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How Interview anxiety is affecting graduates

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Most of us can relate to having feelings of anxiety in the lead up to and during an interview; nerves start to set in, vocabulary slips from the mind, and the body begins to manifest physical symptoms through sweating, shaking, and an increased heartbeat. Interview anxiety is completely normal, but it doesn’t make the feeling any less unnerving, or the interview less intimidating, if we don’t learn to control it.

When we give way to these negative feelings, we can hinder our chances of being successful at an interview. Although interviewers are accustomed to dealing with nervous candidates, and will often make allowances for this, learning to manage the anxiety will make for a more comfortable and positive interview experience for both parties.

How is this heightened for graduates?

There is much pressure for graduates to stand out in interviews; given that there are around 800,000 UK graduates each year, the competition is fierce. Recruiters looking for degree-level experience may have hundreds of CVs to choose from, often with similar qualifications, so there needs to be more evidence of competency than just qualifications to consider them for the role.

A survey from Career Builder found that employers thought that graduates were often lacking in problem-solving and oral communication skills that would make them stand out above other candidates. Many expressed concern that graduates are not able to articulate their skills in interviews as they have not had much “real-world” experience.

When recruiters advertise entry-level positions where a degree is not required, they often look for tangible work experience in the successful candidate. This unfortunately means the competition is even tougher for applicants up against people with prior experience.

Some graduates may therefore feel more anxious about an interview if they believe that they have less practical experience than other candidates; it’s important that they take steps to alleviate their nerves and focus on the positives so that they can be the standout candidate for the role.

Where do the fears come from?

The layers of anxiety can reach further in graduates than just a lack of work experience and worrying about the competition, with many believing that they are disadvantaged simply by the word “degree” itself. There is concern that some employers don’t see the value of a degree anymore, or if they do, that the candidate may be overlooked as an over-qualified applicant.

Being rejected after an interview can lead to feedback being taken personally. Why wasn’t the degree enough? Did I say something wrong? Did they not like my personality? Due to the current competitive market, only 52% of graduates are securing graduate-level jobs, so there is more pressure to convince interviewers of the benefits of having a degree..

Most graduates now qualify with significant debts, so there is more pressure to make an interview and job opportunity count. The current pandemic has already cost the classes of 2020 their graduation and put a pause on employment opportunities for many of them, and the effects may well continue into 2021 and beyond. So it’s understandable that when an all-important interview opportunity presents itself, there could be more anxiety than usual, given how much there is at stake.

Interview preparation tips for Graduates

  • Scrutinize pre-interview literature and the job description as advertised or emailed to you. Figure out exactly what it is they are looking for and ensure you are prepared with examples that relate to each area of expectation through your education/work-placements.
  • Where possible, arrange or agree to a morning interview rather than the afternoon. This means you won’t spend hours dwelling on the interview beforehand. It may feel like losing out on preparation time, but this will more than likely be spent building up anxiety instead.
  • Speak to a careers advisor and use resources available to you to prepare. There may be courses, guides, and workshops that aim to help with interview anxiety.
  • Speak to people in the know. If you know someone who works for the organization or has a similar job role, they can help you by advising what particular skills are needed and what it’s like to work there. The familiarity can help you to relax.
  • Speak to friends and peers who have graduated and are also preparing for interviews. Discuss any tips between you to calm interview anxiety, and share ideas on how you can keep calm; discussing previous interview experiences can help.
  • Anticipate areas on your CV that may warrant further questioning. Are there any gaps or points that may pique your interviewer’s interest? Are there parts of your degree that need more context to explain their relevance? Be prepared to talk about them so you don’t feel overwhelmed on the spot.
  • Practice your answers in front of someone or the mirror. The practice can help with interview anxiety, especially if there are words you tend to trip up on, or if you’re uncertain about your speaking volume. You will feel less pressure, and more confident on the day of the interview if you prepare beforehand.

Interview relaxation tips for everyone

Interview anxiety can affect everyone and cause a rush of adrenaline that can be daunting and sometimes overwhelming. While some adrenaline is good, too much can be overpowering and cause a loss of focus. Consider the following exercises which will help you to retain control of your anxiety.

  • Plan directions and the duration of the route to the interview. Don’t give yourself any chance to feel stress over being late.
  • Prepare your interview outfit the day before and gather any required paperwork so you don’t worry about misplacing or forgetting anything.
  • Make yourself comfortable for a good night’s sleep. Put interview preparation away before bedtime and give yourself some time to relax and unwind.
  • Eat a nutritious breakfast that fuels the body and mind, and will take you through your interview without worrying about being hungry.
  • Take some slow, deep breaths and if possible, get some fresh air before the interview, with a short stroll to help clear the mind and relieve muscle tension.
  • Remember that an interview is just a conversation with another person. The interviewer will be looking forward to meeting you and hearing about your achievements, so it’s time to take some of the pressure off yourself. This will be a valuable experience, no matter the outcome.


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