Interview nerves

Feeling nervous about job interviews is normal, and one of the most common challenges candidates face.

This page has some techniques and advice for managing interview nerves and stress so that you can be at your best on the day.

Interview nerves

Nerves are an unavoidable part of the interview process, and whether you’re going for your first or 31st interview, nerves affect us all.

Common symptoms include:

  • Heavy/fast breathing
  • Pounding heart
  • Heightened excitement and a need to act/speak quickly
  • Inability to relax or feel comfortable
  • Dry mouth, sweating, or shaking
  • Nausea or stomach pain
  • A feeling of panic, fear or general uneasiness.

Remember that everybody gets stressed, so don't equate stress to failing or messing up; it's a perfectly normal human response as your body prepares you for a challenge.

Your interviewers will expect you to be nervous, but there are ways to lessen the symptoms and help you to ensure you can give your best. 

Positive affirmations

Positive thinking can help with combating negative self-talk or nerves. Take time out to reflect on how you feel and write down what in particular is making you nervous or worried. For example:

  • I'm worried I won't be able to answer a question
  • All the other candidates are probably better than me
  • I'm scared I'll talk too fast
  • What if I don't have the right experience?

Next, write down positive statements that counteract these fears or concerns. For example:

  • I am really well prepared and will be able to answer all the questions
  • I am so passionate about this job, and the interviewers are going to be really impressed when they see this
  • I will talk calmly and slowly, and exude confidence and authority 
  • I am perfect for this position and wouldn't have been shortlisted otherwise

Say your positive affirmations out loud and repeat when needed.

View your body’s stress response as helpful, not debilitating

New research suggests that by reframing the way we think about stress, it could be possible to use it to our advantage and be healthier in the long run.

Our bodies respond to stress with increased heart rate, sweating, and elevated breathing. We tend to interpret these signals as anxiety or fear, but they could also be interpreted as the body becoming energised and preparing for a challenge.

During a research study, participants were taught to view their stress response as helpful for their performance. Results showed they felt less anxious, less stressed, and more confident. Furthermore, whereas stress would usually cause the blood vessels to constrict, participants using the technique didn’t have any blood vessel tension, a response similar to feeling happy or brave.

Try using this technique to embrace your stress during an interview, rather than trying to repress it. For example, when you feel your heart pounding, remind yourself that this is your body working harder to give you more energy. If you start shaking, remind yourself that this is your body making adrenaline to help you think faster and feel more alert.

You may want to watch the video "How to make stress your friend," below for more information about how to use this technique. 

Convert your nervous energy into excited energy

Another study titled "Get excited: reappraising pre-performance anxiety as excitement," suggests that it's surprisingly easy to convince yourself that you are excited when you are in fact anxious.

Anxiety and excitement are both aroused emotions, and the physical effect they have on the body is almost identical. In both these emotions, the heart beats faster, cortisol rises, and the body prepares for action. The difference is that excitement is a positive emotion that encourages an opportunity based mindset, focussed on things that could be enjoyable or things that could go well.

Try this technique at your next interview. If you find you're nervous, shaking, or talking quickly, instead of saying "Sorry... I'm so nervous," try saying, "Sorry, I'm really excited."

Breathing exercises

Slow, deep breathing can be very helpful for calming down your mind, body and heart rate, and helping you manage your nerves.

These can be done anywhere and at any time. Try breathing in for a count of 7, then paying attention to the surface(s) supporting you, breathe out for a count of 11.

Within 3 to 4 breaths the adrenaline response associated with stress related symptoms will calm and enable you to focus better.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness helps you to connect to what’s happening right now, rather than reliving scenes from the past or getting worried about what might happen in the future. Practising mindfulness can help you manage your nerves and stress before and during interviews.

  • Time and Space mindfulness videos have been developed for nursing staff, providing different practical techniques to use.
  • NHS staff have been given free access to wellbeing apps such as Sleepio (to help improve sleep), Unmind (to improve mental wellbeing) and Daylight (to help with symptoms of worry and anxiety through cognitive behavioural techniques). Non-NHS healthcare workers should also be able to sign up too, as you don't need a NHS e-mail to register. To find out more see the NHS Employers website.
  • The My Possible Self mental health app has been made free to all during the COVID-19 emergency. Use the simple learning modules to manage fear, anxiety and stress, and tackle unhelpful thinking

Career Coaching

If you feel particularly nervous about an interview, you may want to book an interview coaching appointment with the RCN Careers service. Coaching could include:

  • giving you a safe space to reflect on and talk about your feelings
  • exploring any doubts or worries
  • exploring low self esteem or low confidence
  • going through practice interview questions
  • coaching you on your interview techniques

See our page on Career Coaching for more details.

Tips for preparing the night before

If things don't run smoothly or go wrong, this can make your nerves or stress levels a lot worse. Try and eliminate as many potential stressors as possible and pre-empt potential problems by planning and preparing the night before. 

  • Check you have all your paperwork
  • Rehearse/memorise your route to the interview and have a travel plan
  • Plan your outfit and lay your clothes out ready
  • Pack your bag with everything you will need
  • Prepare your breakfast/lunch in advance
  • Do something relaxing before bed, and try to do all you can to get a good night's sleep.

Being well prepared will make you feel calmer and more in control, which in turn can reduce nerves and stress. It also means you will be able to maximise your time on the big day,

Tips for the day of the interview

  • Try and get some exercise before your interview, even if it's just a 15 minute walk.
  • Make sure you eat something 
  • Stay well hydrated and drink plenty of water
  • Have one last look at your interview paperwork, but try not to cram.
  • Message or call a friend, colleague, or relative for a pep talk and some words of encouragement
  • Practice your positive affirmations
  • Leave plenty of time to get to the interview
  • Concentrate on taking really deep breaths, filling your lungs, to help control adrenaline.
  • Practice your mindfulness techniques
  • Focus outward and not inward. The more you focus on what’s going on in your body the bigger your worries become. Try looking at an object and noticing the detail, or look around and name as many colours as you can see. 
  • When you arrive, don't be afraid to ask for some time to take a toilet break, freshen up, or drink some water.

Tips for the interview itself

  • Remember to smile. Smiling releases endorphins, which make us feel better.
  • Maintain open body language and eye contact, and try to avoid nervous fidgeting.
  • If you don't understand a question, don't be afraid to ask for it to be repeated or rephrased. You can even ask if your interviewer can come back to it later.
  • Take time to consider your answers and don’t be afraid of natural pauses in the flow of conversation. You're unlikely to lose any points for taking a longer time to think or respond to a question. Employers will be more interested to see how you handle yourself under pressure and keep calm under duress. 
  • Make a conscious effort to speak slowly, as nerves generally make us talk faster. 

How to make stress your friend

How to Turn Anxiety Into Excitement