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7 Tips to Stop Job Interview Nerves Once and For All
You practiced it all the night before. Calm, clear and confident. The mirror seemed impressed with your qualifications and work experience. It even laughed at your jokes - said you were charismatic and charming.
Fast forward 24 hours and the mirror has been replaced with a very inquisitive, stone-faced manager called Godfrey, who just wants to watch the world burn. Your throat is dry, your hands trembling and sweat is beading on your forehead. The diagnosis for your sudden ailment is nerves. Fortunately, we have the perfect prescription for you...
It turns out that Godfrey is actually a lovely man, but those pesky nerves can cloud your judgement somewhat - thus he appears as a seven-headed beast that feasts on the souls and CVs of interviewees. Some people get more nervous than others in situations like this, so knowing how to relax more will help you should they appear. Two of the most common situations when nerves appear are first dates and job interviews (and if you haven't already, check out our article covering why these two are very similar).
So let's not waste any time and jump into the top 7 ways to ease your nerves before (and during) an interview, allowing you to exude the kind of confidence and serenity that wins jobs...
1. Show your hands
I don't know about you, but when I talk (especially to somebody I've never met before and want to impress) I tend to use my hands a lot. Surprisingly though, a lot of people in interview situations hide their hands below the desk like a naughty school kid. But somebody who shows their hands is generally perceived as more trustworthy and honest, and using hands to accentuate a verbal point can empower you and stoke confidence levels.
A simple tip anyone can try is to take three very deep breaths (in through your nose, out through your mouth) before the interview. This will help to instantly lower your heart rate and result in much slower speech.
In slight contradiction to this, you want to avoid becoming a professional mime artist. Too much hand movement can be patronising, so use it sparingly to express important points. If you don't feel comfortable using your hands at all, don't worry - just ensure they are visible.
If you're simply resting your hands on the table, you should avoid placing your palms flat down. This implies immediate authority and may provoke a feeling of antagonism towards you from the interviewer. Instead, it is a good idea to have relaxed palms, simply resting in front of you.
Using the arms of the chair is also a great idea, as it means you have to spread out more - making yourself bigger and therefore appearing more powerful. Having a pen to hold can help to mask any nervous fidgeting (providing you're not clicking it furiously).
Have a read of our article covering body language during an interview for more tips on this subject.
2. Always speak slowly and clearly
When you speak in an interview situation, you'll notice words come out of your mouth rather quickly - an unfortunate byproduct of the nerves coursing through your veins. Speaking fast not only makes what you're saying hard to digest, but it also makes the information seem less significant.
Taking your time to explain what skills and experience you'll bring to the role is fundamental if you are to make a good impression. A simple tip anyone can try is to take three very deep breaths (in through your nose, out through your mouth) before the interview. This will help to instantly lower your heart rate and result in much slower speech.
When you have to talk about yourself, don't be shy about showing off your accomplishments a little. If you worked on a project that received critical acclaim then make sure they know that.
If your mouth feels dry (another byproduct of those pesky nerves), take a sip of water in between questioning. Come to think of it, ensure you are well hydrated before the interview - as dehydration can cause a significant drop in concentration levels and lead to you fumbling your words.
Bonus tip: if you suffer particularly badly from nerves, you might find that your voice shakes in pressurised situations. To alleviate this, stick your tongue out as far as you can and recite your favourite nursery rhyme or poem. This will open the back of your throat and exercise your vocal chords - meaning you will sound far more calm and collected. Just don't do this exercise in front of the interview panel - it could look slightly odd.
3. Don't just talk about yourself
It's easy to forget, but this isn't all about you. Although you're there to state your case as the perfect candidate, spending the entire interview talking about your qualifications and that one time you volunteered because you're such an awesome human being, isn't the clincher.
Being interactive with the interviewer is just as important - by which I mean ask them questions, show an interest in their life and quiz them on how they got to where they are. Aside from giving them a little ego boost (let's face it we all love talking about ourselves), it shows that you have the initiative and social skills to operate competently within their company.
Interview preparation isn't just about turning up with a memorised bio of the company and a copy of your CV - it can span multiple subjects.
When you have to talk about yourself, don't be shy about showing off your accomplishments a little. If you worked on a project that received critical acclaim then make sure they know that. Any awards you might have received should also be highlighted - both on your CV and verbally too.
You can give yourself a cool air of humility by expressing how the training you have received has been first class. This makes it appear less like bragging but still reiterates your talent and experience.
4. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail
Probably the most cited reason for failure (at anything for that matter), a lack of preparation can only serve to exacerbate your nerves. Being well prepared is the most basic advice to be given, yet so many people still get it wrong.
Interview preparation isn't just about turning up with a memorised bio of the company and a copy of your CV - it can span multiple subjects. You need to be ready for those offbeat questions, know where you want to be in 10 years' time and be prepared for any traffic hold ups on the way to the interview. A lot to do, right? Well fortunately we've made a checklist for you below:
- Research the company: their history, values, culture and goals.
- Research the interviewer (where possible): use company bios to pre-empt their hobbies and interests.
- Match your skills to the role: break down what skills you can offer and how they are relevant to the specified position.
