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Interview Anxiety: How to Calm Nerves Before an Interview

In the middle of panic mode? Check out these tried-and-tested tips on calming your interview anxiety.
Interview Anxiety: How to Calm Nerves Before an Interview

If you get nervous before an interview, you’re definitely not alone. In fact, 93% of people feel tense before an interview. That’s more than the number of people who get antsy before a first date!

And if you google “anxious before an interview,” you’ll get 26 million results.

To get rid of (or at least mitigate) interview anxiety, it’s important to understand its root causes, take extra care to prepare for the interview, and adopt techniques to help you calm down. In this article, we explain:

  • What interview anxiety is and why interviews are so stressful
  • The best way to regain control and stay calm in an interview
  • Some proven methods to keep your interview nerves in check

Understanding Interview Anxiety, Nervousness, and Stress

Disclaimer: There are several types of anxiety disorders (the most common ones are generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, phobias, and social anxiety disorder). If you have been diagnosed with any of these, you’ll still find this article very useful, but note that we use the word “anxiety” here synonymously with nervousness, stress, and tension.

There is a big difference between having anxiety and simply being nervous or stressed. But unfortunately, all those feelings lead to you not showing your best self in the interview.

What is interview anxiety?

Interview anxiety is the feeling of nervousness, fear, or stress that people experience before, during, or after a job interview. It happens because your body recognizes an interview as a threat and releases stress hormones (cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine) to protect you.

Those hormones cause physiological changes, leading to these common signs of interview anxiety:

  • Physical: Trembling, shaking, nausea, racing or pounding heart, dizziness, dry mouth, indigestion, sweating, tight jaw.
  • Behavioral: Fidgeting, pacing, inability to sleep the night before the interview, fumbling with words, biting your nails.
  • Cognitive: Mind going blank, racing thoughts, difficulty focusing.
  • Emotional: Feeling nervous, afraid, or overwhelmed, excessive worry, sense of dread.

There are three typical modes your body can enter: fight, flight, or freeze.

In the context of interviews, the 3 stress response modes may cause you to feel and behave like this:

  • Fight: Your body feels tight and there’s a burning sensation in your stomach. You can’t really fight the interviewer, but the tension might make you sound and look brash, aggressive, or over-confident. You may interrupt the interviewer or dominate the conversation.
  • Flight: You’re overwhelmed by fear, feel trapped, and want to run away or cancel the interview.
  • Freeze: Your body feels numb, you feel disconnected from reality, as if you’re floating in a spaceship. You’re physically there, but your mind is going blank and you can’t remember your answers.

If you’re looking for a new job or want to practice for your next interviews, check out this Free Course.

Why people feel nervous before an interview

Interview anxiety happens due to a combination of factors:

1. The importance of the event

Simply put, you care about the interview, and want to secure a job. The stakes are high, and the outcome can impact your financial stability, career goals, and self-image.

2. Desire to make a positive impression

Interviews are social situations where people want to be liked and leave a good first impression, and the time is limited (most interviews last between 45 minutes and an hour). You want to come across as confident, friendly, and trustworthy, and the pressure can sometimes lead to anxiety.

3. Uncertainty

Job interviews go hand in hand with uncertainty and lack of control. Interviews are pretty structured, and candidates have no control over the questions they’ll be asked or the competition. When you can’t influence the process, it’s normal to feel as if your fate is in the hands of others.

4. Performance pressure

You’re expected to be on top of your game, and communicate your experience, abilities, and strengths effectively. You also need to look and sound polished and professional. In such situations, it’s easy to become self-conscious and start obsessing over a tiny mistake you made or your body language.

5. Fear of judgment and rejection

Candidates know that they are being evaluated and judged. There’s also a possibility that you won’t meet their expectations and end up in the “no” pile. That alone is likely to lead to nervousness.

6. Self-doubt

Finally, not everyone is naturally confident. Many people question their abilities or think they are underqualified even though they may be strong candidates in reality.

All of these things combined can create a vortex of anxiety and cause you to panic or feel stressed. This can negatively affect your interview performance.

But you already know that.

The key thing to do is understand what makes you stressed and accept it, because not all stress is negative. A certain amount of anticipation and anxiety is healthy, as it can help you be sharper or perform better.

So read on to learn how you can reframe your thoughts about interviewing and feel more in control.

How to Handle Stress Before Interviews

There are many steps you can take to feel more comfortable and confident in interviews. Here we’ll talk about:

  • How to practice to ensure a successful interview
  • 10 ways to calm your interview anxiety
  • When to seek help

Take the time to prepare for the interview

Everyone who’s now a pro has once been a beginner. And even pros (think athletes) need to practice regularly to stay fit and on top of their game.

This means that, no matter how (in)experienced you are in interviewing, the best thing you can do to ease your anxiety is to prepare.

