Overcoming Your Interview Angst

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"I did horrible on that interview. I was really nervous, and I couldn't form a string of rational thoughts. Afterwards, I kept thinking through all the things I wish I had said."

What's one of the key reasons qualified candidates don't perform to their potential during an interview and miss out on receiving an offer? Nerves get in the way, and instead of all the amazing answers you were thinking about after the interview, what you delivered to the Manager wasn't representative of what you had wanted to say. Or, you may have even gone off on a bit of a tangent and/or potentially failed to answer the question/s or scenario/s posed.


Nerves can get the best of any of us, from both sides of the table, computer or phone. Even after 15 years in staffing, we both still get some butterflies before we interview someone or deliver our respective "professional elevator pitches" in response to the common "So, what do you do?" or "Tell me about yourself" questions that occur just as frequently outside of the in-person or virtual "interview room."

There are 9 key tips and mindsets we have identified to help those nerves subside and build your confidence!

  1. Recognize that a "perfect candidate," who meets every single requirement, rarely exists, and that most Managers do not expect that.

    One of the major hold-ups we have seen candidates face is the expectation that they truly need to have experience with every single requirement that might be listed in a job description. A shift needs to happen with that line of thinking.

Understand it's okay not to have every requirement they're looking for and it's okay to not know the answer to every question they ask. Get out of your own head and understand that a perfect candidate doesn't exist! In my 6 years of recruiting, there were so many instances where I had a candidate call me after an interview and think they bombed because they were missing a skill or required technology, or they didn't know the answer to a few questions. Expect that, and remember that it is okay. Most good interviewers are going to ask an escalated line of questions, where they will eventually get to the point where you say "I have absolutely no idea." Again, don't assume the worst for your interview, and remember that this is normal and expected. Rather than freak out, follow the "honesty is the best policy" route! Be honest that you don't know the answer to a question, but share what you'll do to try and find the answer.

  1. Re-review job description and jot down why you're qualified and how you'd contribute.

    I'll never forget the time when a Manager called us after an interview and said "We're not moving forward with this candidate; they asked in the beginning of the interview what job they were interviewing for." Re-read the job description the night before an interview, and perhaps again the morning of, so you really understand the role, what they're looking to do and the skills they are looking for. This not only ensures you don't make that mistake, but it is helpful for processing the details and understanding why you are qualified and how you can make an impact.

RECOMMENDED EXERCISE: As you are reviewing the responsibilities and requirements, we suggest writing down, or at the least saying out loud, what you have done that is relevant. For example, if the ‘Requirements' ask for experience upgrading to a new version, outline the number and types of upgrades you have done. This builds confidence and is great preparation for then being able to answer the potential interview question of "Tell me about any upgrades you have done."

  1. Ask pointed questions of the Recruiter/Account Manager.

    Don't rely on reading the job description to understand the responsibilities, requirements and preferred qualifications. Take the extra step to outline open-ended questions to pose to the Recruiter. You can even request to talk to the Account Manager who supports that Manager/client. Then, you will know more relevant information so you can write out a list of what you have done that's applicable, what skills you bring to the table, and relevant project successes.

RESOURCE: We wrote an earlier tip on '10 Questions to Ask a Recruiter Before You Interview' if you want guidance on specific questions to pose.

  1. Practice key interview questions.

    One of the most helpful preparation and confidence building exercises that not nearly enough candidates do is to actually review and practice interview questions. Identify a list of at least 20-25 common interview questions related to the role/s you are interviewing for, and practice 3-5 a day, or whatever your schedule will allow. Identify interview questions by:
    • Job Description - Turning the major responsibilities and requirements into interview questions.
    • Recruiter – Asking the Recruiter/s you are working with "Do you have any common interviewing questions related to my skill set?"
    • Meetups – If you're active with any local Meetups/user groups, soliciting suggestions for resources to help prepare for technical interviews or common interview questions/scenarios. Each Meetup group has the option to add discussions, so adding a comment for "I'm interviewing for a role involving Power BI, and was wondering if anyone had or knew of a good resource for Power BI interview questions?"
    • Online Tech Communities – Looking for questions through threads or sites on Reddit, Stack Overflow, GitHub, etc.
    • Online Searches – Simply googling "common interview questions for SQL Server DBAs" yields good results.
  1. Take technical assessments or coding challenges to build confidence.

