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Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

Dealing with nerves at interviews

In the first of a  3 part series, communication skills expert Martyn Barmby looks at how we can overcome nerves when we have a big interview.

What is the most important factor that stops you from performing at your best at interviews. For the majority of us the answer would be “nerves”. 

Nerves take many different forms. For some it is butterflies in the stomach, for others the mind going blank. For one of my clients it was an overwhelming fear that she would “fall off her chair in the middle of an interview”. 

The first thing I start by telling my clients is that nerves rarely ruin our interviews. It is our reaction to them that causes the problem. To illustrate this we need to have a quick look at what is going on when we are nervous. 

In simplistic terms our bodies are perceiving a threat and are going in to one of two modes: fight or flight. When we were cavemen and a wooly mammoth was bearing down on us these were two perfectly rational response to the situation. Sadly, while we have evolved in many useful and productive ways since caveman times, our response to threats has not come very far. So what happens now? 

When we go into an interview we perceive a threat. This can take a number of forms but most can be summed up with the fear that we will make a fool of ourselves. As a result we may not get the job we are desperate for resulting in unhappiness. How does our body respond to this threat? Yes, it goes into fight/flight mode. 

Engaging our interviewer in hand to hand combat or hotfooting it out of the interview room are singularly unhelpful responses to the threat that is at hand. So, apart from waiting for human evolution to catch up with HR good practice, what can we do? 

The most important point is to understand what is happening to us and realize that it is normal. A combination of some of the following symptoms will be felt in some degree by all interview candidates:

•   Heart rate increases as well as breathing rapidity
•  Blushing or paling of the face or alternating between the two
•  Dry mouth
•  Shaking 

While there are specific exercises that we can do to address each symptom, by far the most important point is to understand in advance what your body does when in this kind of stressful situation. When this happens the next you will recognize that it is normal and that all the other candidates will have some degree of the same reaction (providing they care about the job). What we do not want to do is to fight the symptoms, for example, by trying to hold our breath when it is speeding up. 

The analogy I use here is that the body is like a car. Under stress it is pressing the accelerator to give you more energy. If you try to put on the brake at the same time, the car will go out of control. 

So what are the key points? Think about previous occasions you have felt nerves. Note down precisely what happened to you physically. Be aware that it will happen again next time you are in a similar situation and the best thing you can do is concentrate on answering the question you are asked and not worrying about the normal and expected physical reactions that are happening. The nerves will give you more energy and often more focus. Rather than fighting them, let them work through the system and this will be the quickest way of getting into your stride at interview.

Martyn Barmby is Managing Director of MSB Executive Ltd, a company dedicated to helping us communicate at our best when we are under pressure. MSB Executive helps interview candidates to overcome nerves, become more confident and therefore get the success they deserve at interviews. For a free consultation contact Martyn at or go to for more information.

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  • Recent comments
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    • Dear Gavin, Am very delighted to read you. I am writing from Nigeria. I am a supply chain professional with strong experience in Procurement. Good supplier mgt is a relationship thing between the supplier and the customer. Putting the relationship guideline in place and conforming with it. Respecting the contract provisions. Nurture the relationship with the understanding of each others processes and attributable challenges. Supplier management must have a human face. Avoid being too mechanical. The benefit is huge: Your quality is maintained Steady supply Credit facilities Speed to market is improved Improved innovation Lower TCO Happy customers Good brand image Etc It will hit your bottom line It will show in the COS Increased volume of sales Measurement: COS before and after innovation KPI impact before and after implementation and corrective measure Etc I will like get get your feedback on my suggestions. Thank you. Best regards, Eucharia
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