Why Anxiety During A Job Interview Is So Common — And What You Can Do To Prevent It

Nancy Anderson
Posted by in Career Advice

Do your palms start to sweat at the thought of walking into a room and talking to strangers about your job prospects? Do you have trouble sleeping the night before a job interview? Do your legs shake or knees wobble as you try to answer interview questions? All of these symptoms are part of a larger issue called job interview anxiety. Don't worry, though — you are perfectly normal if you feel anxious ahead of a job interview.


According to a 2013 survey from Harris Interactive and Everest College, as many as 92 percent of adults in the United States stress over one or more aspects of a job interview. People who responded to the survey cited nervousness as the top issue, followed by being overqualified, inability to respond to a hard question and arriving late to the interview.

Up to 17 percent of respondents felt nervousness caused the most stress. Around 15 percent didn't want to deal with their overqualified status. Questions that stumped an interviewee came up 15 percent of the time. Meanwhile, arriving late was a concern for 14 percent of the people in the survey. The Everest College poll asked 1,002 employed adults several questions via telephone.

Income levels determined the types of stress endured by job applicants. Those with a family income of less than $50,000 cited nervousness as the top fear 22 percent of the time. Just 11 percent of people with a household income of $100,000 or more said they felt nervous as the top concern. People with just a high school degree also ranked nervousness high on the list at 22 percent, whereas college graduates felt a nervous response occurred 11 percent of the time.

What do all of these numbers mean? They indicate you are not alone when it comes to job interview anxiety. You have numerous reasons to feel nervous during an interview. However, this type of response is completely normal.

Why So Nervous?

The nervousness before and during a job interview is a natural physiological response as you get ready to perform. Your heart rate elevates and you might mistake your body's response as something bad. Consider that you rarely get nervous around your friends or people you know. That's because there's no hostile environment in those situations.

Your nervous feelings might arise because there are consequences to your actions in an interview. Someone's attitude towards you may cause additional stress. Plus, you realize that getting a job is important.

As you prepare for an interview, you start getting stage fright. Although that is not a bad thing, your mind might interpret your body's nervous signals as something negative. Then you start to worry, your worry leads to fear of failing and you might begin to worry about worrying too much. The cycle continues and your nervous fears could turn to anxiety.

Anxiety about the job interview occurs when your stress too much. Your stress could lead to mistakes during the interview, such as fidgeting, babbling and incorrect answers. However, you can overcome your anxiety with a few tips and tricks.

How to Handle Job Interview Anxiety

Perhaps the number one way to combat job interview anxiety is preparation. Do your homework on the employer, and become familiar with the company culture, the industry and recent news. Examine the company's website, social media accounts, mission statement and press releases. The more you know about the company, the better.

Put your best assets forward at all times. Smile and display a positive attitude, even when you talk about gaps in your employment record, why you were fired or your greatest weaknesses. Sometimes, a positive attitude wins the day even when you talk about negative things.

Practice does not have to make perfect. Hardly anyone expects perfection at a job interview. However, practice does make permanent. The more you practice, the more comfortable you become at handling different aspects of a job interview. Practice talking naturally as if you are having a conversation. Preparation and practice are just two ways to help handle job interview anxiety.

Relaxation Techniques

Relaxation techniques can alleviate stress even further. Visualization includes sitting still and imagining you have a successful interview. Replay the scenario a few times in your head as you ace all of the questions, wow everyone with your smile and then shake hands as you accept the job.

Breathing can go a long way to helping regulate your body's responses to nervousness. While in an interview, simply pausing for a few seconds and taking a deep breath can offer you instant relaxation as you try to answer a question.

Eating the right breakfast before your interview could provide physical assistance to your body. Consider brain foods such as fruits or oatmeal for breakfast. Boost your mood a little more by exercising two hours before the interview. Exercising releases endorphins that make you feel good. As you work out, listen to your favorite music or comedy routine to relax completely.

Job interview stress, fear and anxiety does not have to ruin your job search. Land your dream job by acknowledging your stress, preparing ahead of time and learning a few techniques for the day of your interview. You might find that you have nothing to worry about after all.

Photo Courtesy of Too Fabulous To Be Broke at Flickr.com


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  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Jacqueline everyone you ask is going to have a different suggestion or tip to help you. Bottom line is that you know yourself better than anyone else. If you eat before the interview, is it going to make you feel sick? If so, then no, don't eat. But, if you do eat, make sure that you freshen your breath prior to the interview! And never eat anything stinky like fried foods, onions and the like. And no smoking either. So many people think that if they spray themselves with perfume or something after they smoke that you won't know. Wrong! If you must smoke, do it prior to leaving for the interview - prior to dressing for the interview. Smoke tends to linger on everything. As for the time of day - it depends upon you. For me, I want to interview early in the day if I can. I will typically ask how long they will be interviewing for so that I can judge. I have found that if I can get the last interview and do a great job at it, that I will more than likely receive an offer or at least a call back for the second round. So again, it's all personal preference and what works best for you.

  • Jane H.
    Jane H.

    When employers post a job offer it's because they either have a vacancy or they are expanding. They need someone to fill that chair. Applicants tend to focus on how much they need the job. My approach has always been to remember that it is the employer who needs me, not the other way around. This has also allowed me to successfully negotiate employment contracts that others signed without question because they were afraid they might not get hired otherwise.

