Very, VERY Nervous About an Interview? How to Overcome Those Nerves

WorkCoachCafeA job seeker recently left a comment here on that he was so nervous about being interviewed that he wouldn’t show up for scheduled interviews.  It can be that scary, but hopefully it won’t be if you are well prepared.

Everyone is nervous in an interview, and employers know that and take it into consideration.  Know that you will screw up.  Everyone screws up.  It is NOT fatal!

When you have an interview coming up, congratulate yourself – an interview puts you one important step closer to landing that new job!  YEA!

So, take advantage of this opportunity, and do these three things:

1.  Look at each interview as a two-way street.

You want to know more about them as much as they want to know more about you.  It’s a learning opportunity for everyone.  Would this be a good match for both “sides” of the table?  That’s really the core issue in a job interview, but many job seekers lose track of it in their concern to give a “great performance.”

You’ll have an opportunity to see inside an employer’s offices or premises, meet their employees, and find out what they do.

Look around, and ask yourself questions like these, depending on your preferences, needs, and priorities:

  • Do I like what I see?
  • Are people busy or not?
  • Are people smiling or not?
  • Is it too noisy or too quiet?
  • Macs or PC’s?  Both?  Neither?
  • Lots of walls separating people, some walls, or no walls?
  • Does it look prosperous or not?  Clean or not?  Well-maintained or not?
  • Is there a water fountain, coffee/snack nook, a place to leave your lunch, if you brought it?
  • Is it a good neighborhood, close to public transportation or free/cheap/good parking, restaurants or day-care centers close by?

Then, be sure to ask questions (NOT about salary and benefits yet!!!), like these:

  • Why is this job open?
    If it’s a new job, the company could be growing, which is a good sign.  If the job was held by someone else, then you have more questions to ask:
  • How long was that person in the job?
    Is this a job where people don’t stay long?  If they don’t stay long, see if you can find out why they leave quickly? Do they burn out or is it a company “launch pad” where they quickly move on to a better job?
  • If they left the job (but not the company), were they promoted?
    You’re not looking for any real details on the person who left, but you are looking for an indication that there is a career path here.  And you are also looking for an indication that this is a good place to work – is the company growing or not?
  • How would (or do) you measure success in this job?
  • What is a typical day, week, or month like in this job?
  • Who would I be working with on a typical day?
  • Are there any particularly tough/stressful times in this job (end of month reporting, end of week team meeting presentation, end of day cleaning up, periodic calls from the customer-from-hell, etc.)?
  • If travel is required, how much travel is needed?
  • If travel is required, where would the person in this job go?
  • If travel is required, how is it done?
  • Would you have a company car for lots of local travel?
  • Would you be expected to use your own car for lots of local travel?
  • If travel outside of the state or region, how and where does someone typically stay (cheap motel or better option)?
  • Who does the job report to, officially and unofficially?
  • What do you like best about working here?
  • Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
  • If successful, where do you think the person who is hired for this job will be in 2 years or in 5 years?

Does it look like a place where you would be happy working?

2.  Understand that you really don’t have anything to lose but time.

Granted, if you have overdue bills to pay, you don’t want another delay in the opportunity to collect a paycheck.  So, think of this as practice – if it doesn’t work out.

Worst case, after the interview, you’ll decide that you don’t want to work there, or they’ll decide that they don’t want to hire you.  Either way, you come out OK when it is over.  No harm; no foul.  You’ll probably never see those people again, unless you want to.  And you have learned something about this employer and these people.

In addition, interviewing, particularly for someone who is introverted or shy, is something that gets easier with practice.  So, worst case, you’ll have more practice at it when you are done, and you’ll do better next time.

Author Wendy Gelberg, Introverts’ Job Search Expert for our sister-site, wrote a very helpful post: Successful Interviewing for Introverts that provides excellent advice for introverts on how to handle interviews.

Best case, you may land a job!