Here’s what you need to do:

  • Research the company and the position. Researching the employer and going over your resume and the job requirements will make you feel more confident and knowledgeable.
  • Practice common interview questions and prepare tailored answers. You need to approach each interview individually, focusing on that particular company and position. Your answers should be adapted to the specific job.
  • Develop a brief self-introduction or “elevator pitch.” Questions like “Tell me about yourself” or “Why should we hire you?” are almost guaranteed, and you’ll feel much more at ease if you start your interview strong. Consider your strengths and weaknesses and be ready to speak about them.
  • Prepare the questions to ask the interviewer. You’d be surprised how many candidates get rejected because they fail to ask questions at the end of the interview.

You can learn more about interview preparation in this guide on How to Prepare for an Interview.

To calm your interview nerves and deliver your answers naturally, you can practice using mock interview tools. For example, with Big Interview, you can build your answer and polish it using the tips and sample answers available inside the tool.

interview anxiety SS1

Next, you can practice your answer on video. Once you record it, you’ll get AI feedback on things like answer relevance, vocabulary, um counter, and a general score. For areas where your answer is in the red, you’ll get immediate resources on how to improve

AI interview feedback

If you’re a neurodivergent candidate, check out this article on neurodiversity challenges that will help you prepare for the interview and decrease anxiety levels.

If you’re overqualified, learn how to land a job as an overqualified candidate.

How not to be nervous before an interview: 10 tips

Here are some tried-and-tested ways to calm your nerves before a job interview.

1. Learn how stress works

If you’re prone to interview anxiety, it will help you to get to know your “enemy.” Learn the science behind it, why your body reacts the way it does, and find ways to minimize the effects of nervousness on your performance.

Remember that some stress is normal and expected, and don’t be afraid to try out different things because what works for someone else may not work for you.

2. Boost your confidence

Some people benefit from visualization techniques — to visualize a successful interview, picture yourself in the interview room making a fantastic impression and try to imagine the positive confidence you will feel.

Others use deep breathing, meditation, and mindfulness exercises to calm nerves. Apps like Headspace, Calm, or Balance can help with that. Positive affirmations and self-talk are also known as confidence boosters.

3. Take action

You can also try to move your body before the interview, as physical activity releases the feel-good endorphins and helps to release stress through movement. A simple brisk walk will do the trick. You can also calm your nerves if you arrive early (this will ease the time-related stress), and build a pre-interview routine or ritual to create familiarity and a sense of control.

4. Re-label your anxiety as excitement

Another powerful and helpful method is to relabel your anxiety as excitement.

Did you know that, on the physiological level, anxiety and excitement are the same emotion? And you can consciously learn to interpret those body signals with a positive spin (excitement), or a negative spin (anxiety).

When you arouse (and embrace) excitement, your brain will shift from a threat mindset (causes you to perform worse) to an opportunity mindset (makes you perform better).

This method can be very effective because you don’t need to work against your body. You just need to change and control how your mind interprets the physical symptoms.

5. Revamp your interview beliefs

Despite what your anxiety is telling you, the interviewers aren’t out to get you. In reality, none of these negative beliefs serve you well, and in most cases, even if the thoughts feel real, they’re not.

To change your beliefs and reframe your fears, tell yourself the interview is just a conversation. If you approach it with this mindset – ”This is just a fun conversation about the things I’m good at”, you’ll feel less pressure and have a more balanced self-assessment.

6. Overcome interview nerves by learning effective communication

There are several major points to consider when mastering effective communication — active listening, learning how to sound confident, and techniques for handling difficult questions.

  • Active listening is crucial in job interviews because it shows you’re fully present and engaged. If you tend to get in your head when you’re anxious, active listening will help you snap out of it and be fully focused on the interviewer. When you listen carefully, you’ll be able to understand the questions better and provide more relevant answers.
  • To achieve confident verbal and non-verbal communication, you’ll need to practice. Again, start with researching the company and the role and jot down keywords you’d like to mention. You can also practice with a friend, mentor, or interview preparation software. Another alternative you can try is to record yourself using a phone and then watch the recordings, paying attention to your posture, body language, gestures, or pace of speech. Then replay it and focus on the message. Are you using power words and quantifiable achievements to highlight your skills and experience?
  • Finally, some difficult interview questions will require you to pause and reflect. If you’re nervous, you may rush to respond or lose your composure. Take extra time to prepare your answers to these tricky questions.

7. Stop avoidance and go on more interviews

We tend to avoid social situations that trigger anxiety, and while this tactic provides some short-term relief, it’s not good in the long run. You won’t feel less nervous before your next interview if you cancel this one.

According to cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), the key lies in exposure — intentionally engaging in situations that cause anxiety. Sounds counterintuitive, but it’s a very effective way to become better and more relaxed in interviews.

So go to as many interviews as you can, do mock interviews, and treat every single one as a learning opportunity.

8. Watch and learn from other people

You can also learn from others. There’s a bunch of free resources (e.g. Big Interview’s YouTube channel) where you can learn from interview coaches and watch real people answer interview questions. This will help you internalize the experience.

You can also practice using an interview preparation tool (make sure you do it continuously, e.g. 30 minutes every day), just make sure you take it seriously and dress up to make it as real as possible.

