Top tips for dealing with pre-interview nerves

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It’s natural to feel anxious before an interview. But as these tips show, by preparing well and adopting the right attitude you can learn to control your pre-interview nerves and channel them into something positive...

Do your research

A lot of the anxiety surrounding interviews is based on not knowing what to expect. You’ll feel a lot more confident – and have a better chance of keeping a lid on those nerves – if you know you’re well prepared.

Research can take many forms. You’ll want to make sure you research your potential employer, of course, that you understand how your skills match the specific role, and that you know your CV inside out. You’ll also want to rehearse answers to key questions you might be asked, from the very technical to the more competency-based. 

Having some questions of your own ready to ask too will also help. You can also try searching for the company on sites like Glassdoor to see if anyone has posted information on the interview process and the types of questions asked.

Don’t be too rigid in your approach though. If you try to remember answers and statements word for word, you could get thrown off if you’re asked a question in a different format or the interview follows a slightly different tack. Instead, think in terms of keywords and themes, and practise answering different questions on similar topics. 

If there’s a question you’re especially dreading, don’t just avoid thinking about it and hope it doesn’t come up: that’ll just give you something else to feel worried about! Tackle it head on instead – think about how you can best respond if it comes up and ask your peers for advice.

Practice makes perfect

Research is vital, but what really helps is running through your answers to interview questions aloud a few times, first with your notes and then without. The more familiar you are with the material you have prepared, the less nervous you’ll feel.

Get a friend, relative or trusted colleague to do some interview role-play with you. Choose someone you know will be supportive and kind, but also honest. They can give you invaluable feedback on what you did well, and highlight any areas you could improve on. Constructive feedback can help you separate genuine areas for improvement and baseless insecurities. 

Know the way

Another element of preparation is being confident about the journey to the interview. Find out all you can about where exactly the interview will take place, and plan your travel well in advance so you don’t have to worry about it on the day.

You might even want to do a dry run if you’re feeling anxious about finding the place – especially if, say, you’re going somewhere with several different entrances and buildings.

Check if you need to bring any documents with you and get them printed out and packed well in advance. Get everything ready ahead of time so you don’t have any extra worries on the day itself.

Know who you're meeting

Finding out how many people you’re likely to be meeting and who they are can help reduce your nerves too. Knowing if it’s a one-to-one meeting or a panel format can affect the way you prepare, for example. And if you find out a bit about the people you’re to meet – for instance, by looking at their LinkedIn profiles – you can get a flavour of the sort of questions they’re likely to ask, as well as develop ideas for interesting small talk to help you build rapport with them.

Sort your outfit

Decide on your outfit well ahead of time, and make sure it’s clean and ironed. While you might want to wear something new, make sure it’s not too tight or uncomfortable – you don’t want to be worried on the day about a shirt with a too-tight top button or a pair of brand new shoes that are pinching painfully. Ideally go for an outfit that’s smart but comfortable.

Rationalise your fears

According to cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), it’s not a situation itself that causes us anxiety, but our perception of that situation. So try to identify any negative thoughts you have about the interview (e.g. ‘I’m not experienced enough for this role’) and challenge them (‘I have valuable experience from my time working at X’).

Remind yourself that you wouldn’t have been invited to the interview if the employer didn’t think you were right for the role. Your potential employer already considers you eligible enough to have called you for interview – ahead of scores or even hundreds of others – so you’ve already sailed over the first, very tough hurdle. 

Inject some perspective

When you feel nervous, everything seems tough and forbidding. It’s tempting to see your interviewer, for example, as a heartless examiner who’d like nothing more than to catch you out.

Injecting some perspective here can help calm you down. Remember that your interviewer is just another human, like you. Also, it’s in their interest to build rapport with you and get you to show yourself in your best light because they have a vacancy to fill, after all, and are doubtless judged on the quality of their hires. They will be used to seeing people feeling nervous too, and keen to put you at ease.

It’s also important not to put too much pressure on yourself. Of course you really want this job, but bear in mind that if you don’t get this job, it is emphatically not the end of the world. There are other jobs out there – and actually, by not caring excessively about the role, you have a better chance of performing better at the interview. 

Embrace positive self-talk

Psychologists and therapists remind us that the language we use to talk to ourselves can have a powerful effect on our beliefs and actions. So reframing unhelpful thoughts into more constructive ones can make a real difference.

For example, rather than saying, ‘I have to do some interview prep today’ (which makes it sound like someone else is forcing you to), say ‘I want to get ahead on my prep tonight’ (which sounds like you’re proactively embracing the decision). Similarly, rather than say, ‘I’m so nervous about the interview’, why not start saying, ‘I’m so excited about the interview’?

Another positive thought process is to visualise how you’ll feel when the interview is over. Arrange a treat for the evening to look forward to, perhaps a drink with a friend or partner with whom you can enjoy yourself and talk over what happened.  

Breathe deep and slow

When we are stressed our breathing patterns change: the breath gets shallower, the rate quickens, and our hearts start to race. Breathing techniques can help to reduce your heart rate and make you feel calmer.

There are many different breathing techniques out there, but one of the simplest centres on ‘slow breathing’: breathe in normally but focus on exhaling slowly and steadily until your lungs are completely empty. Extending your exhalation will naturally deepen your inhalation. Keep doing this for a few minutes until you feel more relaxed.

...and then relax

On the night before the interview, try not to do any last-minute cramming. Instead, do something you find fun and relaxing. Laughter can reduce levels of stress hormones and anxiety so meet up with a fun friend who always takes your mind off things, or watch an undemanding movie that always puts you in a good mood.

Or if you draw more strength from time alone, read a good book and have a luxurious soak in the bath. Do whatever makes you feel relaxed.

Say no to late-night caffeine and give yourself the best chance of a really good night’s sleep.

Start the day like you mean it

Get up early on the day of your interview. Leave more than enough time to get ready: rushing around will only put you on edge. Go for a quick run or other exercise to help you burn off any excess tension.

Have a good breakfast – something that will sustain you without making you feel sluggish, such as porridge or a poached egg on wholemeal toast. If you’ve lost your appetite, take a couple of bananas with you and eat a mouthful when you can. Avoid too much caffeine if possible: it can make you feel jittery and on edge.

Leave with plenty of time to get to the interview and on your way listen to some relaxing or motivational music to get you feeling calm or pumped up – whatever works best for you!

Last-minute tips

If you arrive hot and bothered, go to the bathroom and run cold water over your wrists and dab behind your ears to cool yourself down. Use the breathing techniques you’ve practised to slow down your heart rate. And while you’re waiting to go in, don’t be afraid to make conversation with the receptionist or anyone else waiting with you – it’ll help you take your mind off any nerves you’re feeling. 

For further advice on interview preparation, download our Complete Interview Guide.