Tips for Handling a High-Pressure Job Interview

Two men in job interview
••• Thomas Barwick / Stone/ Getty Images

You’re facing the biggest interview of your life and want to do your best to make a great impression. Even though it’s normal for interviews to be stressful, it can be even worse when you’re interviewing for your dream job and you want to make the best impression. If this sounds like you, read on for tips on handling a high-pressure interview.

Tips for Handling a High-Pressure Interview

What can you do to maximize your interview success while under pressure? This isn’t an unusual feeling – lots of people feel the same way, even the other people interviewing for the same position, so you’re not alone. There are techniques you can use to reduce stress and interview anxiety.

According to Dr. JP Pawliw-Fry, an internationally renowned expert, trainer, and speaker at the Institute for Health and Human Potential (IHHP) and author of the book Performing Under Pressure, here are some techniques to try before your next interview.

Be a Student of Human Behavior and Know How Your Brain Works

Worrying about what can go wrong in an interview diminishes processing power in your brain. When you're worried about something, the working memory capac­ity (WMC) of your brain fills up and you lack space to think.

When you're in an interview, you need all of your working memory capacity to think, answer questions and connect to the interviewer. In short, concerns generated by pressure are a detriment to your performance in an interview.

Welcome Anxiety

To minimize anxiety’s effects, do the opposite of pushing away anxious thoughts when they appear and, instead, welcome them.

  • Expect that you’ll worry. Everyone does. If you go into an interview and get upset when you feel the inevitable anxiety begin, you'll get thrown off and it can escalate into a cycle that leads to mental rigidity, where your WMC is so overtaxed that you can’t think straight.
  • Expect to feel increased anxiety. Then, instead of reacting to it, judging it as bad, see it as a sign that your body and brain are getting ready to perform. Accept these thoughts and feelings. Noting the anxiety and being nonreactive to it diminishes anxiety’s energy.

    Be Open and Expansive  

    When you engage in a high “power pose” where your body is more open and expansive – arms open as opposed to closed across your chest, standing straight with shoulders back instead of hunched with shoulders folded forward for a few minutes – your body responds by increasing testosterone and de­creasing cortisol.

    Lower cortisol and higher testosterone make a person feel more confident (many people wrongly believe it's associated with aggression) and, crucially, it helps people take risks that are normally constrained by fear. It removes the emotional wariness you may have toward uncertainty (so common in an interview) and helps you perform more cognitively vs. more emotionally – critical to interview success.  

    So, fifteen minutes before the interview, find someplace to do some proactive power posing (bathroom stalls work great; really). Subjects in a research study who performed two-minute high-power poses before an interview appeared more confident. Then move on to the next step.

    Write Down What You’re Feeling

    Ten minutes before the interview begins, write down whatever you're feeling. Research has shown that doing so is particularly useful as it acts to clear out or lessen distractive thinking in your WMC and also increases your insight into the sources of the pressure.

    Over time, you'll get better at seeing anxiety as simply part of the experience, not something that has to take over the situation. When you learn to recognize it, you can deal with it much more effectively.

    Know This Is Just One of Many Opportunities

    Think back to high school and college: remember how many tests you had? And how many times you thought this was the single most important test of your life?

    Yet you had many more opportunities to show how well prepared you were. Consider that many people need multiple opportunities to succeed:

    • Oprah Winfrey was fired from her first job as a news anchor in Baltimore.
    • Steven Spielberg was turned down by the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts several times.
    • J. K. Rowl­ing was rejected by 30 publishers who told her that her book about a young wizard was unsaleable.

    Each of these individuals probably felt like Oprah did at the time: that she “blew her one and only chance.” Actually, we each get multiple chances to succeed. Keep this in mind, and you will find your life less pressured. Before the interview, depressurize the moment by telling yourself: “I will have other interviews. This is not my one and only chance!”