After the long, exhausting journey of searching for and applying to new jobs, you’ve just been rewarded with a golden ticket—an interview.
But after a brief moment of celebration, the panic sets in: Your heart is already pounding, your palms are beginning to sweat, and you’re wondering: Are hiring managers like sharks—can they smell fear?
If the thought of sitting across from a hiring manager makes your stomach turn, you’re not alone. But don’t let your nerves get the best of you! Try one these strategies that will help you feel calm, cool, and collected—or at least make you appear that way.
1. Just Breathe
While waiting to be greeted by your interviewer, take a few moments to do some breathing. (Yes, like a pregnant woman in labor!) By doing this, you can redirect the troublesome emotion you’re experiencing (e.g., nervousness or fear) and be able to focus on something else (in this case, the amazing job that you’re hoping to land). Holistic health expert Andrew Weil, MD praises breathing exercises, saying, “Since breathing is something we can control and regulate, it is a useful tool for achieving a relaxed and clear state of mind.”
To do this most effectively, take a deep breath through your nose (really feel your stomach expand) and then slowly blow it out through your mouth. Repeat this three times, while concentrating on centering your thoughts. The best thing about this technique is that you can do it anywhere (and quite unnoticeably), so if you feel your nerves start to swell during the interview, simply take another breath.
2. Don’t Fidget
Nervous fidgeting is one of the most telltale signs that you’re nervous, so this is an incredibly important skill to master. My go-to trick is to keep my hands clasped together on the table or in my lap to avoid any subconscious table tapping, hair twirling, or otherwise noticeable squirming. I’m also a leg-shaker—but keeping my hands in my lap and applying a bit of pressure to my legs helps remind me to keep the shaking to a minimum.
If you think you don’t have any fidgety habits, you might want to think again—most people aren’t aware of their own nervous tendencies because they’re such an ingrained part of their natural behavior. To double check, try doing a few mock interviews with a friend who can call you out on any fidgeting. Once you know exactly what to avoid, you can practice controlling it.
3. Make Eye Contact
One of the best ways to fool a hiring manager into thinking you’re more confident than you feel is to keep steady, natural eye contact throughout the interview. Mary Griffin, a Human Resources Director for a national healthcare company says, “A key giveaway of a nervous Nellie is a lack of direct eye contact—looking down, looking away, and not looking the interviewer directly in the eyes. A more confident interviewee appears to be engaged with the interviewer.”
One way to remind yourself to make regular eye contact is to focus on a spot between the interviewer’s eyes. You can even imagine a colorful bulls-eye there—whatever it takes to keep your eyes from wandering too much.
On the flip side, you don’t want to stay so intensely focused on making eye contact that you end up sending out a creepy vibe! So remember to take natural breaks, like looking down at your resume every once in a while. It’s a balancing act, so just keep practicing until it feels comfortable.
4. Press Pause
Some of us (myself included!) tend to ramble when we’re nervous. This can be dangerous because once we start talking, it’s incredibly easy to veer off topic and say more than what’s needed—or worse, more than what’s appropriate.
To preempt any rambling, I try to answer each question with only one thought or idea at a time. For example, if you’re asked to describe a trait you disliked about a previous supervisor, you could say, “I found that her tendency to micromanage conflicted with my productivity.” Then stop. This will save you from unnecessary add-ons like “She was a total control freak whose inability to let me make my own decisions made me want to run down the hall screaming obscenities”—even if that may be the most honest answer.
The key to mastering this technique is to keep your tone sincere, so that even if your responses are brief, they don’t come off as curt or dismissive. It’s more about sticking to one main topic per question instead of going off a nervous tangent. And don’t worry—if the interviewer wants you to elaborate on a certain topic, she’ll ask.
5. Think Positively
Finally, calm your nerves by reminding yourself that you deserve to be there. Hey, you wouldn’t have been invited to interview if you weren’t being seriously considered as a candidate! Use this knowledge to your advantage to mentally pump yourself up before the interview. It can take the edge off enough to allow you to approach the situation with a burst of self-assurance and poise.
Most importantly, remember that while you certainly need to be calm, collected, and confident in order to score the job, an interview is not a life-or-death situation. Hiring managers are humans, too—and they’ll understand and forgive a few minor nervous blips.
So with that in mind, relax, gather your strength, and walk into that interview with a newfound confidence (at least on the outside!).