Controlling Your Interview Nerves… Before you Even Get There

I read a blog post the other day that claimed the worst thing you can do in a job interview is accept a glass of water, and then be unable to hold it steady because you are so nervous.

That’s a bit rough though, isn’t it?  It’s probably nerves that gives you a dry throat in the first place.  It got me thinking about how it’s almost impossible to control your behaviour once you’re actually in the interview and that the only way forward is take control of things before you end up in the hot seat.  I suppose this makes it my duty to reveal an Easter Bunny from the hat to show how it can be achieved.  So here goes:

The first thing to realise is that nerves are basically a physical reaction, so that the key to controlling you nerves is controlling your non-verbal behaviour. There are a few ways in which you can do this.

1) Use Positive Thinking Techniques

To suffer from interview nerves is natural but some people undermine themselves so diligently that they basically do not believe they are good enough to do the job.  Either they have a deepseated inferiority complex or they suffer from impostor syndrome

If you think you may fall into this sort of category, consider using techniques such as affirmation (e.g. “I am an excellent, talented… and I’m going to get the job”) and visualisation (e.g visualising yourself being offered the job.)

If this theme interests you, there is a whole school of American-inspired literature on the subject of positive thinking. A word of warning here is that some of the writings from across the ocean have a “Get Rich Quick” or bible-bashing feel to them. But the works of many authors, for example Jack Canfield, Brian Tracy or Stephen Covey are generally more palatable to a UK audience.

Positive thinking techniques definitely work – but you can’t expect them to start working the night before an interview.  They need time and repetition.

2) Think Of Something Pleasant…

This simple solution was suggested by a girl I used to work with.  In the last five minutes before her interview was called, she would simple imagine herself as a child sitting on a tree swing, gently rocking to and fro.  For her, it was an image of great inner harmony, so that she inevitably felt inwardly relaxed and happy.  So her non-verbal behaviour would be correspondingly relaxed and happy when she was finally invited to go in.  There is a lot of evidence to suggest that first interview impressions can be vital…

Now I can imagine that there are many, many pleasant things that you could find to think of while you wait to be called for an interview and students’ suggestions have occasionally been imaginative.  Take your pick!

3) Relaxation and Breathing

Bearing in mind that the origin of nerves is the body, exercises that concentrate on the body like breathing and relaxation exercises as per this NHS guide can with some adaptation also be used to help you calm down immediately before an interview.

On relaxation, I particularly like the Gestalt concept of gradually just noticing each part of your body from the feet up (or head down).  Sometimes just being aware of tension in say your stomach or neck can be enough to resolve it, and this is something you can readily do without anyone else noticing.

4) Just Smile

One of the first things that happens when people become nervous is that they forget to smile.  If you notice that this has happened, try laughing at yourself and you will be smiling!

This is really a behaviourist idea and is based on the theory that if you do the behaviour, the feeling and thinking will fall in line.

The fact that this one doesn’t totally ring with me reminds me to mention a couple of extra things:

  • The above is a ‘horses for courses’ list.  Not all the techniques are for everyone, so pick the ones that suit you.
  • If you have a major hang-up about job interviews that has resulted from very negative experiences, it might be worth requesting help from a Careers Adviser to get some practice in a non-threatening environment.  If you are a University of Cumbria student or recent graduate, you can do so by contacting us via