Tips for graduates: how to deal with job interview nerves
A graduate job interview can fill the most confident of us with dread and anxiety. But don't panic. Good preparation and a few simple techniques can help you shine, even if you're naturally shy.
Think about what questions your CV may prompt and come up with confident answers to these questions.
The foundation for graduate interview confidence is preparation. This will consist mainly of getting your knowledge of the employer and role – along with how your skills and experiences will enable you to make a positive contribution – up to scratch. However, as we explain below, you can also prepare yourself for potential nerves by figuring out what helps you to relax and maintain perspective.
While we focus here on the days and weeks leading up to the interview, if you’re getting ready to face your potential employers today or tomorrow then take a look at our tips for how to give yourself a last-minute interview confidence boost.
Being resourceful: researching and practising
Find out about the employer
Know the company's products, mission statement, culture and locations. Take a look at both the websites of the company and their social media to keep up to date with the latest developments. A few quick searches on a couple of news websites should also help to keep you informed. Carry out research into a few competitors (through the same types of channels) in order to prepare yourself for any interview questions about the company's competition.
Scrutinise the job description or graduate recruitment literature for clues as to what they are looking for. Think about the skills and experiences you mentioned on your application form and CV that might have impressed. Note these down, ready to familiarise yourself before the interview with ideas for what to emphasise (where relevant to the question).
Researching the person who is interviewing you is also a good trick to have up your sleeve. It will often make them seem more human and therefore less daunting on the day. It might help you to remind yourself that some recruiters get nervous before interviews, too.
Make use of your careers service
Your careers service has all sorts of resources to help you prepare for graduate interviews and therefore calm your jitters, and many of these will be available online. Sign up for interview clinics or workshops. Ask your careers adviser whether they have any insider knowledge on how the employer you’re interviewing with recruits graduates and whether fellow students have given feedback from their own experiences.
Know your CV like the back of your hand
Your CV (or application form) has served you well so far: it’s got you an interview. Think about what questions your CV may prompt and come up with confident answers to these questions. Don’t worry too much about getting them ‘right’ – whether or not you’re asked them, this exercise will help you to become more familiar with your CV and gain practise in responding to questions based on it. If you've had any poor exam results, be prepared to defend those ‘blips’.
Taking a copy of your job application along might be a good idea. At most, a quick glance at it may help you answer a tricky question; at least, holding a document will stop you biting your nails or fidgeting with your hands.
Phone a friend
Insider knowledge is priceless. Ask yourself who you know who works in the industry that you’re targeting. In the weeks leading up to the interview, you may use LinkedIn to expand your network in the career area. Keeping your communication professional, quiz them about what they like about their role, what skills are needed and what sorts of questions are likely to crop up at interview.
If the connection is an employee for the company you’re applying to, think carefully about asking questions directly about the employer; you don’t want it to seem like you’re trying to find out information that will give you an unfair advantage over other employees.
Do you have a trusted friend, roommate or careers adviser who could give you a practice interview a few days before? Practice interviews are ideal opportunities to try out your answers to common or likely interview questions, along with some tricky questions that might come up.
You can also practise interviews using the resources available from our partners Shortlist.Me.
Getting your mind ready for the challenge
Practise relaxation techniques
Although some stress is good – you need to get that adrenalin pumping in order to perform at your peak – it's best to come across as relaxed and confident rather than anxious during your interview.
If you know relaxation isn’t your strong point, you might decide to try out a few different techniques as your interview approaches to figure out what works well for you. Ask around your friends and family to see what they do to calm themselves down before a difficult task/conversation/meeting. Search online for some ideas. Perhaps you'd like to look into a few of these common techniques to start with:
- Mindfulness and meditation – guided meditations help some people, and there are ones specific to certain types of situations or working through specific feelings. The Mind and Calm apps are popular, and both offer free trials so you can see whether it works for you before committing.
- Taking a walk – getting some fresh air and taking yourself away from people for a while could get you into a calm state of mind.
- Breathing exercises – There are a few different breathing exercises out there, so you might want to try a few and see if any work for you. A common one is breathing in through your nose for five seconds, before breathing out through your mouth for five seconds.
- Progressive muscle relaxation – tensing up and relaxing muscles can help to reduce anxiety. Verywell Mind steps you through how to do this here.
- Exercise – You could use exercise to help manage your stress levels during the weeks before your interview, while you prepare. As the day approaches, think about what types of exercise to do when. Perhaps something high intensity will release endorphins the night before. You might not want to get too sweaty on the morning of your interview, but some slow stretches or exercises could allow you to relax and clear your mind.
- Listening to music – Maybe you could work on your pre-interview playlist. This doesn’t have to be pure relaxation music; perhaps you’ll begin with high energy and heavy beats, before moving onto something soothing as your interview gets closer.
If you know relaxation isn’t your strong point, you might decide to try out a few different techniques as your interview approaches to figure out what works well for you.
Reframe your situation
Put your graduate job interview in perspective: this isn’t the only job out there. They wouldn’t be interviewing you if they thought you lacked potential for the position.
If you’re feeling particularly stressed, try writing down your thoughts and challenging them. Perhaps change ‘I might be unsuccessful’ to something like ‘I could be successful but, if I’m not, I will be able to get an interview with another employer’. Particularly for those who are more likely to expect the worst-case scenario and think sceptically, this kind of rational thinking may be helpful. Others might prefer more positive thinking (eg ‘I’m going to be successful’), however. Consider what would help you the most
Challenge any thoughts about not being able to achieve with examples of times you did. Tell yourself: ‘I’ve completed a degree/climbed Ben Nevis/kept some difficult children safe while babysitting/managed a busy shop floor, so I can do this!’
Sometimes thinking of your interview as a meeting rather than an interview can help you get over irrational fears: it reinforces the idea that an interview is a two-way process.
Arrange a morning interview
If you have a choice of interview times, opting for a morning slot may mean you’re less likely to work yourself up by worrying throughout the day. This might not necessarily be the earliest slot – try to arrange a time in which you can get a decent amount of sleep and get yourself ready and relaxed, without having to race for the bus/to load your laptop up.
If your interview time is in the afternoon, however, don’t stress. Try reframing this situation: you’ll have a bit of extra time to prepare, look over any notes and carry out a few relaxation techniques, and can always find something to distract you for a couple of hours.