Interview Prep:
How To Calm Your Nerves During A Job Interview

Interviews can feel intimidating, to say the least. And while some nerves are normal and can even boost your performance, too much can throw you off your game. Learn tactics for minimizing your anxiety and maintaining composure.


Job interviews feel intimidating due to the uncertainty surrounding them, the level of vulnerability, and the high stakes involved.

A recent study found that people who examine their anxiety are more likely to reduce their nerves more often compared to those who try to ignore it.

Increasing your confidence level requires preparation, eliminating stressors that trigger your anxiety, and anticipating unexpected scenarios.

Preparing for a job interview is much like preparing for any other presentation.

You study your notes in the days and weeks before, memorize a few crucial lines to make your best points, and coach yourself to walk into that room feeling confident and prepared.

Except, that last bit doesn’t always happen.

As your job interview approaches, you feel your anxiety start to build. There’s a pit in your stomach that feels like it’s opening up to swallow you. Your heart is beating a hurried rhythm against your ribcage.

And though you want this job - you want to walk in there and prove to the interviewer you’re the exact person they’re looking for - your body is sending you nervous signals that make you want to turn around and desperately run out the door.

Maintaining confidence and composure during an interview, especially when your nerves are on high-alert like this, is no easy feat.


Why Job Interviews Are Scary

You’re not alone here- job interviews can be downright terrifying.

Sure, some folks are born-and-ready interview pros: people who were somehow lucky enough to be born with the natural abilities of small talk and everlasting poise.

Most of us aren’t them, though.

Most of us go into interviews a little blind. We may know our own strengths, we may have researched the company, but we often know very little about the interview itself.

We’re stuck with a laundry list of unknowns like:

  • Who will be interviewing me?
  • How many interviewers will there be?
  • Will they have just had coffee and be excited to see me, or will they be bored after meeting six other candidates?
  • Will they bring up my last job?
  • Are they going to hit me with one of those weird tech questions like: Tell me what sort of root vegetable you would be and why?

Uncertainty is anxiety-inducing.

It’s like a test that you can only partially study for because the topics include everything that has ever happened in your work or personal life, plus every public decision the company has made since its inception.

Gee, thanks for the syllabus, but isn’t that a little broad?

Job interviews are also scary because they put us face-to-face with public enemy number one: vulnerability.

You’re willingly exposing yourself to possible criticism, revealing aspects of who you are to someone who will then judge your fitness for a position.

Last but not least, job interviews are scary because they matter.

The stakes are direct, obvious, and easily quantified. If I do well, I get the job. If I do poorly, I get rejected.

This last point is what really sparks anxiety for most of us. We know that the interview can be the difference between a steady paycheck, or spending the next couple of weeks using pizza boxes for blankets on our couch.


Why You Can’t Just Ignore Interview Anxiety

The trouble, of course, is that our completely justifiable anxiety around interviews can set us back, both in the interview and outside it.

It takes real courage to open up to an interviewer, only to find that who you are isn’t “the right fit right now.”

That’s difficult to sign on for, it’s painful to endure, and it leads many of us to avoid leaving jobs we don’t like.

I don’t want to go through the whole interview process, we say as we process data that doesn’t excite us, for a boss that doesn’t respect us, at a company that doesn’t inspire us.

I’ll just stick it out here for another 20 or so years.

That type of avoidance is a real risk of interview anxiety that can stunt our progress and ambitions.

Interview anxiety can also strike us more acutely, though. Perversely, it can sabotage our ability to perform well in the interview for the job we desperately want.

Imagine every nightmare you’ve ever had about Interviews. What do they generally include?

  • You walk in to shake hands and your palms are pouring sweat.
  • You try to say ‘hello,’ but you find your voice hasn’t decided to join you yet.
  • You have your interview materials in-hand, but you’re trembling so much that the papers are shaking.
  • You try to speak with confidence, but because all the blood has rushed to your head, you can’t hear yourself and wind up yelling.

Believe it or not, those are all symptoms of interview anxiety.

They’re our body’s fight-or-flight response, reacting to danger. It’s a useful feature to have if you need to, say, climb a tree to escape a horde of stampeding wildebeests.

It’s less useful if we want to get through an interview without creating a sweat puddle on the office’s new carpet.

Fortunately, there are many ways to overcome anxious symptoms before an interview.

