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It’s terrifying. You’re in the middle of telling a story and suddenly you have nothing to say. Your face goes hot and your stomach goes cold. Well, let’s fix it. In this post I’ll teach you how not to go blank in an interview.

First, keep track of the question you’re answering. It’s easy to blank out when you’ve forgotten where you were going. Read my post, “Forgetting What Question You’re Answering in an Interview.”

“Why does my mind go blank in interviews?”

Blanking out is a fight-or-flight response caused by stress. Your body thinks you’re in physical danger, so it’s telling you to stop thinking so much and just make a run for the door!

To keep this from happening, reduce the stress. Easily said, right? But it’s more easily done than you might think. The key is to be well prepared, not only (1) professionally but (2) personally. Let’s take those one at a time.

By “professional” preparation I mean having a good handle on the content of the interview, with a plan for answering the likely questions, especially those interview questions you’re most nervous about.

It may even be helpful to keep some simple, brief, easy-to-read notes handy during the interview if you get stuck. For example, a list of interview stories or questions you want to ask. If it’s a video interview you can have these notes right there on your screen. In an on-site interview, you could have them on a small notepad (not on a laptop or phone). Either way, look at your notes as little as possible.

This “content” aspect is what most job seekers prepare for. And of course, the more you’re prepared for answering the questions, the more confident you’ll be. That means less chance of having a “brain freeze.”

But you could spend your whole weekend preparing for an interview, then blank out in front of the interviewer on Monday, because there’s also the personal side.

By “personal” preparation I mean developing the ability to be calm and confident in a potentially stressful situation.

More about the personal side:

Just as you’ve (hopefully) rehearsed some interview answers, you also need to rehearse your state of mind. Take a few minutes to sit down in a private place, close your eyes and visualize yourself doing a calm, confident and successful interview. If you do this “mental rehearsal” right, the results can be quietly amazing.

Then there’s the oft-repeated advice to “breathe.” But if you’ve ever tried to calm someone by saying “breathe,” you probably saw them take a big, noisy breath while raising their shoulders. That kind of breathing isn’t much help.

We all assume we know how to breathe. But when we’re stressed out we tend to breathe in a tight, herky-jerky way that only makes us feel more nervous.

To intentionally breathe in a relaxing way takes practice.

Try this:

Place your hand on your belly so you can feel your belly rise and fall as you  breathe.
Breathe in, slowly. Pause for a few seconds.
Breathe out. Pause for a few seconds.
Repeat for one minute.

Once you’ve got the belly movement down, you might try adding a relaxing phrase. As you inhale, thank “I am,” and as you exhale, think “relaxing.”

What you’re learning is “belly breathing.” Most of us naturally breathe this way when we’re very relaxed, but we don’t know how to do it deliberately.

After practicing this every day for a few days (or maybe longer), you’ll be better prepared to relax yourself before an interview, and even in the middle of it. You’ll no longer need to do the full exercise; you’ll be able to slip into relaxed breathing quickly and easily.

So, should you work with mental rehearsal or with breathing? Both. They work in different ways and complement each other. And of course, prepare your answers as well!

And that, dear reader, is how not to blank out in an interview. Do this–I mean seriously do it, don’t just think about it–and you’ll feel better, your mind will be clearer, and you’ll make a better impression. In other words, you’ll have a much better shot at getting the job!