By Anja van den berg
Job interviews are high-stress situations, and many candidates get caught in an anxiety spiral during these high-stakes discussions.
An anxiety spiral usually unfolds in the following way:
- You want to perform well, so you put pressure on yourself.
- That pressure only makes you more anxious.
- The building anxiety impacts your performance, as well as your perception of how you’re performing.
- As a result, you start doubting your competence, and the pattern repeats and continues.
Here are three proven ways on how to tackle that moment your brain just goes blank in an interview:
- Before the interview: overprepare by 25%
Anxiety affects cognition, says Dr Alice Boyes, a psychologist and author of The Healthy Mind Toolkit and The Anxiety Toolkit.
It’s better to embrace that fact and prepare for it than to hope for the best and experiencing the worst. Boyes warns an interviewee to expect that anxiety during the interview will knock off their thinking by 25%. She suggests overpreparing somewhat to compensate for impediment.
However, she also says that interviewees should remember this: while anxiety might affect performance to a degree, it doesn’t destroy it.
Even if you unexpectedly become caught in a spiral, find solace in the fact that you’ll still remember 75% of what you know.
- The brain-freeze kicks in. Ask, ‘Can you repeat the question?’
When you’ve settled in, and the interviewee starts firing the questions, you may quickly realise that your mind is going numb and that you can’t feel your legs. Anxiety kicks in. You panic and instantly think that you can’t come up with the right answer.
The first thing to do is take a breath and try to relax your body. This, in turn, will relax your thoughts.
From there, break the brain freeze pattern by asking the interviewee to repeat the question. It’s perfectly acceptable, and it buys you a little time to think. Alternatively, you can say, “Let me just think about that for a moment,” take a sip of water and then move on.
- Getting into the flow of the interview: be ready with a sample response
When you are preparing for the interview, think of questions that may have stumped you in the past. Instead of defaulting to “I don’t know,” come up with some sample responses and rehearse them aloud.
You might practice saying, “That’s a great question. I haven’t dealt with that exact situation. Can you flesh out the scenario you have in mind a little more so I can take a minute to think about what my strategy would be?”.
You could also catch a breath by saying, “Gosh, I’m stumped by that. Whenever I’m initially stumped, I use a process to figure out how to get clear on how I want to move forward.” Then, continue by explaining your process.
Think about how you will keep your tone open, curious, and competent. You don’t need to show – or say – that you are nervous. You are aiming to portray that you are clear-headed and sensible, even in high-stress situations.
Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2021/01/ask-an-expert-i-freeze-up-during-job-interviews
The Healthy Mind Toolkit: https://www.amazon.com/Healthy-Mind-Toolkit-Simple-Strategies/dp/0143130706/
The Anxiety Toolkit: https://www.amazon.com/Anxiety-Toolkit-Strategies-Fine-Tuning-Moving/dp/0399169253/