How to fix my interview anxiety?
September 4, 2014 10:20 AM   Subscribe

I've lost several job opportunities due to anxiety and nerves in interview situations. I need a quick fix!

Without getting into too much background detail, I am, and have been, interviewing for highly competitive positions where even getting selected to interview is seen as being a big deal. Interviewers spend a portion of time talking about me and my background, and then go into technical questions. My nerves are so bad that I start having 'anxiety symptoms' while talking about myself - which should be the easiest part!

The following happens:
1) Mouth starts to dry
2) I talk fast and may ramble
3) I feel out of breath and get sweaty

These are jobs I both really want and need. Have confirmed that I lost at least 2 positions because of my nervousness/lack of confidence.

How can I overcome this anxiety? I thought it would come with more practice but each new interview has not been easier or better than the last.
posted by Funky Claude to Work & Money (13 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have anxiety more generally, and have you ever seen a doctor about it? Have you ever had CBT, or been on anti-anxiety medicine?
posted by ClaireBear at 10:24 AM on September 4, 2014

This might seem extreme, but I don't think it actually is: talk to your doctor about some sort of anti-anxiety meds? If it's something you get a lot, maybe a more long-term solution (CBT therapy, SSRIs), if it's really just situational like this, then perhaps beta-blockers like they give for stage fright.
posted by brainmouse at 10:25 AM on September 4, 2014

Response by poster: Just to clarify for the above posters...
Yes, I do have general anxiety issues. In the course of daily life however very few(if any?) situations cause me to get as anxious as these interviews. I have tried some light CBT and felt it did not work well for me. Have never tried meds.
posted by Funky Claude at 10:29 AM on September 4, 2014

Yeah, just get a little 0.25 mg Xanax or similar. I have done that prior to job interviews and it's the quickest fix there is, it works, and you don't seem loopy (obviously YMMV and many people dislike benzos for loopiness-related reasons).
posted by magdalemon at 10:30 AM on September 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Have you ever done hobbies/classes that put you in the spotlight? It can be very uncomfortable at first, but it's a useful skill to have. Things like Toastmasters, a public speaking class at the community college, an improv class or comedy class, karaoke, etc. I find interviews and business presentations much less stressful because I am a hobbyist musician, and playing an instrument in front of people gave me a lot of opportunities to learn to relax (or fake it) under pressure.
posted by aimedwander at 10:34 AM on September 4, 2014

In addition to longer-term strategies like improv classes, CBT, etc, you can ask a doc about beta blockers - used for stage fright/performance anxiety. If your doctor okays it, they can be super useful at dulling the appearance of nervousness - sweaty palms, unsteady voice, quick breathing, etc.

For me, they slow time a bit and can kind of cut that feedback loop of "I'm nervous, now I'm appearing nervous, which is making me more nervous." When I can be like "I'm nervous, but no one can tell," that boosts my confidence way up and makes me much less nervous. They don't affect my brain or cognitive abilities at all. I take them maybe once every several months, for super-important negotiation meetings or high-stress interviews.
posted by Uncle Glendinning at 10:48 AM on September 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you do have general anxiety issues that just get ramped up in situations anyone would get anxious about such as job interviews, then talking to your doctor about anti-anxiety drugs is one way to go but I find that people are generally over-medicated these days, so that should be a last resort even if does work. There are other solutions. Just google "anti anxiety tips" or the like.

There are also exercises you can practice to calm yourself, or to steel yourself in uncomfortable situations i.e. outside your comfort zone. In the Four Hour Work Week, Tim Ferriss talks about lying down on the sidewalk in public on a well-traveled street for a minute, then getting up and walking away.

A typical reason that people get extra-anxious in job interviews is when they're feeling desperate because e.g. they're unemployed and low on cash, so they feel that the interview has to go perfectly or all will be lost. This is also a major reason people take first offers and find themselves in bad jobs. But if you're getting called to interviews for positions that are highly sought-after, clearly your track record precedes you so you have good reason to be confident in your abilities to land one of the positions you're interviewing for, or at least, to get multiple offers.

You just need a boost of confidence.

