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9 Ideas to Help People with Anxiety Excel at Job Interviews

By Fraser Director of Adult and Transition-Age Mental Health Jessica Enneking, Fraser Career Planning and Employment Assistant Program Manager Julie McKibbins, and Pam Dewey • anxiety, anxious, anxiety disorders, overcoming anxiety in a job interview, managing anxiety for a job interview, managing anxiety, anxiety and interviews, managing anxiety at an interview, interview prep for people with anxiety, anxiety help, tips for managing anxiety, coping with anxiety, how to cope with anxiety, therapy for anxiety • May 23, 2024

Most people get nervous before a big job interview. Did I pick the right outfit or do enough research? What if they ask questions I haven’t prepared for?

But for people who have anxiety, a job interview can be incredibly stressful. Your palms start to sweat; your mouth goes dry. Even though you’ve spent days preparing, your mind is suddenly as blank as a fresh sheet of paper when asked a routine interview question.

Here are a few ideas to help you prepare, handle your anxiety during an interview and take care of yourself afterward.

Before the Interview

Prepare, prepare, prepare

It’s always helpful to thoroughly research a company or organization before an interview. Familiarize yourself with its mission and vision and how the company was created. Ensure you’ve carefully read the job description and write down any questions you have regarding the role. Ask about the team you’ll be a part of or the manager or supervisor you’ll report to.  

Fraser Director of Adult and Transition-Age Mental Health Jessica Enneking also suggests a mock interview with a friend or a loved one to help you prepare and organize your thoughts. You can also jot down questions you want to ask in a notebook, so you can refer back to these during an interview. If you struggle with eye contact, having a notebook or a piece of paper to look at during the interview can be particularly helpful, says Enneking.

Ask for interview questions

You can ask for the interview questions before an interview. Enneking says sometimes a company will provide the questions, and sometimes they won’t; whether they do often depends on your role. If part of your position includes answering questions for the press or doing client presentations, the interviewer may not want to send you questions beforehand. They want to ensure you can think on your feet and answer questions quickly and professionally. But if you’re a computer programmer who primarily works independently, being able to answer questions without preparation isn’t so important.

If they won’t provide the interview questions beforehand, that also provides you with some important information about the company, too.

“Your work environment is like being in a relationship,” says Enneking. If the employer doesn’t understand your needs and where you’re at, then you aren’t likely to get the support you need to be successful, and this environment may not be the right fit for you.”

Interrogate your anxious thoughts

You can help ease your anxiety by examining things you worry about before the interview. Healthline suggests, “The day before your interview, it might be helpful to write down the thoughts that are spinning through your mind. This helps to get your anxious thoughts out of your mind and make them more concrete. Next, go through each thought and ask yourself, ‘Is this true? Is there actual evidence for this thought?’” Reflecting on your thoughts helps you confront whether these concerns have validity, or if this is just an example of your brain trying to worry about things that aren’t worth worrying about.

It can also be helpful to remind yourself of past successes.

“When we get nervous, we worry we’re going to fail. Before an interview, remind yourself of past successes, how you’ve set goals and achieved them,” says Enneking. “This can help build your confidence and help you appear more confident during an interview.”

Care for your body

Mental health and physical health are tightly linked. To help promote a sense of calm, get a good night’s rest before the interview, and eat a healthy meal before your interview. You may also want to practice some meditation techniques the day before, so you can quiet your mind and prepare your body for a good night’s sleep, says Enneking.

Remove as many obstacles as possible

Fraser Career Planning and Employment Assistant Program Manager Julie McKibbins suggests that you lay out your interview clothing and accessories the night before, so that’s one less thing to worry about in the morning. She also suggests you plan to arrive at least 15 minutes before your interview.

“This gives you 10 minutes to spend outside, breathing deep and repeating positive affirmations, and then you can still arrive a few minutes early for your interview,” says McKibbins.

If you’re unfamiliar with the area where the interview is, it may be helpful to drive the route ahead of time — maybe the day before — to ensure you know where you’re going and won’t get lost. Remember, Google Maps doesn’t always get it right, particularly when there’s road construction.

Try calming scents

Certain scents are believed to have a soothing effect. Discover Magazine states, “In fact, many studies have found a connection between smells, emotions and powerful memories.” Lavender is one scent that many find relaxing. While getting dressed for an interview, try lavender patches or even a diffuser necklace with lavender essential oil in it. Rose and sage scents are also believed to have calming properties and may help with stress and anxiety.

During the interview

When your mind goes blank, buy yourself time

Having your mind go blank during an interview is a fairly common phenomenon, but it doesn’t make it any less nerve-wracking. You can give yourself some time by repeating back the question. This forces the conversation to slow down, giving you more time to think. McKibbins also suggests that you pause and say, “That is a very good question. Do you mind if I think about it for a minute?”

You could also express that you didn’t understand the question, and then they will need to reframe it. This also gives you more time to respond. While waiting, take a couple of deep breaths to help you relax.

Lacking certain skills isn’t a deal-breaker

Despite being well-qualified, you may be unfamiliar with certain programs or software before starting a new role. Most companies and organizations don’t expect you to tick every box on the job description. So, if you’ve never used a particular program, that doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker. Just highlight your ability to pick up new skills. 

“You could say, ‘I don’t have experience with that software yet, but I learned X, X, and X by watching YouTube videos or doing their online tutorials,’” says McKibbins.

This shows that you’re able to learn new skills and that you can do it independently.

After the interview

Make a plan to celebrate or relax

No matter how your interview goes, make plans to celebrate or relax afterward. Having something to look forward to will put you in a better state of mind and might help you relax during the interview. Healthline states, “Make a plan with a friend to grab dinner or drinks after the interview…and having a friend available to give you perspective will help mitigate your anxiety.”

Some people might find it more helpful to plan time to relax on their own after an interview. Enneking suggests planning to have the rest of the day off after an interview, so you can go home and read, watch a movie or take a walk through the park.

Anxiety doesn’t have to prevent you from getting the job you want. You may find many of these ideas help you prepare or respond well during an interview. You can also reach out to Fraser if you think you’d benefit from role-playing or a mock interview, reach out to Fraser Career Planning and Employment at careerplanning@fraser.org.