In fact, just by reading this, you’re already taking back control of your confidence levels. A recent study found that people who examine and accept their anxiety experienced a significant reduction, compared to those who try to ignore or suppress that anxiety.

Here we’ll review strategies you can employ before your next interview to deal with your anxiety and regain your composure.


Keep Your Wellness A Priority

When we’re busy or stressed (two things that tend to happen right around job interviews), we often forget to take care of ourselves.

I don’t have time to exercise, we think, while frantically revising our resume and looking up synonyms for ‘punctual’ and ‘hard-working’.

I haven’t slept in three days and I’m too busy to cook. Maybe I’ll just grab a quick four burgers.

Ignoring our basic needs increases our stress levels, which contributes to anxiety.

Diet and exercise both influence stress, and numerous studies have linked sleep deprivation with increased anxiety.

It’s vitally important to maintain (or develop) healthy habits. Leave time to eat well, to exercise and to sleep, and you’ll find that your overall stress levels decrease.

And lower stress levels will leave you less susceptible to anxiety on the day of your job interview.


Learn About Beta-Blockers

Despite your best efforts, you may find that your anxiety still hits you the day of your job interview. You may find that basic bodily functions you rarely give a second thought to - like regular breathing or steady hands - are suddenly out of your control.

It’s quite common to, in spite of all preparation, find your heart racing, your hands trembling, and your stomach turning cartwheels while you wait your turn.

If that happens, beta-blockers can help prevent your symptoms from entering the interview room with you. A small dose of beta-blockers, an hour before a stressful event like a job interview, can counter the physical symptoms of interview anxiety.

You’ll still feel anxious, just without the distressing, distracting physical symptoms like shallow breath or excessive sweating.

Without physical symptoms of interview anxiety, it’s usually easier to project an air of cool, calm competence, no matter who you’re interviewing for.

You may even find that, without those physical symptoms, you don’t feel quite so nervous anymore. You at least won’t look like it.


Avoid Anxiety Triggers

What do you do first thing in the morning when you know you have a huge day ahead of you? If you’re like more than 60% of the U.S. population, it’s reach for a cup of coffee…or two…or three.

But caffeine raises your heart rate and can actually induce anxiety or exacerbate its symptoms.

Unfortunately, the list of things that can trigger anxiety is rather long.

Anxiety-inducing triggers can include:

  • Caffeine
  • Tobacco
  • Alcohol
  • Guarana and Taurine- ingredients found in popular energy drinks
  • NSAIDs- over-the-counter pain relievers like Advil and ibuprofen

This isn’t a blanket condemnation, but it is worth being aware of the effect that many substances can have on our anxiety or stress levels.

Avoiding these triggers on the day of your interview can help you maintain your composure and keep that heart rate where you want it.


Visualize Success

Visualization is a tactic that elite soldiers, professional athletes, and successful CEOs employ to take their performance to the next level.

On the surface, it’s a simple process, but it takes practice to use it effectively.

To use visualization as job interview preparation, close your eyes and imagine the interviewer sitting in front of you. Now, visualize giving the best interview of your life. Imagine giving confident, decisive answers and deeply impressing your interviewer.

The more specific you can be, the better.

Play out interview scenarios: questions you might be asked, and your answers to them. This isn’t just a quiet reflection on the interview. You want to actually visualize it in real-time, really believing the scenarios you create.

Be aware though: visualization can work negatively too.

Losing concentration can let fears invade your visualization, filling your mind with flubbed answers and unimpressed interviewers. Too much time reflecting on terrifying scenarios can turn us into a panicked puddle of anxiety.

It takes focus and practice to use this tactic to build us up, rather than to tear us apart. As scary possibilities invade your visualization, return your attention to success: to crisp, self-assured performances and engaged, inspired interviewers.

Done correctly, visualizing success can greatly increase your confidence. It lowers your stress levels and can make a real, tangible difference in your interview anxiety.


Eliminate Stressors

Trying to find a parking spot on a city street, six minutes before a job interview is a classic cause of anxiety.

So is sitting underground as your train inexplicably grinds to a halt for the fifteenth time for “train traffic ahead.”

And also navigating to the wrong address because you only looked it up while rushing out the door.

Little stressors often turn into larger ones and feed into interview anxiety. You might spend the whole week preparing for a job interview, but the anxiety of nearly missing it can undo all of that hard work.