You should also practice interviewing. It's not the same as 'being in the game for real' but it should improve your reflex talking points and answers. You can do this with friends or even better, (ex-)colleagues, but if you like, add me on Skype and I'll interview you for a half hour and give you feedback.
posted by jshare at 10:51 AM on September 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

I agree with the above that it's worth talking to your doctor about meds for these relatively rare occasions. They may or may not have ideas that work for you, but you won't know unless you ask.

One thing that helped me was being part of an interview team, and therefore knowing that they're usually kind of nervous, too. If I make one of my "jobs" during the interview to not just to make myself shine, but to also make them feel more comfortable, I tend to get out of my own anxiety a bit and seem more confident.
posted by ldthomps at 11:32 AM on September 4, 2014

Not sure what industry you're in and whether situational anxiety could be seen as a drawback if you're ultimately hired. If it's not, and if the others' suggestions to drug yourself ;) don't work, maybe try to break the ice with it early in the interview, except phrase it as excitement instead of nervousness--don't let them try to figure out where you are in the emotional spectrum--tell them. "If I start talking fast it's because I'm just really excited about this opportunity!" Throw in a smile or a laugh if you feel like that would sell it.

tl;dr: the symptoms you've described could easily be passed off as excitement if you make a point to frame it that way at the outset.
posted by resurrexit at 12:21 PM on September 4, 2014

As an Englishman I find being in situations where I'm forced to talk about myself with people that don't know me personally or "sell myself" professionally not only perfectly awkward but acutely embarrassing.

Hence, I often find myself in the same position of feeling totally flummoxed in interviews when in other circumstances I could talk for hours about my hobbies, my interests, my education and anything else under the sun!

If your're a naturally reticent person or come from a naturally self deprecating culture / background this sort of stuff can be torture, though I'm better at it these days, mainly by working on it on different levels.

In my personal life I got my arse to therapy where I was forced to sit in a chair and talk about myself and in the event developed a much stronger sense of myself and "story" of my life and got rid of erroneous thoughts and got to be more comforable with myself and sharing my opinions about life.

Semi relatedly; Socially I constantly practice in speaking to strangers, making small talk, and not being frightened to give out information about myself in conversation etc.

While, at work I hone my corporate vocabulary and attempt to lower my sense of shame at using the language of self promotion, sycophancy and general business level bullshittery and smarm like "deliverables" "competencies" without blushing!

At the end of the day the stuff they're asking is standard interview fluff to build "rapport" and work out where you're coming from, so fake it till you make it is my motto, but perhaps some of this might work for you?
posted by Middlemarch at 12:38 PM on September 4, 2014

Someone once gave me a really great piece of interviewing advice that helped calm me down.

If you've made it to the interview stage they already think you're qualified and talented, what they want to know is if they can spend 8 hours a day with you.

Reminding myself that before going into interviews really helped calm me down and lessen the feeling that I had to prove myself.

I think it's also helpful to remind yourself that you are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you. This is your opportunity to determine if you want to spend 8 hours a day with these people. Will you enjoy the office culture? Is there room for growth and professional development? Does their management style suit you? How do they measure performance? You should be prepared to ask them questions too.
posted by brookeb at 12:39 PM on September 4, 2014

One last thing-

Many recruiters, especially experienced ones, know about the 'bad interview, good hire' phenomenon. Some people are excellent employees who just don't interview well, mainly for anxiety reasons, and it's a wasted opportunity to not hire someone for years of company benefit because of a few difficult hours of conversation.

This article is advice to recruiters on how to deal with candidates who don't interview well.

If you're great at your job, including meetings with clients/partners/colleagues (i.e. your anxiety isn't social in general), but just don't job interview well, warn recruiters! Steel them by getting a past boss/HR rep to write something along the lines of 'he doesn't interview well, but were we glad that we hired him anyway' and then send that quote in reply whenever you get interview invites.
posted by jshare at 12:19 AM on September 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

Thank you for posting this question, Funky Claude. I'm getting ready for my own interview right now and am feeling so anxious that I'm afraid I might start to cry. (I'll make sure not to once I put on my makeup! :)) I'm trying to internalize the positive comments that people have sent your way.

Remember, you got the interviews; they want to talk to you. Best of luck to you in your job search.
posted by Wet Hen at 4:45 AM on September 5, 2014

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