Calming Your Nerves for Interview Success

The staff in Career & Leadership Development have the pleasure of working with a good number of students as they prepare for their employment interviews. For me, these conversations are my favorite, since there’s a lot to think about as we prepare for the interview – How do I research the employer and the job? What questions will I be asked? How do I handle it if I don’t know how to answer one of the questions? What questions should I ask? What’s the best way to handle the dreaded “weakness” question? What should I wear? And the list goes on, and on…

Personally, back in the day, my biggest fear was being too nervous to be able to appear confident and answer the questions completely. In fact, during my first interview I actually “wove” my fingers of my right hand around a pen – I was nervous and tense, so I had a death-grip on that Bic. No worries, my hands were under the table. But, when the interviewer stood up to shake my hand when our conversation ended, I couldn’t quickly get the pen out of my grip. So I shook my hand, hard, and the pen hit the interviewer in the head. At that moment I understood what my Mom meant when she said “You could poke somebody’s eye out with that thing.” As you can imagine, of all the worries I had prior to that interview, never once did I think about hitting the interviewer in the head with my pen. Check that one off the bucket list.


As it is helpful do, I reflected upon what I learned from the interview experience, and how I could do better during my next interview. As I jotted down my thoughts, the first on the list was “leave the pen alone.” After stating the obvious, I realized that the underlying issue was being able to better handle my nerves. I’d like to share with you how I was able to do this, with some practice, of course.

  • Prepare, prepare, prepare. If you “wing” the interview, you should be nervous. You wouldn’t jump in the pool for the first time and expect to take first place in the 100 freestyle, would you? Probably the best thing I did to calm my nerves was to research the employer, the job, myself, and practice my answers, by myself and in front of others. Funny thing – I found out that the more I prepared the more comfortable I became.
  • Some of us are pretty hard on ourselves. We’re our own worst enemy, as the saying goes. This was, and is at times, the case for me. However, I realized that the interviewer simply wants to get to know me at a deeper level than they could learn from reading my resume. And who is the foremost expert in the world on me? Me. It’s not like I have to go in front of a panel of experts and talk about quantum physics, I just need to talk about me, and I know me better than anybody. Self-talk like this helped me learn to not worry so much.
  • There are healthy things to do to relax just prior the interview. Meditation and taking the time to take a few deep breaths before the interview are a couple of things I did. It’s good to arrive to the interview site 5-10 minutes early to have the time to chill for a bit. To relax.
  • Lastly, when feeling overly nervous at the start of an interview, I would admit to the interviewer that I felt nervous. Most recruiters are really nice people who are very understanding, and they received my pronouncement with empathy. A few didn’t, but it helped me anyway to say so.

These tactics helped me improve my interview skills, and I’d like to think they’ll help you too. Here’s wishing you well on all of your interviews. If you happen to come across an interviewer who wears safety goggles during the interview, that would be the person I hit in the head with my pen. He’d be in his mid-60’s.

Photo By: astabraksabah