What to Do When Interview Anxiety Feels Unbearable
Job interviews make most people nervous, and understandably so. You sit in a room as a person peppers you with questions meant to get to the core of your technical abilities, motivation, and fit. It’s a stressful situation.
While many of us can fight our nerves long enough to see the interview through, others can find the anxiety unbearable. If you are unable to move past your interview anxiety, what can you do? How do you stop your hands from shaking, your voice from cracking, or even yourself from breaking into tears?
Admit to Yourself That You’re Anxious
You’re not alone in feeling anxious, and knowing this should give you solace. Many job seekers have told me of times they’ve felt so anxious they couldn’t think straight or answer questions properly. A few have even told me of times when it got so bad they had to remove themselves from the situation. While this is not “normal” behavior, it does happen.
Telling others about your anxiety — such as a job counselor, a therapist, or even your friends — can be helpful. Talking about how you feel can relieve some of your anxiety, and it can be comforting to have others listen to and understand your experience. Talking with someone who has felt similarly anxious in an interview but landed a job regardless can also give you a sense of hope.
Know that the interview is a barrier to getting a job, and once you’ve overcome the barrier, you will be able to do the work required to succeed. Remember that you want the job for which you’re applying; that it is the endgame.
Getting over the barrier will require some preparation. This means thoroughly researching the position and company. If you’re really good, you’ll research the competition, too. People who interview without preparing generally perform poorly.
You will also benefit from preparing mentally for the interview. Get a good night’s sleep before the interview, if possible. On the day of the interview, take a leisurely walk and rehearse answering the questions you predict will be asked.
You might benefit from participating in a taped mock interview. That way, you can review how you respond to questions, as well as your body language. For example, I once conducted a mock interview with someone who my colleague believed to be anxious. The client’s answers were fine, but she did appear tense, and she fidgeted with her fingers to the point that it became distracting. My suggestion to the client was that she simply keep her hands in her lap.
Admit to the Interviewers That You’re Anxious
If it’s a group interview, chances are that at least one of the panel members suffers from anxiety and can relate to your condition. Other members may at least know of people who suffer from anxiety. In general, there’s a good chance the interviewers will empathize with your condition.
You can simply say before the interview begins, “I’m a bit anxious at the moment. Interviews are stressful for me. I hope you understand.” Interviewers are people, too. They’ll likely understand.
Anxiety is more prevalent than you might suspect. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 19 percent of adults have an anxiety disorder in any given year, and an estimated 31.1 percent of adults experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their life.
You may not be clinically anxious yourself, but the fact is that anxiety is common, and people generally understand the feeling. The most important thing is the message you deliver. Focus on expressing the value you will bring to the table. If you have to pause at times, that’s fine.
When Your Anxiety Is Debilitating
If you find your interview anxiety unbearable, you may have a clinically diagnosable anxiety disorder, in which case you’re likely already taking medication and/or attending therapy. If you haven’t considered this possibility yet, you may want to talk to a mental health professional.
If you struggle with anxiety, you may want to talk with a vocational counselor to find a job that is appropriate for you. Generally speaking, people with anxiety tend to thrive in more individualistic jobs that don’t require a lot of public interaction with strangers.
The choice to disclose your anxiety disorder during an interview is a highly personal one. That said, my suggestion is to be open and honest about it. You have the skills to do the job, and the employer will likely appreciate the heads-up regarding any accommodations you may require. If you wait until after you are hired to disclose your anxiety disorder, your supervisor may end up distrusting you and looking for a reason to let you go. That’s not exactly ethical on the interviewer’s part, but it does happen.
Interviews can cause mild to server anxiety for many people. If you happen to be one of those people, reflect on what causes your anxiety, ask for help from others, and consider getting professional help if the condition is severe enough.
Bob McIntosh, CPRW, is a career trainer who leads more than 15 job search workshops at an urban career center.