3.  Take the time to be well-prepared.

We know the common interview questions that get asked, linked to the WorkCoachCafe post about each question:

And the special circumstances questions:

After you’ve read the articles above, think about what your answers are or should be.  Then, write your answers out.  Read them out loud a few times.  Then, say them out loud – without reading them.  Practice until you can comfortably say your answers out loud without reading them.

It’s good to get feedbck on your answers which means saying your answers to someone else (which is great practice).

Do some research on how to answer the questions. For more excellent articles written by Ronnie Ann here on about answering interview questions – just look in the right column or click on “Career Topics” at the top of the page and then select “How to Answer Annoying Job Interview Questions” to find help.

Try  the Power-Pose Process

Check out the scientifically-proven “power poses” that Harvard Business School professor Dr. Amy Cuddy and her colleagues discovered.  Holding these poses for a few minutes – in private, before the interview – changes some of the hormone levels in your bloodstream and increases confidence.  It sounds wacky, but Harvard Business School is a very pragmatic place!  See this post:  Build Your Confidence for Interviews in Less Than 5 Minutes for how to do it.

Bottom Line

If you can get professional help with your interviewing techniques – someone knowledgeable to practice on – that would be most helpful.  If you are in the USA, find your local Career OneStop Center.  You’ll get free, professional help there.  Pick your location from the options on America’s Service Locator.

For a little more along these lines:

Build Your Confidence for Interviews in Less Than 5 Minutes

Help! I Get Nervous When I Interview for a Job!

Please Help Me Ace My Phone Interview!

Job Interviews: Practical Tips to Help You Ace That Job Interview

The Single Most Important Thing in Any Job Interview

© Copyright, 2012, Susan P. Joyce. All rights reserved.


About the author…

Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been  observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. In 2011, NETability purchased, which Susan has been editor and publisher of WorkCoach since then.  Susan also edits and publishes  Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on .


  1. Is it completely inappropriate to call an employer and ask what the interview will entail? I am a recent law school graduate with an interview for my dream job. I don’t want to give the wrong impression by calling and asking whether the interview will include hypotheticals (I really hate hypotheticals because they make me extremely nervous and they tripped me up in an interview for a similar job last year). At the same time, I know that if they are included, I need to practice. My interview preparation time is extremely short, so if I don’t have to spend time on hypos, I won’t. Could I potentially give off the wrong vibe by calling and asking about the interview? Would it be better to simply prepare for the hypos, whether they’re included in the interview or not?

  2. I know everyone gets nerveous before and interview and anyone who says “Oh I don’t “, well I am sorry but I do not believe you”. Infact you’re probably more neveous than I am

    For me though it was way beyond nerves. I am running to the toilet (wont part with too much info on that one, though. Vomiting. I start shaking and I get covered in a rash. I have tried reasoning with the fact that it is after all only an interview and even if I fail yet another interview I will be no worse off that what I am now and the world will still turn even if I do not get the job. At the time however all reason goes out of the window. Even though I know I have been called for an interview because they know I can do the job.

    I have never really had a bad interview and I been lucky where I been able to answer all their questions. I always make a point of thanking the interviewer for inviting me to interview.
    There is one thing I ever done though and that is ask for feedback, yeah I know I should as It could be something so small that I am doing wrong and by obtaining feedback i could rectify this. I am also aware that I am an adult and I should be able to take criticism on the chin. I am however also a human being, and hands up who likes to be told that they are wrong, no-one. xx

    • Dear Also a Human Being,

      I won’t generalize to speak about all people, but I will say that you are certainly not alone in terms of having a unwanted psychological reaction to an external situation. This goes well beyond interviews. At three, I was offered a glass of milk that was warm and straight from the cow — I have not been able to think about or drink regular cold milk the same way since.

      It is normal to get nervous before an interview. It is also normal to feel one way (i.e. I know it’s not the end of the world if I don’t get the job) and react another way.

      That said, it sounds like your reactions have been physically painful and debilitating. You may want to seek out ways to calm yourself down — relaxation music, meditation, etc. — or seek professional guidance and support.

      Thanks for sharing your experience and best of luck to you in the process.

      All the Best,

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