Nervous During an Interview? Have You Practiced?

By Victor Johnson, Career Facilitator

Have you ever thought that you understood everything that would happen in a certain situation only to find out you weren’t ready?

That was me at my first job interview after I had left the Air Force. Sure, there were things that I had to do in the Air Force that could be considered “interviews”.  Briefings, evaluations, competing for squadron or division recognitions, and I handled those well if I do say so myself.  But that first “civilian” interview was different.  I thought was ready.  I had taken care of everything on my checklist:

  • Clothes – jacket and tie, clean and pressed, shoes shined
  • Portfolio – two pens, writing paper, three copies of my resume, questions for interviewer
  • Grooming – showered, shaved, deodorant, teeth brushed, mints
  • Brain – read possible questions for two days
  • Miscellaneous – handkerchief in right pocket (to keep my keys from jingling)

Then came that first question, “Mr. Johnson, what can you tell me about yourself and your experience?”

The words had barely left his mouth when my brain reacted as if the words were an order to my body: ‘Begin perspiration on forehead now!’  Whoa brain, wait!  I had seen that question before!  Why was I starting to get so nervous now?  I felt the sheen of moisture on my forehead and then realized that I hadn’t started my answer yet.  Oh no! Now he’s looking at me because I haven’t said anything yet.  My brain barked out another order: ‘Forehead and armpits, begin noticeable perspiration now!’  Okay, he’s still looking at me.  I must start talking now!  As I was giving my answer, my brain upped the discomfort level: “Head, armpits, hands, arms, and back this is not a drill – sweat, sweat, sweat!

After the interview, and after I put on some dry clothes, I tried to figure out what went wrong.  Why was I so nervous?  Nothing like that had happened for years!  Why was I thinking so differently?  I had overseen a unit section in a top-secret area.  I had given briefings to generals and top civilian brass and I had prepared for every eventuality by practicing…practicing my answers!

There it was.  The one thing I had forgotten to do.  I had forgotten the alliteration that was drilled into us in boot camp, the five P’s:

Prior

Practice

Prevents

Poor

Performance

I had read questions that might be asked during an interview.  I thought about my answers.  But I had not practiced my answers.  In the Air Force, when I practiced for those briefings, I stood in front of the mirror in my uniform and spoke in a loud clear voice.  I asked for help from some of the men and women in my unit to ask the questions and I would answer them.  I would ask them if the answer was clear or if they could think of a follow-up question for me to answer.  I even asked if I had forgotten to address someone by their rank or to say “sir” or “ma’am”.  I had been taught, you perform the way that you practice, so you had better practice the way that you want to perform.  I have not forgotten that lesson again. 

A job interview is your opportunity to make a good and lasting impression.  The interview is your opportunity to demonstrate that you are the best candidate for the position.  Interviewing well can be the difference between a satisfying and rewarding career or seeing others in the positions that you could have gotten.  Don’t assume that because you know what an interview is and what questions might be asked, that you are prepared.  Without consistent and realistic practice, you are not positioning yourself for success.

Would you think of taking a driving test for your license without practicing? Almost all of us have seen someone drive, in person or on television.  We know there is a steering wheel, a brake, and a gas pedal.  However, just having a knowledge of what is involved in driving is useless without practice – and lots of it.  I would guess that most of us were still a little nervous when we took our driving exam.  Nevertheless, can you imagine how you would have felt if you hadn’t put in all that practice on the streets and in a parking lot trying not to hit the cones?

Prior practice builds our confidence.  The more confident we can be, the less nervous we are are apt to become.  Give yourself the best opportunity to start or advance in the career you prepared for through training and hard work.  When you prepare for an interview, remember, Prior Practice Prevents Poor Performance.

In case you were wondering, I did not get the job from that first interview.  Despite that I practiced for the next interview and I got that job.  That job was the beginning or more than twenty-five rewarding years in the field of career education and instructional development and design.

Victor Johnson, Career Facilitator

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