How to deal with interview nerves

19th Aug 2019
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The following is an extract from “The Career Doctor” a book by our Managing Director Eoghan McDermott.

The symptoms of nerves – wet hands, trembling hands, a desire to throw up, a need to go to the toilet, blanking, perspiring – are all indicators of adrenalin pouring into your system.

Adrenalin is the ‘fight or flight’ hormone that helped our primeval ancestors to survive a meeting with a bear. In a nano second, while their brain worked out the options – run like hell or stab the bear in the jugular – adrenalin pumped into their bloodstream to ensure that when they made their decision, whether it was to leg it or stab the grizzly, they could do it.

Adrenalin makes you think faster and more clearly. It gives an urgency and excitement to what you’re saying that might otherwise be absent. It makes you slightly larger than life. All of which is good for a presentation and a job interview.

Nerves are a necessary accompaniment of public speaking and persuasion. So if you are presenting in work, or in an interview, don’t worry when the nerves come.

What causes people real trouble though, are the symptoms of nerves – the outward and visible manifestation of adrenalin pumping through your system.

Learn to cope with those symptoms. Excessive sweating, for example, is manageable

– use a really good antiperspirant. Don’t wear shirts that will show maps of Europe appearing under each armpit. If you find your hands are sweaty, a bit of talc can dry them up, or dry them on your trousers before you shake someone’s hand.

Another symptom is a tremor in your hands. Holding a script or cards when your hands are trembling is difficult. The pages will flap, you’ll fan the front row of the audience and it will be patently obvious to everyone that you’re nervous.

Long before AutoCue, the BBC newsreaders had to hold the pages of their script up in order to have them in their eyeline. Many of them found that their hands shook. Someone in there taught them a preventative measure (it does work, I know this because I do it) consisting of clenching your hands as tightly. and strongly as possible for forty-five seconds to a minute. The newsreaders were taught to do this in the sixty seconds prior to going on air. When the ‘On Air’ light would go on, they’d release their hands and pick up their script. Their hands wouldn’t shake for the rest of the broadcast

One of the most predictable side effects of the arrival of adrenalin into the bloodstream is dry-mouth syndrome. Suddenly, your mouth and tongue are like sandpaper. So before you start your interview or presentation, be sure to have a glass of water with you.

If you fumble over a word or make a mistake in the interview, don’t beat yourself up about it, because it happens to everyone, they probably won’t remember it and you’ll lose focus. ‘Keep her lit’ is my motto.

Another piece of advice is to talk before an interview. Most people prior to an interview or presentation sit in silence. They don’t speak to anybody. But like a singer or a sportsperson, you need to warm up.

Blanking is the single biggest worry for everyone. It actually isn’t blanking. It’s overload. With adrenalin running through you, your brain can process more thoughts in a split second than it could normally do. This is great, because you can think faster. However, it can also have a negative effect.

Blanking can come from doing a running post mortem on your interview or presentation as you go. Wrong thing to be doing. Focus. If blanking does happen, the solution is not

to make the audience uncomfortable. Just announce that you’ve blanked. The vast majority of audiences and panels will understand it . And help you out. They’ll give you a name if you can’t remember it, or they’ll steer you back to what you were talking about.