    Many people experience "imposter syndrome" or just doubt their abilities. One of the strongest Developers I ever worked with had just moved to the US from another country, and he only had a couple years of experience. He was one of those individuals who I felt strongly was qualified for roles, but he doubted himself. I ended up sending him 6 different technical assessments for different programming concepts/technologies, and he scored in the 90th percentile or higher on all of them! That exercise not only strengthened his confidence, but it gave us really quality "candidate marketing materials" that we then provided to the Manager that showed the extent of his expertise!

You can take technical assessments through Indeed, LinkedIn (NEW as of 2020), or a provider who offers technical assessments. Access Indeed or LinkedIn for free yourself, and then ask the Recruiter/s you're working with "Do you have access to any technical assessments? Can you send me some for these technologies as a way to prepare for an interview?" You can also see what your local Meetup communities offer. Many of the Meetups I'm a member of have started offering monthly ‘Coding Challenge' type Meetups.

  1. Do a mock interview.

    Who in your network could role play some common interview questions with you, and that you respect to give you honest, constructive feedback? Whether that's your Recruiter, a mentor, current/former Lead or Manager, or someone within a shared Meetup/community, most people are willing to give you 15-30 minutes to help you!
  1. Humanize Manager.

    One of the things that contributes to nerves are the title/s of the people you might be interviewing with. We've seen many candidates get especially anxious when meeting with Executive level folks like a CIO or CTO. However, you can overcome this by learning more about them, where you see them as a person and not just an executive/high-level Manager.

Here's an example I used to share with candidates I worked with about one of main hiring Managers I staffed for. "Let me tell you a little bit more about this Vice President, who you'll be speaking with. His name is Mark, and we have supported him for 5+ years, and staffed over 25 technology professionals in his organization. He's incredibly down to earth, and has a great sense of humor. He's very patient and is passionate about helping and educating others. Mark is actually an adjunct Professor for a local university, and teaches a project management course, due to his passion for developing others. He's the type of guy who loves practical jokes, and has pranked a couple folks on April Fool's Day. We have really enjoyed working with him, and supporting him, and everyone we have placed there over the last 5 years has enjoyed working with him as well. I've had a few people describe him as the most supportive Leader they've worked with."

Does Mark seem a little less scary now, more like a person, and less like a high-level executive? If you experience anxiety based on the level of the person you might be speaking with, don't be shy about asking the Recruiter or Account Manager for more information about the Manager, so it can help you visualize them as a person.

  1. Learn about body language, identify any body language weaknesses, and practice.

    Recognizing that non-verbal communication is the majority of what a recipient "receives" during interactions, learning some basics is important for overall interviewing success and also for influencing your confidence throughout an interview. Take some time to understand key body language basics, evaluate your own body language and determine "what is my body language communicating?" Then practice your body language as an interview preparation best practice! There are little things you can do and convey. For example, proper posture and showing your hands during an interview can communicate trust and build rapport, while also having a positive impact on your confidence.
  1. Visualize success.

    Even though I've given hundreds of presentations since I started speaking at Meetups back in 2009, I still get nervous before logging into a webinar that I'm presenting on or walking into a Meetup/conference room, even if there are five people. The nerves never quite go away, but closing my eyes and re-living my last successful presentation helps! The same is true of interviewing. Think of your last positive interview experience, and spend a minute or two walking back through it. You can also identify relevant projects or other career successes that might be relevant to what they're trying to achieve, and re-visualizing it from start to finish.
Next Steps
  • The majority of job seekers experience jitters or anxiety prior to, and during, interviews! That's normal, and it is being experienced on both sides of the interview table, phone, or virtual room (i.e. by both the interviewer and interviewee). However, there are several exercises and other actions you can take to calm those nerves and minimize their impact on your interview performance!

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About the author
MSSQLTips author Erica Woods Erica Woods has nearly a decade in the IT staffing world, an MBA, and is a member of the Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches.

This author pledges the content of this article is based on professional experience and not AI generated.

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