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No matter which side of the table you’re on in an interview, there’s often an unseen force in the room that can influence the outcome of an interview in one direction or another.  For many it’s the silent destroyer of interviews weighing them down before they even step into the room.

And it’s stress.  Everyone deals with it, but not everyone knows when it occurs or how to deal with it.  And in an interview setting, it can make or break a good hire from both sides.

Research has taught us that the body cannot interpret a big stress from a small one.  So even a small distraction that starts to nag you right before an interview can change your entire attitude and body language.

When stress occurs in the body, it causes a condition called “cortical inhibition” which means that certain parts of your brain can shut down, inhibiting your ability to perform certain tasks.1

In an interview setting this means not performing at the top of your game as an interviewee.  And for an interviewer, it can mean not being able to make clear interpretations of the interview or being able to hone in on what could be a key applicant.

The frightening part is that numerous people who are stressed are so immune to it that they don’t deem anything to be out of the ordinary.  It’s a silent shadow that creeps up on you before you know it’s there and can quickly take control of your life.

While you can’t control all the factors that may result in stress, you can take some preventative measures to reduce the amount of stress or anxiety you may feel before an interview.

Everyone always stresses to be on time, but being early can have beneficial effects, especially if you happen to be driving to an interview.  Driving in traffic daily is known to cause levels of stress that can have the same negative impact on your health as a divorce.1

Arriving a few minutes early can allow you time to decompress in your vehicle prior to your meeting.  And, while you’re in your car, you might think about leaving your cell phone in there while you’re at it.

It’s not just so it doesn’t accidently ring in an interview, according to a recent British study, the more people check their cell phones, the more stressed they become.

“Once the individual starts to use their smart phone, the workload management benefits are displaced by the pressure to keep abreast with their new expanded virtual social life,” researchers found. “The more an individual becomes stressed and worried, the more compulsive behaviors such as checking will occur.”2

So that phone that is keeping you on track and up to date could be causing you unneeded anxiety just before the interview.

Checking email can also have similar detrimental effects, so if you’re an interviewer thinking you have 5 more minutes before an interview to send out a few more messages, stop and think again.

Use those minutes to focus on your meeting ahead.  Get your materials in order, refresh your mind with what you’re looking for in a candidate, and grab a drink of water or coffee to get up and walk for a moment to release any tension from the work you’ve been doing so you can make the best decisions when you go into the interview.

In the case of many hiring managers, the added stress of being shorthanded, overworked, or even just having to make such a large decision of selecting a new hire can hinder their ability to make sound choices in the process, often resulting in hasty, mediocre decision-making.  And a making a bad hiring decision will only continue to add to this mountain of tension and anxiety.

This is another reason why the hiring process should never be rushed, and time should be taken to feel good about decisions made during the course of choosing a new team member.

For many job seekers, the added stress of being out of work, not having a paycheck to pay bills, and anxiety about basic necessities such as housing or food can have an extreme negative impact on their ability to have a productive interview.

This is why it becomes so important to have a network of support during the job search to reduce these stress factors.  Stress, especially long-term stress, can open the body up to a slew of health issues, not to mention depression, fatigue, and chronic illness.

No matter how qualified you may be for the position, the interviewer may never see beyond the poor signals and negative body language you are giving off due to stress.

So what else can you do to manage stress?  It’s different for every person, but you should find something that works for you and implement it into your life on a daily basis, not just when you’re feeling a rush of pressure or worry coming on.

For some it’s meditation or exercise, for others it’s eating consistent meals throughout the day to feel properly fueled, or taking a few minutes for themselves to read for enjoyment in order to decompress.  It may be learning to change your routine or scheduling time to have a calming conversation with someone.

Every person is different, but there are small changes you can make to reduce the amount of stress in your life so that it doesn’t destroy your ability to have a positive, productive interview.

And, whether you are in the midst of a job search or hiring new staff or not, don’t wait to implement these small changes.  Stress affects us every day and the sooner you address it, the better the results will be in all aspects of your work and life, not just the interview.


1)  HearthMath

2) U.S. News and World Report

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