9. Get out of your head

When you’re anxious, your focus is internal (“inside your body”) — you notice your rapid heartbeat, palms sweating and your thoughts are almost too loud. What therapists advise in such situations is to shift your attention externally: notice your surroundings, name 3 things you can see, or name the colors around you. This will reduce your anxiety immediately and help you get out of your head and body.

10. Learn from your experiences

Another important thing is to reflect on your past interviews, and identify what you did wrong and what you did right. When you identify areas for improvement, focus on those areas when practicing, and don’t shy away from seeking feedback from others, including the people who interviewed you in the past.

Seek professional help (if necessary)

If you experience severe and intense anxiety or nervousness before an interview, it may be a good idea to get help from a therapist. Some indicators that you may want to seek professional help are:

  • You’re continuously overwhelmed and the anxiety interferes with your daily functioning.
  • You’re consistently avoiding job interviews or aren’t even looking for a job because it activates your anxiety.
  • You’ve been unsuccessful in several interviews and are starting to lose hope (this is where a career coach can help too).
  • You’ve had panic attacks and struggle breathing when you think about interviews.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy works great for interview anxiety because it teaches you to learn that it’s not the situation that’s causing your anxiety, but how you perceive the situation.

Seeking therapy is a personal decision and only you know what feels right for you. A mental health professional will best assess your situation and triggers, and help you develop coping strategies to manage your anxiety and become more resilient in situations like interviews.

Below are some resources for finding professional help:

Final Thoughts

  • Most people are nervous or anxious before job interviews. You’re not alone in this.
  • Interview anxiety can manifest itself in several ways, and comes with many different physical symptoms (uneasy feeling, trembling, fidgeting, pacing, wanting to leave, etc.)
  • Interviews are stressful because it’s a situation where you’re being evaluated and need to speak about yourself to unfamiliar people
  • One of the best things you can do to calm down and feel more comfortable and confident is to take time to prepare
  • Try to learn how anxiety works, what’s behind it, and talk to a therapist or a career counselor if possible
  • There are apps and online tools that can help you stay in control. Check out the list above for free and paid resources
  • Finally, seek help if your anxiety is preventing you from taking interviews


Need help with your job search? There are 2 ways we can help you:

  1. Getting invited to interview but not landing the job? Discover actionable lessons and interview practice here (Rated with 4.9/5 by 1,000,000 users).
  2. Learn what common interview questions you may get and tips on how to answer them.
  3. Learn how to successfully negotiate a better salary. (Take a sneak peek of one lesson for free here)


What should you do if you get nervous during an interview?

Take a few slow deep breaths and shift your attention to the interviewer and the conversation. Maintain eye contact, nod to show attentiveness, and speak slowly and deliberately.

Do interviewers expect you to be nervous?

Yes, interviewers expect candidates to show some level of nervousness. They’re trained and have already encountered nervous candidates before. They know that job interviews are stressful and that candidates may feel anxious because they want to make a good impression. They will generally be sympathetic and try to ease your nervousness.

Why are job interviews so stressful?

Interviews are stressful for many reasons — you’re expected to show up as your best self, speak about your past achievements and weaknesses, mind your body language and come across as agreeable, professional, and serious, but also show some personality. It’s a difficult balance to strike.

Is it bad to admit you’re shy or nervous during an interview?

It’s not considered bad to admit you’re nervous or shy, but it’s crucial to do it strategically. If you decide to share your feelings, try to balance it with positivity and stress how you’re determined to perform well despite being nervous. You can also provide some context and explain why you’re nervous. Try to find a natural opportunity to communicate this.

Do interviewers reject nervous candidates?

You won’t be disqualified because of your nervousness only, but it can have a negative impact on your performance. That’s why it’s important to manage your interview nerves through preparation, practice, and calming strategies.

Are introverts bad at interviews?

No, introverts are not bad at interviewing. On the contrary, qualities like active listening and thoughtful self-presentation can help them excel at interviews. Although they may not be so outwardly expressive and enthusiastic like extroverts, introverts can have successful interviews with a bit of preparation and practice.

Can you say “I don’t know” during an interview?

It’s best not to, unless there’s absolutely no alternative. Even then, don’t make it your default answer. Instead, if you don’t know an answer to a question, opt for a more effective “I don’t have that information right now, but I’m confident that I’ll be able to adapt and learn quickly” or “Based on my knowledge and experience, I’d approach it like this”. And if a question is unclear, it’s better to ask for clarification than say “I don’t know”.

What to do in awkward silence during an interview?

Silences can happen, but you can use a few tricks to make them less awkward. The key thing is to stay calm and not try to speak just for the sake of speaking. Instead, use the silence as a chance to gather your thoughts and deliver a thoughtful response. If you don’t understand a question, ask the interviewer to clarify instead of staying silent. And if your answer is followed by silence, it may be a sign that the interviewer needs you to elaborate further.

Pamela Skillings
Pamela is the co-founder of BigInterview and an expert interview coach on a mission to help job seekers get their dream jobs. As an HR authority, she also provides consulting services to companies wishing to streamline their hiring process.

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