21 Smart Tips to Calm Interview Nerves: 2024 Ultimate Guide

By: Joe McDermott | Updated: 12 June, 2024
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How to overcome interview nerves

So you’ve got the call or email telling you to come for interview for the job you’ve always wanted and…you panic!

You break into a sweat, your heart races, you ask yourself, what will they ask, how should I answer, what will I wear.

Our first piece of advice is to stay calm.

We all know that Job interviews can be immensely stressful, whether you are a first timer or a veteran. It is perfectly normal to feel anxious about the experience, but letting your nerves get the better of you and getting into a panic might jeopardise your chances of success.

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In This Lesson:

  • Why we get nervous before and during an interview
  • How interview nerves can be a good thing
  • How to staying calm before the interview
  • 21 smart tips to calm your job interview nerves
  • Key questions answered and what not to do

The Science – Why We Get Nervous In Job Interviews

Us humans may have hauled ourselves up from humble beginnings to the current civilisational peak we occupy but strip away our fashionable clothes and smartphones and there is still a fragile creature lurking underneath, with a set of animal instincts underpinning our behaviour.

When subjected to stressful situations, it is all too easy to let these instincts take charge. A job interview can create the perfect storm of emotions that can knock even the most composed individuals off-kilter.

A lot of this is down to the fight or flight response which floods your system with adrenaline and other potentially disruptive substances. This is a very fundamental part of our make-up and forms a highly efficient survival response used by our ancestors when confronted with potentially dangerous situations.

While the job interview is of course not dangerous, it can be a highly anxious experience and this post will help you overcome those unhelpful nerves.

What Job Interview Anxiety Looks Like

Interview anxiety can manifest itself in lots of noticeable ways, from shortness of breath and blushing to an intense need to use the loo at an inconvenient moment.

The pressure to impress prospective employers often evokes such responses, but mastering nervous urges and turning them to your advantage is not always straightforward.

While a job interview would hardly be classed as a dangerous situation, it is an unfamiliar one and one where we feel the need to be on guard and to give the ‘right’ answers. As we start to feel nervous or anxious, many changes start to happen in the body almost all of them subconsciously.

  • In response to the release of hormones such as adrenaline, your blood pressure increases and breathing speeds up preparing you for muscular effort, i.e. the fight or flight.
  • For most people that is as far as it goes and they feel energised and ready.
  • For others the feelings can be more intense and they may experience some shakiness and muscles may become tense
  • The palms of the hands and feet may become either sweaty or cold and clammy.

What you need to remember is that all of these reactions are perfectly normal and natural. Walking the tightrope of interview nerves requires practice and preparation, and there are some steps you can take to get ahead of the pack.

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21 Tips to Calm Your Interview Nerves

So how can you stay calm in your interview and overcome your fears. What can you do to face an interview panel with confidence? Here is the lowdown on how to handle and ultimately overcome those interview nerves for good.

1. Remember you are not alone

First and foremost, remember that everyone experiences some nervousness prior to an interview. There are very few people who are able to stand up and speak in front of strangers and not feel some degree of tension; top actors, television presenters, senior businessmen all succumb to nerves and all have their own way of coping and getting on with the job.

2. Nervousness during a job interview is good

Firstly it is important to realise that interview nerves are not necessarily a bad thing; if you learn to leverage them you can even become a better interviewee. With your brain engaged and your senses heightened, you can make connections quicker and perform well when put on the spot.

In addition, interviewers will expect to see some nerves as this indicates enthusiasm and a desire to get the job. A candidate who presents at a job interview all cool and laid back will be less likely to succeed as the interviewer will assume they are not interested enough in the role.

3. Turn interview anxiety on its head

The trick is to turn the anxiety on its head without getting overwhelmed by it. Because it is equally unhelpful to go into an interview in an overly relaxed state, which might lead to just as many slip-ups as if you are a gibbering wreck.

A certain amount of nervous energy is useful. It will make you appear interested and enthusiastic keen to take on the role. In my experience a candidate who appears too laid back, too calm could be seen as apathetic and perhaps not really interested in the job.

