Treat your anxiety as an ally not an enemy.
by Katharine Brooks Ed.D
I've never met anyone who doesn't get nervous before an important job interview. With so much riding on your performance it’s not surprising that you would experience some anxiety about everything in the process-- from not wearing the right outfit, or not answering questions “perfectly," to looking foolish, or perhaps the worst fear, not getting the job offer.
Feeling stressed or anxious about an important interview is just a sign that you want to do well. Your anxiety can actually motivate you to be better prepared, provide you with energy and keep you alert during the process. But, anxiety can also keep you from doing your best by distracting you or weakening your memory, so here are 10 quick tips for calming your anxiety and maybe even taking advantage of it:
1. Be careful what you eat or drink prior to an interview. It probably goes without saying, but avoid caffeine before the interview. It's also never a good idea to have an alcoholic drink before an interview, even if you think it will “relax” you. Eat something light before your interview so your stomach isn't growling or you get light-headed. A heavy meal can make you tired, so eat moderately. (And make sure you check a mirror for any leftover spinach!)
2. Don’t “force” yourself to calm down. Forcing yourself to calm down will just increase your stress.
3. Control what you can by preparing for the interview. You can’t always control what you will be asked or what will happen in the interview, but you can control how you prepare for it. Use your anxiety to motivate yourself to prepare. Research the organization, practice responses to interview questions, practice your handshake, practice telling powerful stories about your skills, etc. The more prepared and knowledgeable you are about your potential employer, the better you are likely to perform in the interview. If possible, do a mock interview beforehand. If you’re in college, many career centers offer mock interviews. Otherwise, give some typical interview questions to a friend and have them “interview” you. Also, if you’re traveling to the interview, make sure you know where you’re going and allow plenty of time to get there. Don’t rush in at the last minute—allow for possible traffic delays or late flights. Here's what the Senior VP for People Operations at Google has to say about preparing for an interview.
4. Write down your spinning thoughts. Make a list of everything that’s popping into your head. Writing can be one of the most therapeutic and helpful tasks you can do to reduce your anxiety generally, beyond just at job interviews. Dr. James Pennebaker’s research at The University of Texas at Austin has demonstrated the healing value of writing.
5. Question your thoughts. Ask yourself: “Is this true?” Remember, just because you feel it doesn’t make it true. Can you dispute your emotional thoughts with logic? Try changing your thinking to change your mind. The Australian Centre for Clinical Interventions provides a great worksheet on “Unhelpful Thinking Styles.” See if any of these unhelpful thoughts might be raising your anxiety.
6. Breathe. When you’re anxious, your breathing is shallow. Try breathing in for a count of 4, hold for 2, and breathe out for a count of 4. Do this for a minute or two. You can usually practice breathing anywhere (like the waiting area before your interview); no one will likely notice it. Try taking a few minutes to sit and breathe calmly in your car after you park at the interview site. If you find that breathing techniques help you, Dr. Andrew Weil offers several breathing exercises to try.
7. Try Sighing. Sometimes it can be hard to breathe deeply when you’re stressed, so try sighing instead. Take a breath and let it out like a sigh. You’ll probably feel your shoulders relax (tension around the neck and shoulders is a common response to anxiety).
8. Assume the super-hero posture: it’s a power-pose and the opposite of anxiety. Stand tall and place your hands on your hips with your elbows jutting out, like you’re standing on top of world and observing everything in your domain. Take some deep breaths. Remember, you’re in charge of the world. (Just be careful where you do this...) Watch this TED talk by Ann Cuddy to learn about how your posture affects your mood.
9. Practice self-compassion. Focus on these words: Wisdom. Strength. Warmth. Nonjudgment. Repeat them to yourself while you breathe. Try not to critique yourself as you go through the process. Don't say anything to yourself that you wouldn't say to a good friend. One of my favorite resources for reducing anxiety and increasing self-compassion is Dr. Christopher Germer's book, The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion.
10. Get outside of yourself. Anxiety causes us to become very self-centered and self-focused. Make a point of focusing on others and being empathic. Greet the receptionist at the interview site. Ask your interviewer how their day is going. Pay attention when someone tells you their name, and make an effort to remember it. Smile. Engage with others.
You will likely always experience a certain amount of anxiety at an interview, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. But if it is debilitating or keeps you from moving forward in the job search, seek professional help. There are many treatments for anxiety and it doesn’t need to be an excuse for not doing well at an interview—in fact, as you now realize, there are ways to take advantage of it and use it to improve your interview performance.