It’s perfectly normal to be nervous about job interviews. But if you get so anxious that your voice shakes, or you freeze up and find it hard to think clearly, that’s a problem.
Too often we feel like we have no control over our anxieties, no way to consciously cultivate confidence. Abundant research shows this is just not true. In this post you’ll learn several ways to feel and be confident.
As psychoanalyst Anna Freud wrote,
“I was always looking outside myself for strength and confidence, but it comes from within. It is there all the time.”
Experiment with the following tools, find out which ones work best for you, and then use them to find that inner confidence and use it for a winning interview.
1. Learn how to relax.
Psychologist Fritz Perls once said, “Fear is excitement without the breath.” This may be an oversimplification, but some of your nervousness may actually be excitement about the opportunity. Your excitement is an asset, since it shows you’re passionate about the job.
So appreciate your excitement, and then breathe to release the excess. Is it that simple? Almost, except most of us don’t actually know how to use breathing to relax.
Here are a couple of quick, easy breathing exercises from a Harvard Medical School blog. Try them right now and see which one works best for you.
Breathing with a peaceful phrase:
While sitting comfortably, take a slow deep breath, quietly saying to yourself “I am” as you breathe in and “at peace” as you breathe out.
Repeat slowly two or three times.
Feel your entire body let go into the support of your chair.
Place your hand just beneath your navel so you can feel the gentle rise and fall of your belly as you breathe.
Breathe in. Pause for a count of three.
Breathe out. Pause for a count of three.
Continue like this for one minute.
Notice how you feel before and after doing these exercises.
You can also use your imagination to help you relax. Try this:
Think of a color that you find relaxing.
As you breathe slowly and deeply, imagine that you’re breathing that color into various areas of your body. Feel the color bringing relaxation wherever it goes.
Whatever technique you prefer, practice it often and enjoy it. Make it part of your everyday life so it’s super easy to remember wherever and whenever you need it.
2. Don’t believe everything you think.
Emotions are generally a response to something we’re thinking. That’s the discovery behind Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a proven approach to feeling better by changing your thoughts. Fear of interviews is usually caused by thoughts like “I’m not going to get this job.”
CBT, which you can do on your own, is not about trying to block out negative thoughts. Often it works better to compassionately notice fear-producing thoughts and then substitute more reassuring, confident thoughts. This work takes patience – doing it once isn’t enough – but every bit adds up.
Here are some examples of fear-producing thoughts and some better thoughts to replace them with.
Fear-producing thought: “I’m no good at interviewing.” Confidence-producing thought: “I’m improving my interview skills and I will get an offer.”
Fear-producing thought: “I have to get this job.” Confidence-producing thought: “I’m really motivated to get this job” or “I really want this job.”
Fear-producing thought: “The interviewer is looking for ways to disqualify me.” Confidence-producing thought: “The interviewer is anxious to fill the position and hopes I’m the one.”
Fear-producing thought: “I’m not going to get this job.” Confidence-producing thought: “I was selected out of many applicants for this interview. The interviewer is very interested in me. There are good reasons to hire me.”
3. Start a kudos file or a job journal.
Give yourself reasons to be confident. Gather up or write down any praise you’ve received about your work, whether it was as casual as a comment or as formal as a performance review or LinkedIn recommendation. (If you don’t have LinkedIn recommendations, I urge you to request some and use them skillfully during your job search.) Look through these things when you need a boost.)
If your work experience has been in environments where little praise or recognition is given, I empathize with you. Many managers and companies fail to see the importance of recognizing good work. Visualize your current job search landing you in a more supportive situation!
4. Use Mental Imagery.
It’s well known that top performers in the arts, athletics and other fields use mental imagery, also known as creative visualization or motor imagery, to build their skills and set up the mental conditions for success. The idea is to experience, in your imagination, the way you want to feel, think, speak and act during your next interview. On some level, your brain stores this experience as learning, almost as if you had participated in a real, highly successful interview. Naturally, this prepares you for a confident and effective performance in the real world.
This isn’t magic; it’s supported by scientific research. (You can look up “motor imagery” on Wikipedia.)
Learn how to use mental imagery to prepare for your interviews.
5. Act the way you want to feel.
It’s not just how we think and what we imagine that makes us feel a certain way. How we act influences our feelings as well. As you practice for interviews, and in the interview itself, practice speaking as if you were confident rather than anxious. Use confident language: “I’m confident” or “I’m convinced” rather than “I think” or “I feel.” Avoid saying you “tried to” do this or that. Use confident body language, too. Acting as if you’re fearless will help you feel that way.
Countless job seekers have found that an exercise habit boosts confidence. Regular exercise reduces stress and brings energy, well-being, a sense of accomplishment and a feeling of control over one’s body and mind, not to mention a healthier appearance. If your work ethic makes you think “I don’t have time,” think again. Fitness is an investment in your career success.
7. Be prepared.
Being ready to market your skills effectively will make you feel more confident. Learn how to answer interviews questions effectively, how to ask good questions, how to follow up . . . in other words, how to prepare for a great interview. If you’ve been “winging it” until now, you may be quite surprised at the difference this makes.
Fear is not forever. Confidence is contagious. Do the work to clear away your fear of job interviews, then let your confidence in yourself convince the interviewer. (This post was originally pubished in 2019 and has been updated.)