4. Make the interview familiar

The interview is an unfamiliar and artificial setting made all the worse if you don’t know what to expect. It is very much based in our fear of the unknown however by preparing properly and practicing repeatedly, interviewing will become more familiar and as a result your nervousness will be reduced.

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Staying Calm Before The Interview

Overcome nerves before a job interview

5. Anticipate the interview questions

Putting your mind at ease before an interview is essential, so make sure you are ready to face whatever questions they might throw at you and are prepared to talk about yourself positively. A lack of prep is likely to increase your natural apprehension about the event itself and make nerves harder to overcome.

6. Clear your head

Before the interview begins, take as much time as you can to gather your thoughts and work with your body, not against it. If you have the opportunity, taking a short stroll around the block can be immensely helpful, as sitting still will give you time to stew and will not provide the hit of endorphins that light exercise can deliver to quell any qualms.

7. Avoid stimulants

What you eat and drink before an interview plays a big part in how your nerves manifest themselves. Steer clear of coffee and other caffeinated drinks, as these will make you more likely to appear shaky and unable to concentrate. Drink water, but make sure that you enter the interview room with an empty bladder to avoid distraction.

8. Chew gum

Some experts advise that chewing a stick of gum can smooth out any jangling nerves, but remember to dispose of it discretely well before you encounter anyone in your potential place of employment, as this is not a good look for a first meeting.

9. Repeat confidence-boosting mantras

People often find that having a confidence-boosting mantra to repeat to themselves is a boon, whether said out loud in private or echoing silently in your own head. Simply chanting something like “I am fully ready for this” or “I can do this brilliantly” can muster a bit of mettle and make the prospect of the interview less daunting.

How to Calm Your Interview Nerves During the Interview

Dealing with interview nerves while in the interview room

Once the interview starts, anxieties can flare up and it is easy to get flustered even if you have begun on solid footing. Reining in your nerves before they get out of control is possible even in the direst of scenarios.

10. Watch your posture

Sitting comfortably but attentively is necessary to make sure you can complete the interview without having to fidget and shuffle around, and to project an air of confidence and dynamism. Slouching is not an option, nor is sitting on the edge of your seat, so try to find a balance between the two; upright and engaged without appearing flighty.

11. Calm shaky hands

If you feel your hands shaking, do not clamp them in your lap or fold your arms. By clenching your thigh muscles instead you will calm the shakes and still be able to use them to make open, honest gestures as you speak.

12. Focus on the questions

Nerves can crank your inner critic up to 11 and might mean that you miss an important aspect of a question you are asked, so try to focus on what the interviewer is saying.

13. Breathe

Making a conscious effort to breath evenly and listen will naturally combat other issues caused by anxiety, such as a rising pulse rate, so there are a range of benefits to gain.

14. Keep in mind they are on your side

Your interviewers will know you are nervous and will allow for this. In fact, in our experience we have never seen a candidate miss out on a job because simply because they were nervous. We have however seen candidates lose out because they were too relaxed and came across as not interested.

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Golden Rules to Overcome Interview Nerves Forever

To help calm your nerves, follow these overarching guidelines which have been found to be highly effective.

15. Proper Preparation

With adequate preparation you can turn your interview from an unfamiliar to a more familiar one, and thus reduce your anxiety levels significantly.

It is facing the unknown that instils anxiety. If we are about to be thrust in front of many strangers to deliver a speech we should likely feel more trepidation than if we had to give that same speech in front of a group of friends. We know subconsciously that we can expect a favourable and forgiving response from friends, but with strangers we cannot tell what the result might be. Thus a scenario about which we have prior knowledge or is familiar is easier to deal with.

The key to making an unfamiliar situation like the interview into a familiar one is to prepare effectively and this includes:

  • Research the recruiting company
  • Analyse the Job Description and Person Specification
  • Getting to know the interview questions and prepare your answers
  • If feasible, visit the offices where the interview will be held
  • Carry out a mock interview at home
  • Make sure you have the right clothes and accessories to make a great first impression
  • Ensure you have all the right tools and information ready for the big day

All of these will help you prepare mentally and help you feel that you are ‘coming home’ when you arrive at the interview.

