Overcoming Your Interview Anxiety

A person talking on a cellphone.

You’re on your way to a job interview! You must be so excited, right?

Then why do you feel like throwing up, why is your shirt soaking wet, and what is that ringing in your ears?

It’s your friendly sympathetic nervous system doing its job by shifting into gear as your body responds to its heightened state of stress. Sure, you may be excited, but you’re also really nervous. So, how will you possibly answer questions in this state? These two opposing forces seem entirely irreconcilable; but, perhaps, they aren’t. Maybe—even while stressed—there is some kind of system override you can engage to put these two to work as a team.

How will I get through this?

Presence requires us to channel our energy, attention, thoughts, and feelings into whatever task may be at hand. In this case, your task is surviving this job interview.

But, how will you do that while managing your body’s physical response to this stressful event? You are likely feeling anxious and overwhelmed, wishing you were anywhere but where you were. After all, the adrenaline surge that accompanies high-stress situations is part of our fight or flight instinct. Having to wipe your brow every ten minutes is really interfering with your ability to be present.

But perhaps there is a way to get this all to work for you, rather than against you. What if you turn this conditioned response to flee on its head and embrace the panic rather than run from it?

Anxiety can be a form of excitement (and that’s a good thing!)

A Harvard Business School study revealed that performance improved in subjects who used a technique called "anxiety reappraisal" to approach a high-stress task.

For most of us, our conditioned reaction to stress (in addition to that soaking wet shirt) is fear. This is called the threat mindset and it negatively impacts our response to high-stress situations (like job interviews).

Anxiety reappraisal works like this:

  • Recognize a moment of fear and the thoughts that accompany it. This is you in your threat mindset.
  • Reframe the negative thoughts in your head. For example: “Hey, wait a second, sure I’m feeling anxious because I’m nervous about this interview, but I’m also excited about the possibility of getting this job!”
  • Channel your thoughts towards your excitement—the opportunity mindset—and the positive result it may generate. Turn the dial from the negative channel to the positive channel, if you will.

Initially, it may seem counterintuitive but the idea is to embrace the stress and work with it (AKA excitement) rather than against it.

Befriend your sweat

So, wipe your brow, pack an extra shirt, and walk into that interview with excitement and anticipation (and your opportunity mindset engaged). And remember, you can feel stress and still remain present enough to ace the interview.

Life 101 plug: Remember, this is not just a technique specific to interviewing. I was the most present I’ve ever been that time I parasailed—fear of heights and all. But, had I allowed my threat mindset to override my opportunity mindset, it would still be on my bucket list and I would have missed an experience of a lifetime.

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About the Author | Jennifer Abcug, LCSW, is a licensed psychotherapist in New York City, where she specializes in women’s life transitions. Prior to this, she counseled patients and families at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Convinced the earth moved after reading Mary Oliver’s poem, “The Summer Day,” the question: “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” has become a focal point of Jennifer’s practice.

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