If you’re racing to get there on time, your heart rate will already be elevated and your stress will leave you open to anxiety.

In summary: Prepare, don’t procrastinate. So, make a plan ahead of time:

  • Pack everything you’ll need the night before your interview
  • Look up the exact address and enter it into your phone
  • Set an alarm (or three)
  • If parking is terrible, take public transit. Or ride a bike. Or walk.

Do whatever it takes to make sure you’ll get there on time with everything you need.

You want your mind focused on the interview, so reduce the number of outside worries as much as possible.

And do the work the night before to make sure you get to your interview early. It’s better to wait in the foyer of an office for thirty minutes than to run up the stairs two minutes before your interview, sweating because you didn’t expect the elevator to be out.


Remember Past Success

Our perceptions of ourselves help inform the perceptions that other people make of us. That’s especially important in job interviews, where so much of your success is determined by the interviewer’s initial perception of you.

A recent study found that individuals who write down memories of feeling powerful or in control are more likely to feel confident and, crucially, more likely to be perceived as confident by others.

Importantly, the confidence-boosting effects were found to last several days.

Take a few minutes the day before your interview to reflect on your successes and experiences when you felt in control. Keep in mind these don’t have to be examples from just job interviews- think of any scenario where you felt in control.

Write a few paragraphs about the events and how they made you feel. Try especially to focus on the confidence and elation that you felt at those successes.

This exercise can serve as a kind of psychological armor. The confidence that memory imparts can prevent anxiety from taking hold and fend it off long enough for you to make a strong impression on your interviewer.


Anticipate Pushy Interviewers

Interviewers will often try to throw you off with difficult questions or unexpected avenues of discussion. In most cases, this isn’t personal or malicious but is intended to make you think on your feet and improvise.

Expecting a demanding interviewer can help you maintain composure when they try to challenge or agitate you.

You can use several strategies to turn the tables on a pushy interviewer:

  • Practice answering hard questions so they don’t catch you by surprise
  • Prepare questions for the interviewer to take the pressure off of yourself
  • Find common ground with the interviewer so it feels more like a discussion than an interview

Most interviewers are looking for engagement and respond well to candidates who take initiative. The same strategies that indicate your enthusiasm can also help with your anxiety as you put the focus on your interviewer and give yourself room to breathe.


Brace Yourself For Unexpected Asks

Maybe you thought you’d be interviewing alone and find yourself in a group of candidates. Maybe you expected a one-on-one and find yourself facing a panel of interviewers. Maybe your interviewer asks you to perform a task or exercise you didn’t see coming.

Because the power in interviews is so one-sided we often confront unforeseen situations that test our composure. These situations can send us into an anxious spiral as we realize we never prepared ourselves to fend off three interviewers at once.

Managing your expectations is key here. It’s inherently difficult to prepare for unexpected circumstances, but it’s important to anticipate that they will occur. If you walk into an interview expecting unpredictable challenges, you’ll find that they aren’t so unbalancing when they arise.


Practice Worst-Case Scenarios

We all have those scenarios: our own “scary thing” that we dread about interviews.

Maybe we got let go from our last job and don’t want to talk about it.

Maybe we definitely don’t have a couple of the skills they asked for on the posting.

Maybe we absolutely hate the part where they ask: do you have any questions for me?

Lean into those issues. Make a list of your biggest fears and use it as a study guide. Then you can:

  • Have a friend or partner ask you all your least favorite questions
  • Practice talking about the time you were fired
  • Find lists and lists and lists of questions to ask interviewers
  • Practice discussing your strengths and weaknesses in a way that doesn’t sound like: I just demand too much perfection in my work

This type of preparation won’t just give you practical answers that you can use in your interview. It can also function as exposure therapy. Facing your fears repeatedly, even in practice, can help reduce their power over you and leave you feeling confident and prepared on the big day.



Interview anxiety is a tricky opponent. It only strikes during really important, pivotal moments in our lives, and always seems to have the potential to ruin everything.

Still, we can’t avoid job interviews entirely, so it’s important to develop tactics to overcome our anxiety. Once you find the methods that work for you, make them an automatic part of your job interview preparation routine. The less you need to think about dealing with your interview anxiety the better.

Many outside resources exist to get help with interview anxiety. Just a few of them include:

You are capable of overcoming interview anxiety and showing it who’s the boss!