Dealing with anxiety during job interviews


It’s normal to feel anxious when applying for a job. After all, you’re trying to present your best self in hopes of getting the job. Today’s article will help you learn to control or work with this anxiousness.

I propose four ways to work through your anxiousness

  • Be pessimistic about the interview
  • Don’t care about the results
  • Face the anxiousness head-on and work through it
  • Bring your real self instead of your best self

Be pessimistic about the interview

If you apply to a job via the standard channel (applying through job ad), your odds of being selected is very low. You have to understand this fact and treat job search as a numbers game.

Most people don’t want to admit that their chances are low and they try to “be their best self” in an interview. Unfortunately, being your best self is a bad strategy and it sets you up for failure.

  • You won’t be able to understand why you failed
  • You’ll take the failure personally
  • You’ll feel lousy and sucky and you lose motivation to apply for another job

If you acknowledge your chances of being successful is low, you’ll adjust your expectations. You won’t get hurt as much when you fail (and you will probably fail many times). You will be able to get up and try again.

Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Learn the lessons from your previous interview and use it for your next.

Don’t care about the results

We’re anxious because we care about the results. We won’t be anxious if we don’t care about the results.

This is important because anxiety lowers our performance. When we care for something too much, we tend to overcompensate. You’ve heard of people “trying too hard” and coming off as a turn-off. I went through an experience like this too in the past.

I interviewed for a program during my university years. It was a prestigious program in my university and many people clamoured for it. I clamoured for it too.

When I went into the interview, I was very nervous. I tried to put up my best performance. I tried to be polite, I tried to offer suggestions, and even tried to lead the discussion amongst my peers.

I thought I did pretty well, but I heard nothing from the faculty after the interview. I was devastated.

I applied for the same program again 1 year later. This time, I just came back from an overseas trip and I learned to relax a bit. I figured it would be great if I got accepted into the program, but I wasn’t really bothered if I didn’t get accepted — life goes on.

During this interview, I sat down and didn’t try to perform. I relaxed. I just spoke my mind about stuff. One of the interviewers (a teacher) even said I was rude during the interview. She said I should stand up when addressing a teacher. I went out of the interview thinking I probably failed it.

To my surprise, I received a call within a week or two and I was offered a chance to go for the program. 🙄

What actually happened? What were the criteria that made them call me and gave me a chance? 🤷‍♂️. I don’t know.

I’ve noticed this same pattern played out over the years — when I’m really concerned about something, it would turn out badly. But if I don’t really care, it has the potential to turn out well. 🤷‍♂️.

So fuck the results. Enjoy yourself. Things may turn out better than you wished it to.

Face the anxiousness head-on and work through it

One reason why you’re anxious is because you don’t have enough interviewing experience. You lack experiential information about how an interview is like.

You can prepare all you want — answering generic questions, doing code katas, etc — but you won’t be able to shake off this anxiousness, especially if you really want this job. (See point 2).

To reduce this anxiety, you have to gain experience. This means you’ll have to go for many interviews. With each interview you’ll know what to expect and what to do. You’ll also learn to manage possible failure (assuming you’re didn’t beat yourself up too hard by trying your best).

Take each interview as a practice. With enough practice, you’ll know what to do.

You can use the same approach if you want to put up a blog, do youtube videos, or livestream. You have to do work through the anxiousness and you’ll learn to manage it.

Bring your real self instead of your best self

When you bring your best self, you’re putting on a mask — you’re not the real you. You’re uncomfortable because you know you’re not being yourself.

Here’s second problem — if they hired you when you “tried your best”, you have to put on this “best behaviour” for the rest of your life in the company. Since you’re not being yourself, you’ll get even more stressed.

So don’t fake it till you make it. Don’t fake anything because faking introduces stress with yourself internally.

Bring your real self to the interview table.

Who are you?

Most of us have so many fragmented selves that we’re not sure which is real. The answer is everyone of them is real.

  • The you where you’re excited about code
  • The you where you’re anxious about making mistakes
  • The you where you’re grumpy because you couldn’t solve a problem
  • The you where you’re being super unhealthy, eating potato chips on the sofa when you’re supposed to be on a diet.

All of them are real.

You want to bring the self that makes most sense for this interview. (I hope you know which one).

It’s a good thing if you get rejected for being real

The company may be an ill-fit for you — they may look for someone who wants to follow instructions while you want to make an impact (and vice versa).

Who are you when you’re having fun coding, exploring ideas, studying tutorials, debugging errors? Bring that person to the interview and let the rest play out.

Imagine you’re not in an interview. Imagine the person sitting across you is a friend and you’re in a safe place. Imagine they are there for you to share your thoughts, excitement, and love about web development. And you’re simply sharing everything you found exciting with them.

I know it’s not safe since you’re being evaluated, but imagine it anyway. Your worst case scenario is you don’t get accepted (and there’s a high chance anyway). What’s there to lose if you gave this a try?

Then don’t care about the results of the interview.

Have fun.

Life is too short for unnecessary worries.

Embrace this mindset and try it out for a couple of weeks. Maybe the results will change the way you handle such situations going forward.

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