Best Way to Control Your Jitters When Going For an Interview

Experienced interviewers expect a bit of nervousness early on in an interview (for example, a slight quaver in your voice), and they ignore it. On the other hand, too much fright will certainly get in your way. It will prevent you from focusing on what you need to do in the interview. So how do you maintain some balance, arrive at the optimum level of nervousness?

One reason you’re nervous is because you don’t know what to expect. Pay particular attention to the mistakes interviewers make. Chances are good that the people who interview you will fall into many of those same traps. By being aware of the pitfalls, you will be less uncomfortable when they occur and you may even help your interviewers avoid them.

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There’s a big difference, though, between knowing what to expect and developing the comfort that you can handle what you will encounter. The latter comes only from experience. So find a way to practice. Ask somebody—a relative, a friend, a teacher—to interview you. If you are fortunate enough to know somebody involved in interviewing and hiring people for a company, try to get that person to act as your interviewer.

Conduct the practice interview in a context as close to a real interview situation as you can. Give the interviewer your resume. Tell him to assume that he has never met you and knows only what is on your resume. Conduct the interview in a place you are not familiar with. Play it straight. Don’t laugh and joke as you do it.

After the interview is over, discuss it with your interviewer. Ask him to be brutally frank about your performance. Get suggestions as to what might have improved your presentation. This type of postinterview debriefing is important. Remember that once you start doing real interviews you will almost never get direct, honest feedback on what might have improved your interview performance. Take advantage of the opportunity to get that feedback now, when you can.

Don’t rely solely on your interviewer’s comments. Make your own notes on the interview. What would you have done or said differently? Is there anything you forgot to say or ask about? (Use this note taking after your real interviews start, too.)

Then do it all over again. Find another person who will conduct a practice interview with you, and then debrief you afterward. If you can find a third person, do it yet again. The more you practice, the more comfortable you will feel in your real interviews.

Your goal is to become relaxed, but you don’t want to go overboard. The interview has a certain formality that amounts to an interview etiquette. Violating that etiquette will be viewed by an interviewer in the same way she would view your eating spaghetti with your fingers at an interview lunch. So, although you want to be able to talk comfortably with the interviewer, you don’t want to start off by slumping down into your chair, putting your feet up on the interviewer’s desk and saying, “So what shall we talk about, Herb old boy?”

The need to conduct practice interviews applies not only to people who are looking for their first job, but also to those who find themselves back in the market after a number of years. Just because you have worked for several years, that is no reason you should feel a greater comfort level in the interview. Indeed, the opposite may be true. The interview may be more important to you. The job is probably at a much higher level. And, having been out of the job market for some time, you may be less familiar with the interview process.

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If you have access to videotape facilities for your practice interviews, by all means take advantage of that. By reviewing your interview video you will notice things about the way you present yourself—your voice, the way you look, nervous habits you may have, your posture—that you would not otherwise be aware of. Seeing yourself on video can be painful, but subjecting yourself to that short-term pain will provide long-term benefits in your interviewing performance.

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