  • Jacqueline Parks
    Jacqueline Parks

    I have a lot of stress before job interviews and have had some success controlling it with relaxation techniques right before the interview, and consciously breathing and slowing down during the interview. I am looking for ways to reduce job-interview stress in general. In other words, I am wondering if anyone has some tips for minimizing stress. Do you have a favorite time of day for interviews or a favorite day of the week? Do you eat right before the interview, or leave time between a meal and an interview? Any specific food recommendations for reducing stress?

  • Jay Bowyer
    Jay Bowyer

    Anxiety is one of the most annoying things to have to contend with during a job interview, because it can prevent you from showing what a great addition you'd make to the team. I love the tips given here — especially the one about preparing in advance. Having enough information to start a reasonably informed conversation can be one of the biggest ways to calm down before any meeting, whether it's a job interview or a business conference.

  • Jacob T.
    Jacob T.

    I agree that deep breathing and being well-fed can really help calm nerves and make the job interview easier to tackle. Even if "brain food" is not really a viable option for metabolic purposes, having a full stomach and correctly balanced blood-sugar really makes a difference when you walk in for an interview.

  • Duncan  Maranga
    Duncan Maranga

    I beg to disagree with the idea that eating a specific composition of food for breakfast alleviates anxiety during the interview. Biologically, the food takes a long curve down the alimentary canal before it is finally ready for use in body metabolism, so its effects are most likely to be exhibited when you are through with the interview.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Shannon without a doubt, it's fear. Fear of the unknown. We don't know what to expect in an interview, even if we have been on many interviews. Each interview can be different and the questions in one interview can be straightforward while questions in another interview can border on the ridiculous - such as, if you were a tree what kind of tree would you be and why. @Emma thank you for the reminder. You should always map out your route and do a test run prior to the interview. Do the test at the same time of day as you would be going for the interview. This way you will know basically what the traffic situation is and if you have to park a football field away and walk in, etc. The worst thing you can do is to be running into the building to make it in time for your interview or even worse, have to call to let them know you will be late because you didn't plan ahead. @Mike, try a couple of deep breaths before you go in for your interview. Make sure that you take a few sips of water, too, as stress causes us to be very dry. And then - smile.

  • Mike Van de Water
    Mike Van de Water

    Looking at it from the other side of the table, what are some things that employers can do to alleviate the stress of candidates coming in for an interview? As you mentioned in the article, it's a very common thing for candidates to be so nervous that it's hard to get a sense of who they actually are and how they will fit into the system that's already in place. It would be nice if I had some sort of sure-fire way to relax those nerves as the interview gets underway.

  • Emma Rochekins
    Emma Rochekins

    Some of the anxiety that surrounds the interview experience can easily be minimized by planning to arrive a few minutes early. Map out your route and alternate routes in advance, make sure you have the fare or money for parking, allow for traffic congestion, late buses or hard-to-find parking. Making sure you know how to get there means you won't have that stress to deal with in addition to the stress of the actual interview itself. And don't forget to breathe!

  • Shannon Philpott
    Shannon Philpott

    These are really solid suggestions and I'm glad I'm not alone here. Nervousness and anxiety are very real. However, I think that self doubt and confidence play a big role in anxiety. Do you think that fear is a main factor in the panic or nervousness that occurs prior to the job interview?

  • Laura W.
    Laura W.

    Of course nervousness is normal, and I think that it's part of the job of the interviewer to make the applicant feel more at ease. That is at least what we at our office try to do. Also, whenever I'm nervous for anything, I try to relax myself by making myself remember all the countless other times that I was nervous for something, and almost all of those times, whatever I did went well, so this will probably go well too...

  • Abbey Boyd
    Abbey Boyd

    I agree with Lydia. If a person would just stop to think that other candidates are likely just as nervous, and that there are other candidates that won't perform as well, that person is likely to feel much better. Nervousness is normal, and many more people experience this during job interviews than a lot of people realize.

  • William Browning
    William Browning

    I disagree that working out is a good way to go. You need to temper the workout with the right foods to help your body recover from the physical exertion. Take it easy during the exercise, such as a simple walk around the block, rather than hitting the rowing machine or cross trainer. You don't want to hurt yourself a few hours before the interview. A gentle walk through your favorite park can do wonders for your mood.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Lydia thanks for your comment. I don't think there is something as digging too far when researching a company. You want to know as much as you can prior to the interview. Could be that you turn up something that makes you change your mind about the interview! You would have to decide how negative is negative for you and whether you want to consider pursuing the interview. Always remember that an interview is about both you and the company. As for the nervousness, when I interviewed prospective candidates, if they weren't nervous, I would have second thoughts about them.

  • Lydia K.
    Lydia K.

    The statistics at the beginning of the article might make everyone feel less nervous on interviews. I think part of being nervous is feeling that you're handling the interview worse than the competition. But if everyone feels just as nervous, this may level the playing field. I agree that preparation is definitely the key and social media can help. But is there such a thing as digging too far into social media mentions about the company? How should you handle the information if you find out something negative?

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