Interviewing Anxiety in a Pandemic: How Do I Calm My Nerves?
Written by Justin Brass, B.A. (Psychology), Peer Helper – Career Services
Illustration by - (Skillings, n.d.)
Struggling to cope with one’s anxiety before, during, and/or after an employment interview is a common problem that many people face when applying for jobs (Powell, Stanley, and Brown, 2018). Since the prospect of receiving an interview invite is rather unavoidable before being offered a job, it is one of the most prominent methods used in the hiring process to determine whether you are the right fit for the job. However, partaking in this process can not only be overly stimulating for an individual who does not enjoy social situations but also leads to a high amount of anxiety that is experienced by many candidates worldwide (Powell et al., 2018). According to several studies, these anxious interviewing experiences have not only led to more unsuccessful interview performance outcomes for the candidates but are at a lower chance of securing a job.
Due to COVID-19 and the circumstances of the virtual work environment that many of us now face, many companies have been forced to conduct virtual interviewing (VI) instead of face-to-face interviewing (FTFI) during this global pandemic. Based on the recent literature on this area, interviewing anxiety has continued to persist at an all-time high during the pandemic of Coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) (Chandratre & Soman, 2020). However, many researchers now suggest the efficacy of using VI for job placing, as there may be several benefits for future applicants and institutions preparing to partake in the interviewing process.
It is normal to feel uncertain about your interviewing and performance abilities during job hunting, which may be leading to more anxious experiences by individuals amid the pandemic. Unfortunately, this is especially reflected in the mental health of the student population who are also participating in higher education (e.g., college/university level). According to a study conducted by Son et al. (2020), roughly 71% of students in the United States are experiencing increased levels of stress and anxiety due to the circumstances of the pandemic. As such, the COVID-19 pandemic situation has impacted many individuals worldwide as it has caused many students across the globe to face anxiety when preparing for interviewing, as factors such as onerous measures and lockdowns have had a serious negative impact on the performance abilities of students seeking jobs while also in higher education (Son et al., 2020).
However, it is important to know that everyone gets nervous before participating in a job interview. It is normal to feel stressed or anxious when you are about to take on an important interview as this is a sign that you simply want to perform well. Anxiety can be increasingly motivating when handled properly, as it can boost your energy levels and maintain your alertness during the interview process (Brooks, 2015). To calm your nerves to be able to use your anxiety for a positive interviewing experience, it will be fundamental for you to understand some helpful and positive strategies for calming your nerves when facing your interview anxiety. This knowledge will be especially useful when preparing for a virtual interview during the pandemic, which may cause greater or less stress depending on your comfortability with interviews.
Being aware of what you’re eating or drinking the day of the interview
As you may have heard this tip from a friend or family member over the years, avoiding stimulants such as caffeine can be helpful for calming your nerves before an interview. This is because although sometimes it may seem like a good idea to ingest something like a pop or coffee, it does not always lead to the feelings of “relaxation” that you may be hoping for (Brooks, 2015). Furthermore, eating the right foods can also aid in regulating your anxiety response when preparing for an interview, as many people neglect to eat something until it's too late. As a result, an individual can face physical discomfort such as growling pains and light-headedness, which leads to cognitive difficulties when trying to perform to the best of your abilities in an interview. This principle goes the same for overeating before an interview, as you may become tired from feeling like you are full (Brooks, 2015). Hence, this is why it is important to regulate your diet before an interview, as this can facilitate whether your body is calm or uncomfortable before your interview.
Preparing yourself for the interview by redirecting your energy
This strategy may sound easier said than done, as you cannot always control how your interview will run (e.g., whether it is virtual or face-to-face) and what will be expected of you once you start the interview. This can lead to a lot of anxiety for a lot of students, as I have worked with a lot of students who spend a lot of their time before an interviewing fearing what will be asked of them or what can go wrong. As a candidate for a job, it is important that you recognize this pattern of self-doubt, so that you can focus on how you prepare for the interview instead. By realigning your energy to preparing for an interview positively, you can utilize your anxiety to encourage yourself to prepare more effortfully (Brooks, 2015). This can be done through researching more about the job you are being interviewed for, practicing the kinds of responses you would give to an interviewer’s questions, and even thinking of if you have any questions for the interviewer once the actual meeting has commenced. In turn, this will not only prepare you to start engaging with your potential employers but will aid you in alleviating your anxiety before the interview (Brooks, 2015).
