Stage fright, choking and job interviews

Posted in: Interviews

I am a huge fan of the Hidden Brain podcast which explores human behaviour and the unconscious phenomena that drives them. A recent episode interviewed Sian Beilock, a cognitive scientist and covered the science behind stage fright or choking under pressure. From athletes to Presidents, from performances to tests – we can all probably think of a time we have crumbled under pressure. Where something we know we can do well suddenly becomes alien and our minds go blank. Feelings of stress, anxiety and worry conspire against us to cause us to perform much worse than we would have hoped or expected.  

Of course, because I work in a Careers Service, high pressure situations immediately got me thinking about job interviews. We know that lots of students can find interviews really nerve-wracking and worry about their minds going blank. 

So with Halloween just around the corner - lets talk about how you can stop your brain playing tricks and reduce the chances of a fright at your next job interview. 


Being well-prepared for your job interview may not necessarily prevent you from choking. However, preparation is key to a good interview performance. Being well-prepared will help you to feel more confident, in control and make it easier for you to feel like you should succeed. All things that can reduce that dreaded mind blank.  

One good thing to prepare for is the question you really hope they won’t ask! If you’re worrying about a specific question this can take up a lot of headspace and worry. It can give you a sense of release, and confidence to release that worry and get your answer sorted in advance of the interview. 

Good preparation involves a combination of researching the employer and honing your interview technique. You can find out more about both in our Get Started guide.  

Practice, practice, practice 

Practicing under pressure can help you to perform well under pressure when it counts. So for job interviews that means practicing answering questions. That doesn’t mean practicing the answers in your head! To get the pressure on try practicing with other people. Try some practice interview software. Keep an eye out for practice interviews with employers on MyFuture. Or book an interview practice with the Careers Service.  

Reframe your nerves 

Being worried or excited can often trigger the same physiological responses. So if you are feeling nervous before an interview, see if you can reframe those nerves positively or at least try to stop think about them really negatively. For example - your beating heart is pumping blood to your brain so you can think better. You are feeling nervous because you are excited to take on this opportunity.  This reframing can help you feel more confident and in turn, make those responses feel less intense. 

Remind yourself why you should succeed  

Instead of focusing on all the ways an interview can go wrong, it can be useful to think about the reasons you should succeed. Employers have put you on the shortlist because from your application, they think you can do the job and see your potential. Which should be a boost in itself. Additionally, this is where you can remind yourself of your preparation and practice - you have done your preparation, you have practiced your answers – you are ready for this!  

Reframing your thoughts like this can help to combat that stress and worry – leaving you in a more positive frame of mind.  

Stop paying too much attention and remain present 

One of the key reasons we can perform poorly under stress is because we start focusing on every little detail and overanalyse. Suddenly you are worrying about how much or little eye contact you are making, or whether your voice sounds annoying and you lose your train of thought.  

So to stop yourself paying too much attention, distract yourself with something else. Before an interview you might want to try singing your favourite song (perhaps not in the interview waiting room!) or doing some breathing exercises. During the interview you might want to focus on a couple of key points or try grounding yourself. We have an excellent blog on how mindfulness techniques can help you with interviews that covers these ideas in more detail. 

Final thought 

I hope these tips help you to feel more confident and in control of your nerves at your next interview. If you want even more tips, check out our resource on interview nerves. Even if you do find your mind going blank - I hope this blog reassures you that you are in esteemed company. And if you still don’t believe me – take a look at our very own Careers Advisers’ nightmare interviews. It happens to all of us at some point. Job interviews are not life or death (well.. unless there’s a job interview Squid Game spin-off..!) and a bad experience is always an opportunity to learn.  

 However if you are struggling with anxiety, stress or your mental health more generally – you can get support from the University. 

For more help with interviews – check out our Get Started guide.  


Posted in: Interviews


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