Sweaty palms. Rapid breathing. Trouble concentrating. These are just a few of the symptoms of job interview anxiety. When speaking with a recruiter or hiring manager, the goal is to sound and appear confident, in control. Anxiety can come across as a chink in the armor.
"Job interviews cause stress and anxiety because, no matter how experienced someone is, there’s still a pressure to perform," says Dr. Sherry Benton, founder and chief science officer of TAO Connect. "Interviewers can generally make the assumption that a candidate is uncomfortable without them having to verbalize it. It’s completely normal to feel nervous during a job interview, so it’s best to avoid talking about it and instead focus on managing it."
Managing your nervousness can sometimes be easier said than done. So we dug into this with Dr. Benton to get her tips on how to navigate job interview jitters and how to tell when the anxiety you are experiencing is more serious.
Glassdoor: Why do job interviews stir up anxiety and stress for job seekers, no matter how experienced they may be?
Dr. Sherry Benton: Job interviews cause stress and anxiety because, no matter how experienced someone is, there’s still a pressure to perform. When we are asked to perform in a situation such as a job interview, our brain produces small amounts of stress, or arousal, which is essential for optimal performance. Without these small levels of stress, we wouldn’t get excited about anything. It’s when our brain is producing high levels of stress, that anxiety symptoms can occur, which can cause our interview performance to suffer.
Glassdoor: What are some of the ways anxiety may manifest leading up to or during a job interview?
Dr. Sherry Benton: If you find yourself stressed about an upcoming interview, you need to lower your arousal levels and calm yourself down. It’s important to understand that the human brain does not distinguish between a physical threat and a mental stressor. When you’re thinking thoughts like “I’m going to fail this interview” or “I’m not qualified enough so they’ll never pick me,” your brain is producing levels of stress that feed into anxiety symptoms. Other physical symptoms of anxiety that may appear before a big interview include trouble breathing or sleeping, difficulty concentrating or increased irritability.
Glassdoor: Are there ways that candidates can avoid job interview anxiety? Or is it more about managing it?
Dr. Sherry Benton: It is more about managing anxiety and balancing your arousal levels. Psychologically, arousal and anxiety are the same. Too much arousal, and you will experience increased anxiousness and likely decreased performance. On the other hand, if there’s not enough arousal, you may come across and uninterested or disengaged during the interview.
Glassdoor: What are a few tips to cope with job interview anxiety?
Dr. Sherry Benton: Write down the anxious thoughts running through your mind. When you see them written on paper, you can better realize how exaggerated they might actually be. Then you can replace your negative and anxious thoughts with positive self-talk, “I’m qualified for this position” or “I’m a strong candidate and the right fit for the job.”
Mindfulness exercises can also help lower stress levels. Essentially, mindfulness exercises turn off the constant chatter in your brain for a few minutes. The intent is to help your body stop the fight or flight response and increase the relaxation response. There are several meditation apps or online tools available, such as TAO Connect, that offer mindful meditation exercises to practice and develop mindfulness skills.
Glassdoor: Trying to force yourself to calm down can actually backfire. What are two or three tricks a candidate can do to quell anxiety when in front of an interviewer?
Dr. Sherry Benton: 1. Lower your heart rate by controlling your breathing. Try taking a deep breath before answering a question, no one will notice, and it can even make you appear more confident.
2. Don’t let your nerves talk for you. It’s ok to pause or take some time to think about an answer. By answering immediately, you may find yourself talking without knowing how you’re planning to respond.
3. Have those positive self-talk statements ready to go. Your brain will react to them and can make you appear calmer and more composed.
Glassdoor: Should anxious candidates admit they’re nervous to interviewers? Or is that a no-no?
Dr. Sherry Benton: Anxious candidates usually show outward signs of nervousness, so interviewers can generally make the assumption that a candidate is uncomfortable without them having to verbalize it. It’s completely normal to feel nervous during a job interview, so it’s best to avoid talking about it and instead focus on managing it.
Glassdoor: Lastly, when is anxiety more serious than just the interview? How does a job seeker know when their anxiety is bigger than the job search, but something that should be treated in conjunction with a professional?
Dr. Sherry Benton: A little bit of interview anxiety is normal and healthy. Still, it could be more serious if the anxiety begins to feel debilitating and interferes with your daily routine or your relationships. If you believe mental health problems are developing, it’s always best to seek help early. Mental health problems are more manageable to treat if identified earlier, and there are several options available to people looking to take control of their mental health.