- Research the interview location: avoid being rushed or late by checking for traffic delays and planning your journey beforehand.
- Always take along a copy of your CV and any supporting collateral that is relevant to the job: this shows initiative and a high level of organisation and preparation.
While you're never going to be 100% prepared for every question they might ask you, it helps to practice your answers to some of the most common interview questions out there - just so you're not sat 'umming and ahring' for ages in front of them. So thank us later, because we've got your back covered here with a list of 5 of the most common unconventional interview questions:
1. If you're the CEO, what are the first three things you check about the business when you wake up?
While there is no right or wrong answer to this question, just bear in mind this is setup to check your ingenuity and common sense.
2. Would you rather fight 1 horse-sized duck, or 100 duck-sized horses?
This question tests your creativity and rationality. A clever answer for one like this would be to say neither, as you prefer to avoid any conflict.
3. How would you sell hot cocoa in Florida?
Probably aimed at sales professionals more so than any other, this question is a test of your initiative, resourcefulness and ability to think outside the box.
4. Sell me this pen (or any random office item to hand).
Perhaps the most famous unconventional question in the world thanks to Leonardo DiCaprio's portrayal of Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street, and similar to the one above, the interviewer is looking for your ability to provide a refreshing angle on a worn out subject.
5. What is your spirit animal?
Comparing yourself to a specific animal is a way of giving insight into your key characteristics and personality traits. Saying a wolf for example would imply you're good at working in a team and leading the way. So avoid saying a sloth at all costs.
Some interviewers like to throw one of these types of questions in spontaneously, to gauge your personality with no 'filters'. The key to handling them is to think laterally. Give an unusual answer that is both memorable but rational. Our article covering the design of effective interview questions goes into more detail on the psychology behind these.
5. Get enough sleep
This sounds like an overused piece of advice that your mum would say, but that doesn't make it any less important (mums are always right after all). A lack of sleep the night before an interview can have a detrimental effect on your ability to focus and present the real you. Apart from the bloodshot eyes, irrepressible need to yawn and general fatigue, minimal sleep will only add to your nerves.
Whilst you could invest some time into studying colour psychology, good old common sense and initiative is always a solid path to follow when it comes to choosing your outfit.
You might be surprised just how important sleep is to us. In a study conducted by Drew Dawson and Katherine Reid, the effects of accumulated sleep deprivation were compared to the effects of alcohol impairment. We've collated the comparison of the two below:
You can see that somebody who is severely deprived of sleep performs just as poorly as somebody under the influence of alcohol. You wouldn't go to a job interview drunk, so why would you go without any sleep?
6. Dress to impress
What to wear for a job interview can be a daunting task for some - especially if you're already notorious for making questionable sartorial combinations at the best of times. Whilst you could invest some time into studying colour psychology, good old common sense and initiative is always a solid path to follow when it comes to choosing your outfit.
Guys should definitely avoid odd suits and garish colours, instead opting for a traditionally simple grey / black / navy suit with a white shirt. While it is good to try and stand out, doing so with a risque gold suit isn't the way forward. If you're feeling particularly determined about making some kind of statement though, picking the right tie can have a subtle yet significant impact on your overall appearance.
For the ladies the message is pretty much the same - stay away from busy patterns, overtly flash heels and show-stopping handbags. Whilst you may look a million dollars on a night out in these gladrags, they will only serve to detract the interviewer's attention from you as a person (much like the gold suit would gents) and is bound to conjure preconceptions.
Whether we like it or not, humans judge people on their appearance. Our perceptions of a person we've just met are generally based on what they wear, where they are from or what car they drive (for the car enthusiasts anyway). It sounds like a shallow way of doing things but it is, and always will be, the way humans develop those very first impressions.
7. The 'imagine them naked' theory
Ahh this old favourite. Most people's first bit of advice to stave off nerves for an interview is to imagine the interviewer in an embarrassing predicament. Whilst we aren't telling you to do such a thing (honestly), the idea and concept behind it is actually very useful. We get so caught up in our nerves, it is easy to forget that the interviewer is also human.
At some point in their life they've been in your situation and they will understand what you're feeling. Keeping this in mind will instantly calm you down a little, as it takes their 'status' down in your mind - meaning you become more comfortable and at ease.
You wouldn't go to a job interview drunk, so why would you go without any sleep?
Bringing the situation into perspective is the best way to put it. Of course you want the job, and of course you want to make a great impression but remember, it isn't life or death. If you make a mistake just pick yourself up and move on. Nerves show that you're human and simply care a lot about the position.
Hopefully the nuggets of advice above will help you through your next interview and give you the much-needed confidence to wow the panel. Nervousness can drain a person both psychologically and physically, so if you can prevent (or at least ease) them then you've overcome half the battle.
Lastly, one of the most important accessories you can take with you to an interview isn't a designer watch, suit, pair of glasses or pen. No. It's a smile. Make sure you wear a smile from the second you meet them. This will leave a lasting impression with the interviewer and show them what a happy and pleasant person you would be to work with (even if you are actually foul and grossly unpleasant in reality).
Good luck with your next interview and for any more tips on careers and recruitment, check out our blog!
By Jon Clarke