3 Ways to Avoid Choking Under Interview Room Pressure

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It has long been acknowledged – and backed up by research – that what separates the winners from the losers is the ability to perform under pressure. Sure, many people can perform well on the training grounds of life, but only the elite few can reach those same heights in real scenarios. Nerves often get in the way.

As a worker professional, you likely face a lot of high-pressure situations. Job interviews, sales presentations, and investor pitches and call be seriously nerve-wracking. Your ability to perform at your best in these situations can shape your entire career.

If have a “choking” problem – that is, you crack under the pressure of these scenarios – then addressing that problem can be one of the best ways to improve your career prospects. Here are three ways you can overcome your choking habit and come out on top in even the most stressful situations:

1. Develop a Pre-Performance Routine

A pre-performance routine is a “sequence of task-relevant thoughts and actions that athletes engage in systematically prior to [their] performance of a specific sport skill.” This is something that you’ll see many top-level athletes do prior to performing a high-pressure act, like a free throw or goal kick. Research suggests that these routines can help athletes – and you – focus attention, reduce anxiety, eliminate distractions, and enhance confidence.

So, what should your pre-performance routine be to help you perform at your best during an interview?

You could do a little exercise for starters. Research shows that exercise can reduce stress, increase levels of alertness, and make you feel more energized for several hours after. A pre-interview gym workout – followed, of course, by a shower – should leave you pumped and mentally primed to perform at your interview.

Other research shows that listening to certain types of bass-heavy music can boost your confidence, too.

Or how starting your day with a bowl of cereal? Research shows that a breakfast of cereal can boost your concentration and prevent your performance from declining too much over the course of a day.

Do none of these sound quite right for you? Do a little independent research, because there are plenty of activities you can integrate into a pre-interview routine to boost your performance. Just find the one that’s right for you.

2. Practice Under Pressure

Have you found that your performance plummets during the first interview, but you really excel at second- and third-round interviews?

RunnerAccording to research from University of Chicago psychology professor Sian Beilock, what’s probably happening here is that you are getting used to the pressure and therefore finding it easier to perform at your optimum.

If you find that you perform better after you’ve had a chance to acclimate yourself to the stress of a situation, you may want to try out a few mock interviews before the real thing. Find a friend, colleague, or career coach who can help, and practice being in a high-pressure interview. By the time the actual interview comes along, you may find you’re able to breeze through it.

3. Positive Self-Talk

Research shows that negative self-talk undermines our ability to perform in the moment – which you probably expected. Maybe you already try to give yourself some positive self-talk to get yourself ready for high-pressure scenarios.

Problem is, you’re probably not using the right kind of positive self-talk. Many of us repeat phrases like “Don’t fail” to ourselves when we’re trying to be positive. If you do that, however, you’re actually likely to make yourself think about failure even more, because the more you try to suppress certain thoughts, the more likely you are to have those very same thoughts.

A more effective form of positive self-talk is to focus on your goals instead. Talk about what you want to do, not what you don’t want to do.

For example, sports psychologist Martin Turner says that athletes use phrases like “Be strong,” “Be focused,” and “Give everything” when engaging in positive self-talk. As an interviewee, you could probably use the exact same phrases, or slightly modify them for your purposes. Either way, you’ll be more likely to boost your confidence – and your performance level – with this kind of self-talk.

These are three simple techniques you can use to improve your performance under pressure. Many of you will find them helpful, but some of you may not. For that reason, I invite everyone to share their own performance-enhancing tactics in the comments. What do you do to keep yourself from cracking under pressure?

Read more in Interview Process

Kazim Ladimeji is a Chartered Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, and has been a practicing HR professional for 14 years. Kazim is the Director of The Career Cafe: a resource for start-ups, small business and job seekers.