16. Avoid Rushing – Arrive Calm

There is nothing worse for you as a candidate than having to rush to an interview. Your body will be in a physical state of flight and combined with the worry about being late, the potential embarrassment, the risk of missing out on the job, all can trigger an anxiety attack.

Not a good idea and we suggest that you time your journey to arrive about 20-30 minutes early at the interviewing offices. Do not however report to reception until about 10 minutes before the start time. Use this free time to relax, practice deep breathing, study your CV/Resume, read a book or whatever you feel most comfortable doing.

17. Use Body Language

At interview you want to come across as confident so you should stand or sit straight without slouching, and of course smile. These combined will then give the message that you are unfazed because your subconscious has received the message that there is no need for anxiety you will actually start to feel much more relaxed.

Smile and stand up straight with shoulders back as this will give your subconscious a message that all is ok; it is not a dangerous situation and there is no need to initiate the fight or flight response.

If you suffer from either sweaty or cold hands, simply pop into the bathroom prior to the interview, wash your hands and dry. They should stay warm and dry until you have completed the necessary introductions and handshakes.

18. Positive Mental Messaging

The power of the mind is quite considerable and it really helps to think positively before an interview and to reaffirm your self-belief. Do not allow yourself to dwell on doubts about your ability to do the job or to get through the interview.

You know in your heart that you are qualified and can do the job, otherwise you would not have got this far in the selection process. You have prepared for the interview and it is simply a hurdle to jump. You can tell yourself that you’re as good as, if not better than, most other candidates, and that even if you don’t get the job there are plenty more out there.

A simple affirmation or silent mantra such as ‘I can do this job and do it well’ repeated to yourself coming up to interview is surprisingly effective at blocking negative thoughts and doubts.

Nervousness can sometimes be acerbated by the negative messages we have running around in our heads. Thoughts such as, ‘I’m not really good enough for the job’ or ‘I might freeze and won’t know what to say’, or ‘If I don’t get this job no-one else will want to hire me’, are very common leading up to an interview.

If you analysed these messages rationally none of them would be true however much they can ‘feel’ true. Counteract them with positive messages such as: ‘I know I can do this job’ and ‘I am a confident, skilled and competent and I will have a great interview’ and repeat it silently leading up to the interview. It is surprising how well this works and how it can overwrite the negative messages.

19. Use the AWARE technique for anxiety

This is a common technique taught by psychotherapists to clients suffering from anxiety and can be used to help with any nerve inducing situation.

A: Accept your nervousness; remember it has a purpose and is useful to you.
W: Watch it; try to observe it, as if from a distance.
A: Take Action such as 7-11 breathing; slowly and naturally breathe in to the count of 7, using you diaphragm to inhale deeply into your stomach then exhale slowly while counting to 11.
R: Repeat the above steps about 5-10 times and you will notice your anxiety disappearing.
E: Expect the best and use your positive mantra.

20. Deep breathing for relaxation

Breathing exercises are often used by athletes or performers before an event, and they do help, not only to focus the mind, but also to get more oxygen into the body and give you a slight physiological lift.

Try this simple exercise

This is based in yogic traditions and is best done while sitting up.

  • To start, breathe out fully.
  • Using the thumb of your right hand, block your right nostril and inhale through your left nostril only.
  • Be sure to inhale into your stomach, not your chest.
  • Once you are full of breath, close your left nostril with the middle finger of the same hand, release your thumb and exhale through your right nostril only.

Repeat for 8-10 breaths with the eyes closed and you will feel a sense of silence and calmness.

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Use this just before the interview

This is a very simple breathing exercise which you can use just before you go into the interview room:

  • Place one hand just above your belt line, and the other on your chest, right over the breastbone.
  • Open your mouth and sigh, as if someone had just told you something really annoying. As you do, let your shoulders and the muscles of your upper body relax down with the exhalation.
  • Pause for a few seconds and repeat a few times and you will find yourself relaxing more and more.
    You can also combine it with the 7-11 breathing rhythm as described previously.

21. Visualisation

This is a technique used by athletes and sports people and helps you to prepare mentally.

