Why Do I Get So Nervous During a Job Interview?

I just found “why do I get so nervous during job interview?” among the search terms used to get to this blog.  In fact, there have been quite a few of you looking for help with job interview nerves.  Clearly, being really stressed out by the interview process is not an isolated problem. (To say the least.)

So why do job interviews make us feel really nervous, even if we know we’d be great for the job? A good question indeed. I’ll do my best to come up with some answers – and offer tips to help you fight those annoying interview nerves that may be getting in the way of you getting an offer.

First, let me restate the obvious…job interviews are stressful by nature. None of us like to give up control to others when it comes to something as important as your career. And almost everyone gets interview nerves to one extent or another when they interview – sometimes even the interviewer us nervous!

I hope it helps to learn that most interviewers expect you to be at least a little nervous. But for some of us, the mere thought of being on the answer end of an interview question makes our nerves run wild – way beyond a little nervous! And that can be a problem.

Actors are usually told to take their nerves and turn them into performance energy. It would be great if we could do this in interviews (and it’s worth trying), but then again we don’t get to rehearse our exact words the way actors do.  ;-) For most of us, the only thing we gain from a bad case of interview nerves is a strong desire to run! ;-)

Worst of all…as much as we want to gain control of ourselves and our nerves during an interview, the more we try to control our nerves, the less relaxed we are. But of course what we want more than anything during interviews is to relax and just be ourselves. Luckily there are some things we can do to help. But first let’s answer the question I found…

Why do you get so nervous during job interviews?

  • It’s scary and uncomfortable being judged.
  • It’s scary and uncomfortable being the focus and having to come up with good answers for whatever they ask you.
  • You don’t know what they’re going to ask.
  • You don’t know for sure if what you say is a good answer.
  • You don’t like talking about yourself.
  • You don’t feel comfortable “selling” yourself.
  • You don’t interview every day and so you aren’t sure you know how to do it well.
  • You really need a job.
  • You worry that if you don’t get this job there may not be another chance any time soon.
  • You worry that you’ll sound stupid.
  • You worry there’s something about you or your background they’ll hate.
  • You have no idea exactly what they’re looking for.
  • You hate the idea of being rejected based on just one short meeting.
  • You think you have to be more than you are.

Getting past interview fear and calming your nerves!

Luckily there are ways to help you get enough past the fear to still give a great interview despite your nerves. Actors for instance use those nerves to motivate a more energized and exciting performance. No reasons you can’t do that too!

First and foremost, it helps to demystify that which we can’t control. So make sure to give yourself get a better understanding of the hiring process in general – including what goes on behind the scenes. Add to that stronger interview skills, a belief in yourself and your abilities, and a clear picture of how you match what the employer is looking for and you have a winning combo!

To help with all that here are some posts from the Work Coach Cafe archives. Hopefully they can help you calm at least some of those interview nerves while also improving your interview skills and chances (more tips below these links):

Job Interview Questions and Answers

What’s Your Greatest Strength?

What’s Your Greatest Weakness?

Where Do You See Yourself Five Years from Now?

Handling Some Tough Interview Questions

Explaining Why You Left the Last Job So Soon

How Do I Interview After Being Fired?

How Do I Explain Dropping Out of Law School?

Job Interview Tips

15 Things I Look for When I Interview People

Job Interviews: Practical Tips to Help You Ace That Job Interview

The Single Most Important Thing in Any Job Interview

Please Help Me Ace My Phone Interview!

The Hiring Process: Behind the Scenes 

Who the Heck is Screening Your Resume?

What the Heck Goes On Behind the Scenes After a Job Interview?

10 Impressions You Leave Behind After a Job Interview


A Few Simple Tips to Help Fight Those Interview Nerves

And finally, if you don’t feel like reading any of those posts (although I hope you read at least a few of them since they give a more detailed understanding that can really help), here are a few quick tips I hope will at least help calm some of those interview nerves:

  • Do some relaxation exercises the night before, when you wake up the morning of the interview, and right before the interview. Gentle, slow deep breathing (in four, hold seven, out eight) is a very good way to help relax your body.
  • Visualize the interview going well and everyone smiling and shaking hands afterward. (You may want to do this a few times prior to the actual interview day.)
  • Practice interviewing beforehand with the help of friends and/or family. Practice a lot until you start to feel more comfortable talking about yourself.
  • Research the company as much as possible to help you feel on top of things and answer intelligently. This will also help you come up with good questions to ask.
  • Prepare stories ahead of time that speak to the employer’s needs and not simply toward your wants or interests.  (Best of all is when they coincide.)
  • Now that you’ve done all that, on the day of the interview…trust in yourself and let it all go. It’s already inside you and will be there when you need it. Remember to
    • Be in the moment (not thinking ahead or about what was just said)
    • Listen carefully to what you’re asked
    • Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification if you need it
    • And most of all just be yourself. (I know from my own experience as an interviewer, this will help make the interview better for everyone.)

