you. ‘Recall previous scenarios where you went above and beyond to help a customer, solve a problem, and just generally some of things you are proud of having achieved,’ says Andrews.

Sleep and avoid coffee

Of course you know you need a good night’s sleep to function properly, and if you’re feeling really nervous then it’s even harder to get some shut-eye. But even if you’re struggling to drift off, you’re better off persevering (try counting sheep?) than getting up and cramming questions. If you are feeling super tired the next day, resist the urge to sink a few double espressos.

‘Your nerves will cause your adrenaline to start racing,’ says Emma May, head of employment at Work Avenue. ‘Caffeine will simply cause you to ramp up further and make you feel even more nervous.’

Arrive early

‘There’s nothing worse than sprinting in at the very last minute out of breath and sweating furiously,’ adds May. ‘If needs be, visit the interview venue the day before so you don’t get lost looking for it. This will mean you remain calm and poised.’


Read more: How to ace a competency-based interview


Pace yourself and take a breath

When you’re nervous it can sometimes feel as though the words you’re trying to say can’t leave your lips quick enough. Even if you have great ideas they can end up sounding like a garbled mess. ‘Remember to breathe, pace yourself and pause between sentences,’ says Claire Walker, CEO of Firely Communications. ‘It’s ok to allow yourself some time to think about your response before answering a question. This will prevent you waffling or going off on a tangent.’

Get some perspective

Other jobs will come along. Even if this is your dream job, that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to apply again if you fail this time around. ‘If you convince yourself you must get the job or else it is the end of the world that will not help your nerves!’ says Andrews. ‘If you do not get the position you can ask for feedback to learn from and move on. It is not the be all and end all, so relax.’

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