How to handle interview nerves

Got an interview coming up and feel crippled by nerves? You’re not alone. Nerves affect all of us – even the most polished performers on stage and screen still get the ‘jitters’. Feeling anxious is an entirely natural response to an unnatural situation. Despite protestations to “just be yourself” we all Anxious young lady waitingknow that interview success depends on many factors – some entirely beyond your control. And this perceived loss of control can really pump up the fear factor.

I don’t think it’s realistic – or even desirable – to eliminate nerves altogether. The stakes are high and you’re invested in the outcome. You should be nervous! Even if you feel somewhat ambivalent about the job, you’ll still want to emerge from the interview process with credibility intact. Nervous energy can be really good thing: think of it as a rocket boost of adrenalin. There is, however, a tipping point. You want to land on the moon, not orbit out of control!

Be prepared

Part of feeling nervous comes from our fear of the unknown or unexpected. It’s human instinct to consider the worst case scenario: your mind goes blank, your mouth freezes and you leave the interview room feeling thoroughly dejected. And red faced. In reality, this rarely happens. You can generally avoid interview disasters through good preparation. Do your homework and try to anticipate possible questions. One of the joys of living in the internet age is the sheer wealth of information available, and people’s willingness to share it!  Wikijob, Inside Buzz and Grad Diary all have questions used in past (and current) graduate selection interviews.

A word of warning though: you can over prepare. By all means draft some answers and think about key phrases you’d like to drop in, but don’t rehearse stock answers. This will only add to pressure on the day as you desperately try to recall – verbatim – what you were going to say.  It’s at this point that panic can set it and you lose momentum.

At a practical level, make sure you’ve got the logistics covered. Location, travel, timings. You don’t want to add to your nerves on the day by leaving something to chance.


There’s no need to rehearse until you’re word perfect (see above), but it’s a good idea to have a dry run and get into the flow of answering and anticipating questions. Most of the time, you will be given sufficient notice of an impending interview – telephone interviews might be  – so take advantage of this to book a mock interview. Although we can’t simulate the interview itself, we can throw some challenging questions your way and help refine your technique.

If you’ve had little in the way of real world interview experience, you could find yourself thrown by the prospect of a formal interview.  Practice alone won’t eliminate interview nerves, but it may give you the tips, tools and techniques to control them.  You’re more likely to be overwhelmed by the interview process if you go into it ‘blind’.

Take time to relax

We all have different props we use to relax and calm down before or after a stressful event. It might be speaking to a close friend, reading a throwaway gossip site or listening to music. I confess I tend to do all three (though not necessarily at once!), but my tried and tested formula to quell the interview nerves is to create a playlist of certain songs, focus on the music and filter out any intrusive thoughts.

Music has the capacity to calm, inspire and energise…which, in the context of an interview, seems like a pretty potent mix to me. Maybe you could plug yourself in on the journey down, or find a quiet spot when you get there.

If music doesn’t hit the right button, then find something that will. Maybe you could try some relaxation techniques, or positive visualisation?

Don’t forget to breathe

Anxiety does all manner of strange things to us and we all know the signs: sweaty palms, feeling hot, racing heart and shortness of breath – a typical fight or flight response. You can attempt to mask some of these signs and the interviewer will be none the wiser; you may feel your heart is visibly thumping out of your chest, but still appear swanlike and serene. Your voice, on the other hand, will betray you in an instant. It’s probably happened to most of us: in our heads we play out the interview scenario, complete with calm, assured delivery but we get into the interview (or presentation) and our voice starts to tremble and shake. In simple terms, we breathe faster, so we talk faster. Fear not, you can control this: take deep breaths and make a conscious effort to slow your breathing down.  If you feel yourself coming unravelled during the interview, take a moment to pause and recover, have a sip of water and start again.

Keep it in perspective…

Before, during and after the interview.

Tell yourself beforehand that it is just one interview. There will be others. I know that sounds horribly trite, but it’s easy to lose sense of the bigger picture. Of course you want to succeed – who doesn’t? – but sometimes, you’ll be rejected despite your best efforts. Don’t exaggerate the consequences of success or failure.

During the interview, remind yourself it’s normal to feel nervous. Interviewers know how stressful the process can be and they will be forgiving of the odd slip or stumble. It might even help to just admit how nervous you are – not only will it make you appear human, but giving voice to your fear can often neutralise it. A simple smile can help too. Remember the phrase, “fake it ’till you make it”? Well, half the battle is projecting confidence, even if you feel jelly-like inside.

And afterwards? Congratulate yourself on making it through. Even if you found the experience excruciating (unlikely – perception is often worse than reality), focus on the positives and don’t berate yourself too strongly if you ‘fail’. You can learn a lot from early interview experiences and use this to your advantage next time round.

2 thoughts on “How to handle interview nerves

  1. Pingback: How to handle interview nerves | Bournemouth University Placements & Careers Service Employability Blog

  2. Pingback: Interviews…are you sitting comfortably? | artanddesigncareers

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