Bring awareness to your situation
When we are dealing with anxiety it is normal to feel like we are in danger or out of control of our circumstances. This can feel especially relatable in a pandemic when many of us are now having to face the daunting task of mastering interviews for jobs that are conducted through a virtual process. However, by adopting useful strategies that can bring attention to these thoughts of panic, fear, or worry, you can take steps to combat your anxious nerves. Most notably, many individuals choose to bring attention to their thoughts through journaling, writing, and rationalization of whatever it is that is causing them anxiety. Writing can be an exceptionally therapeutic strategy for alleviating anxiety in general, which will help you remain calm before engaging in an interview (Brooks, 2015). Furthermore, this strategy can also help you to start questioning your anxious thoughts, by asking yourself questions like “Is this realistic?”. This is not only important for realizing that your anxiety is not always needed for the situation, but can help you to bring logic to a situation that feels uncontrollable (Brooks, 2015). By focusing your efforts on learning whatever strategies help YOU combat unhelpful thinking patterns, you will be able to start interviewing more confidently in no time!
Similar to what was described above, breathing is a trick that many of us neglect when experiencing anxiety before an interview. As an individual with lived experience of anxiety myself, I am aware of the difficulties that one may face when trying to engage in this particular self-help technique. However, when you are anxious, your breathing does become shallow (Brooks, 2015). As a result of this, your shallow breathing can lead to a greater sense of anxiety when engaging in your interview. Instead, it is important to find a breathing exercise that works best for you, such as counting to four, holding your breath for two, and breathing out again for another count of four seconds (Brooks, 2015). I found this tip to be particularly helpful for facing my interviewing anxiety, as I always make sure to practice my breathing before I enter an interview. This technique can be especially useful when you are waiting for a virtual interview to start, as instead of commuting you can spend your time bringing attention to how you breathe. In turn, these breathing exercises will be beneficial for calming your nerves and relaxing tensions around your neck and shoulders (as this is a common physical response to identifying anxiety).
Lastly, Believe in yourself!
A factor in why many people seem to doubt their abilities when facing interviewing anxiety is because it is hard for them to see the light at the other side of the tunnel. That is, the most important takeaway tip from this article will be to simply start believing in yourself! As you are a powerful and confident individual and you should act like it. Although an interview can be unexpected and does not always end up in the ways we may have liked, it is apart of your journey and it is crucial to remember to never be hard on yourself for feeling nervous. During the times of COVID-19, the job-searching field has become quite different than what one might of expected a year ago. However, like you, interviewers are not perfect and so it is okay to start believing in yourself again.
Brooks, K. (2015, March 23). 10 Ways to Calm Your Interview Anxiety. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/career-transitions/201503/10-ways-calm-your-interview-anxiety
Chandratre, S. & Soman, A., (2020) Preparing for the interviewing process during Coronavirus disease-19 pandemic: Virtual interviewing experiences of applicants and interviewers, a systematic review. PLOS ONE 15(12): e0243415. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0243415
Powell, D. M., Stanley, D. J., & Brown, K. N. (2018). Meta-analysis of the relation between interview anxiety and interview performance. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science / Revue canadienne des sciences du comportement, 50(4), 195-207. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/cbs0000108
Skillings, P. (n.d.). Face the Fear: How to Overcome Job Interview Anxiety [IlIustration]. Biginterview. https://biginterview.com/interview-anxiety/
Son, C., Hegde, S., Smith, A., Wang, X., & Sasangohar, F. (2020). Effects of COVID-19 on College Students' Mental Health in the United States: Interview Survey Study. Journal of medical Internet research, 22(9), e21279. https://doi.org/10.2196/21279