Just remember: You are fine exactly as you are and have things to offer your potential employer that no one else can. Your only job during the interview is to help them see who you really are. You don’t have to be anyone else.

If nothing else works: Give yourself permission to fail. That’s right…tell yourself it’s ok if you answer every single question completely wrong and come out looking like a complete idiot. You might also tell yourself this is just practice and it doesn’t really matter to help ease some of the tension. Then just say “what the hell”, be yourself, and go for it!

I know this sounds crazy – and easier to say than do – but I guarantee you’ll come off looking more natural and more interesting than if you go in all stiff and self-conscious trying so hard to be perfect – especially since you have no idea what that really means to them! Spontaneous and relaxed are a powerful team once you’ve prepared ahead of time and know who you are.

And anyway…who wants to work for a boss who is so uptight you’re afraid to be yourself. ;-)

Well…that’s all for now. Good luck finding a job that’s right for you!

~ Ronnie Ann


About the author…

Ronnie Ann, founder of Work Coach Cafe, bases her real-world advice on her many years as an organizational consultant where she helped interview and hire people, added to a certificate from NYU in Career Planning & Development and her own adventures as a serial job seeker. She can also be found on her new blog, and on Google+.


  1. Hi Susan,
    Thank you.. The problem is the person in charge is ping poing responsibility to my boss who is basically inexperienced so I have to teach him my job of change. Everyone in the entire org. is benefiting from the change yet the heads are being political and not cooperating…including my boss My bosses manager requested meeting a month ago and he did not allow me to meet with him to obtain any objectives.

    There are no top level corporate objectives and they are being political without taking responsibility.. I did speak up for myself and am ready to move on from these losers.

    It’s a pre-IPO company, in my opinion the executives esp. boss and his manager came for the IPO. $$$ not for real work.. They are bluffing. If they want to get to work to address the issues they would not play these games..

    In my interviews I am being honest. Change was not accepted here.

  2. By the way, Thank you Susan for your support on these forums! It helps me and I’m sure others greatly. You understand and often I feel better once reassured that I’m the not one at fault. It’s often the environment and politics and fear of people…

    I appreciate it very much!

    • Susan P. Joyce says:

      Hi Janice,

      You’re welcome for the support! That’s what WorkCoachCafe is all about. We all need support.

      If I were you, I would be sending email that documents requests for clarification of objectives and support with specific situations. Hopefully, that will force an emailed response. But, worst case, it will document YOUR attempts to get the project moving and the stone-walling you are running into from your boss and others. Email is great for CYA!

      Good luck with this situation!

      • I tried that with the boss and it didn’t work. The boss started retaliating indicating I was questioning his authority and scrambling to looking for anything to discredit my work. I proved that he was wrong in every situation. He’s very young and a VP. It’s time to move on from these jokers. I am applying for jobs.

        I am being honest in interviews in terms of the reasons for moving on. Interviewers appear to be understanding.

        Thank you for your support!

  3. Hello there:
    I wanted to know if you had any publications or internet sites I could look at for researching how to deal with angry men in the workplace. I have a very strong personality in management. I am in consulting which is predominately male. I have experienced men who cannot cope with a female authority figure or collegue with an aggressive personality so they will try to yell or become difficult to intimidate. I never back down and want to work with them but they cannot deal with me challenging them so they start to yell. The soft skills are very very poor. I have been yelled at by a few men and I stand my ground and then tell them how unprofessional they behaved and then they apologize and then do it again.

    I have worked with great professional men in other professions who were quite supportive and dynamic.
    It could be this basket of men on these projects are the “trolls” who probably can’t get along with anyone anyway and that’s why they are in consulting. Lack of people skills.

    I have decided to always look for at least one female in executive mgt. which is a good indication that the firm is balanced and it doesn’t then feel like a “developing” nation.

    Thanks for your advice. cheers.

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