How to manage stress and anxiety in job interviews

Jamie Edwards from PMACUK talks about how positive self-talk can help you overcome anxiety in job interviews.

Job interview


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Positive self-talk can be a transformative tool in managing stress and anxiety during job interviews. It’s all about acknowledging our capabilities, strengths and worth, which, if harnessed correctly, can drastically influence our confidence levels and interview performance. When practised consistently, positive self-talk can help us overcome self-doubt and fear of failure, elements that often lead to stress in job interviews.

But how can we effectively incorporate this practice into our pre-interview routine?

Firstly, it’s essential to recognise the likelihood that negative thoughts may arise regarding our performance and abilities. We then need to recognise and acknowledge we are having these thoughts – which is important as we often accept such thoughts as accurate statements of fact.

Then, we need to challenge and replace these thoughts with positive affirmations. For instance, instead of thinking “I’m not good enough for this role” we should affirm that “I possess the skills and experience required for this position, and I am fully capable of performing well”.

Visualisation can also be a powerful technique in positive self-talk. Picturing ourselves successfully navigating the interview, answering questions confidently and leaving a lasting impression can help solidify positive thoughts and expectations, and give our brain the experience of it going well. You may also wish to write yourself a letter to read before the interview, telling yourself everything that you know would be useful to hear, to help you to focus and feel confident.

Remember, positive self-talk is not about denying the possibility of failure. Instead, it’s about acknowledging our potential and reaffirming our faith in our abilities and telling ourselves what we need to hear in moments of anxiety. With practice, this simple yet effective technique can make a significant difference in our approach to job interviews and our overall mental wellbeing.

Fidget: A natural response to stress and anxiety

We’ve all been there – waiting nervously for an interview, tapping our fingers, jiggling a leg or twirling a pen. This behaviour, known as fidgeting, is a natural response to stress and anxiety, and reflects our body’s instinct to take action to relieve stress and anxiety.

Fidgeting can serve as a coping mechanism that allows us to release tension and maintain focus during high-pressure situations, including job interviews. For some, it’s a subconscious activity while, for others, it’s an intentional strategy to alleviate anxiety.

When we experience anxiety, our body prepares us for action. Our heart rate will increase, our breathing will quicken, we may feel hot and sweat, experience muscle tension. We can also begin to feel sick or need the toilet. When we are entering job interviews, or other situations where we are being appraised or open to judgement from others, this anxiety response can be activated. Being aware of the physiological changes can be stressful in itself, and can steal your focus of attention.

Fidgeting offers an opportunity to restore some equilibrium, and reduce that stress/anxiety response, allowing you to focus on the questions being put to you, and to give more considered responses.

For candidates going into an interview – you can wear fidget rings, talk with your hands or move your feet under the desk. If you are being interviewed virtually, you have greater opportunity to use fidget toys in your lap off-camera, helping you to channel your focus more effectively, and think more clearly.

Understanding and acknowledging this behaviour can help create an empathetic interview environment. As employers, it’s beneficial to recognise that prospective employees may exhibit such behaviour during interviews. Rather than perceiving it as a sign of unpreparedness or anxiety, see it as a reflection of the interviewee’s energy, passion and focus.


In the midst of a nerve-wracking job interview, a simple yet powerful tool at your disposal is your breath. Breathing exercises can rapidly decrease stress and anxiety, grounding your thoughts and allowing you to maintain your composure.

One effective technique is box breathing, also known as four-square breathing. This involves inhaling slowly for a count of four, holding the breath for another count of four, exhaling over the same count, and then waiting for another count of four before taking the next breath. By focusing your attention on this pattern, your mind becomes centred, thus reducing the power of anxiety-inducing thoughts.

Box breathing is also effective, as it helps you to focus on elements of your environment, such as windows, doors and furniture. This helps to give your brain an alternative focus of attention, rather than being consumed by worries.

Another beneficial technique is diaphragmatic breathing or belly breathing. This exercise promotes deeper, more efficient breaths, leading to a greater sense of calm and relaxation. Just place one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach and breathe such that only the hand on your stomach rises and falls, whilst the other remains still.

Lastly, any breathing pattern where your out-breath is longer than your breath in, helps to turn down that anxiety/stress response. This can be done though breathing out for more counts than you breathe in, but can also be done via singing, humming or even talking. This can be done on the way to your interview, while you wait, and combined with positive self-talk can be a powerful and fast- acting tool.

The key to harnessing the benefits of these techniques is regular practice. Like any other skill, the more you practice, the more natural it becomes.

Maintaining confidence

One of the best ways to manage stress and anxiety in job interviews is by maintaining confidence. Confidence acts as a shield, protecting us from the fear of the unknown and the worry that we may underperform. When we believe in our abilities, we are more likely to approach situations, like job interviews, with a positive mindset.

Remember that even being offered an interview means that total strangers believed you are capable enough to perform the role, that they wanted to meet YOU. An interview is your opportunity to ask questions to assess whether the role, business or team are suitable for YOU. It is also an opportunity for you to demonstrate, via using real examples, all of the skills and knowledge that you already highlighted so well in your application or CV.

Taking time to reflect on your experiences, successes and learning experiences can serve as a reminder of your many capabilities, and re-reading positive feedback you have received from others, can all serve as a confidence boost.

Taking time to prepare can also help you to feel assured that you know what is required of you, and that you are as capable as any other candidate to do the role. This entails understanding the job role, researching the company, and rehearsing potential interview questions. Having a clear understanding of your own skills and how they align with the job requirements can also help to bolster confidence.

Practising mindfulness exercises can also be effective in maintaining confidence. Mindfulness allows us to stay present in the moment, reducing worries about past mistakes or future uncertainties. Remember, it’s completely normal to feel nervous before a job interview. Successful candidates aren’t those who experience no anxiety, but those who know it is temporary and who prepare to overcome it.

*Jamie Edwards is training manager at health and wellbeing training provider PMACUK.
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