  • Set aside between 20 – 30 minutes to complete this exercise.
  • Choose a setting which for you is your safest most comfortable such as sitting in your favourite chair, lying in bed etc.
  • Close your eyes, breathe deeply and imagine all your muscles relaxing one by one starting with the top of your head and working to your feet.
  • When you are feeling relaxed, start to visualise the interview; see yourself arriving, smiling confidently at the interviewing panel, greeting them.
  • Imagine feeling happy to be there, sitting in a relaxed pose and answering the questions competency and easily.
  • Visualise the panel smiling and being positive towards you, interested in what you are saying.
  • Finally, imagine being offered the job and celebrating your success

Throughout the exercise, maintain a feeling of calmness and composure and your mind will start to associate these feelings with this situation and by repeating a number of times you will find that you approach your interview with a positive winning attitude.

Lesson Takeaway

  • The key to overcoming interview nerves is to prepare and practice.
  • The trick is to turn the anxiety on its head without getting overwhelmed by it. Because it is equally unhelpful to go into an interview in an overly relaxed state, which might lead to just as many slip-ups as if you are a gibbering wreck.
  • Walking the tightrope of interview nerves requires practice and preparation and the tactics above will help greatly.
  • You will find that by working through mock interviews in the Answer Builder and Interview Me modules you will be more confident and much less nervous.

Frequently asked questions

1. Should I use medication or alcohol to calm my interview nerves?

We can understand the temptation to use some form of support such as medication or alcohol. Indeed, the idea of something to steady my nerves is common however not one we can recommend.

With for example some form of tranquilizer you have the risk of coming across as too languid, slow and not enthusiastic enough. When recruiting, we always look for a candidate who is very keen to work with us, who is excited to be at the interview as this indicates someone which will be devoted to the job and to us as an organisation. If they seem too laid back, we may conclude they are just not interested and most likely will not offer the job.

With alcohol you run the risk of drinking too much and coming across as too over the top and perhaps hard to manage. And of course showing up for an interview smelling of alcohol or simply intoxicated is a complete no.

2. I think I have clinical interview anxiety – what can I do?

While getting nervous before a big event such as an interview is normal, severe anxiety can also be an actual disorder, and for which you may need to seek professional diagnosis.

There are a range of disorders linked to anxiety and indeed it is one of the most common mental health issues.

For example, panic attacks, obsessive compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress are just some of the classifications. We suggest that as a first step you go see your GP and they will be able to diagnose and suggest treatment as appropriate.

3. How can I tell if my interview nervousness is normal or needs further diagnosis?

It is impossible to generalise however in simple terms if your anxiety is present but doesn’t stop you from carrying out normal day to day functions it is probably not an anxiety disorder. Going to a job interview or giving a presentation is a relatively rare but also stressful event and most people experience a rush of excitement, butterflies in the stomach, sweaty palms, dryness in the mouth however can start and carry on through the interview. It is quite common for nervousness to diaper in the first few minutes of the interview too. However, if your anxiety is so severe it is actually preventing you from going to the interview you may want to consider further diagnosis.

4. What are the most important techniques you suggest for job interview anxiety?

a. Firstly we always suggest proper preparation is the best technique to relieve nerves before an interview. The InterviewGold system will help you by giving you common questions relevant to your job and it will help you create answers. In addition, you practice with the realistic mock interviews so that when you arrive in the interview you are feeling as if it’s much more familiar.

b. Consider meditation, deep breathing or some form of exercise you can do at home. Mindfulness techniques are great as they keep you in the moment and you can find lots of apps to download and use on the way to the interview.

c. A positive mental attitude is also essential; think of success and you will be successful. Keep in mind the interview is a friendly conversation, not a confrontational meeting; the interviewers want you to be relaxed and they will make the environment open and conducive to a great interview.

d. Stay healthy: take exercise, a walk, a run or a visit to the gym can work wonders before an interview. It will get your energy up, will reduce tension and help you feel relaxed and ready for anything.

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Overcome interview nerves

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About the Author |
Joe McDermott is CEO of Anson Reed the UK's leading interview coaching specialists and founder of the successful InterviewGold online interview training system. Since 2006, Joe and his team of top interview coaches have helped thousands of clients win jobs and in this blog they offer their expert advice - all to make sure you get your top post.