Nerves are Down. Performance is Up. Outlook is +’ve – How to control your nerves

I have nerves…

you have nerves, the CEO of Tesco has nerves, everyone has nerves. If you don’t, then you’re probably dead. It therefore follows that in an effort to negate one’s nerves we are actually striving towards death, a state that affords zero stimulus. I do like Freud, but I’m not sure how useful his Death Instinct Theory will be in this case. Though he was a consultant of sorts….

So how can you gain control over these pesky critical nerves that lead to sweaty palms, shaky voices and prolonged unemployment? For me, how nervous I am is directly related to how prepared I feel and therefore inversely proportional to the amount of preparation I have done for an interview, or assessment centre or presentation. The more prepared, the less nervous. Look at my helpful graph:

One of the main ways to quell the nerves to an acceptable level, I’ve found so far, is to prepare and subsequently be confident in your abilities. Deep breathing, meditation, laughing heartily, clubbing a baby seal – none of these have really helped and/ or been practical, because the biggest source of my nerves these days is the fear of failure and the pressure that comes with that eventuality. I mean, I’m getting on a bit, being a recent graduate is a finite state; I don’t need to read Marvell, Shelley or Shakespeare to feel the sands of time’s winged chariot flicking the skin of my heels. There are only so many companies I can apply to, and if I slip up, it’s another 6-12 months before I can apply again. Scary stuff, especially in these ultra-competitive times where employers are fussy as hell and able to pick and chose only the best profiles on the graduate market. That’s pressure. And pressure = nerves. (I think another graph might be pushing it).

So how can you learn to control these beasts?

I spent a little time today scouring the net for such advices (grammar courtesy of Pumping Iron’s Arnie), some good, some basic common sense and some a bit, well, daft. But, as I’ve intimated, nerves in an interview stem from multiple sources. Only after you identify these primary points can you address them practically and psychologically.

Personally, I’ve filtered nervousness down to 3 key reasons:

  1. Fear of failure and its consequences
  2. Lack of preparation
  3. Insecurities (strength of one’s voice, height, physical appearance, even spots etc.)

The only element I might be able to completely eradicate is no.2, because even if an unknown question pops up it won’t matter because I’m confident I’ve prepared as much as I could, there was nothing more within my control to be done. But, ultimately on the day, the proportions of each of these factors comprising my nervous state will determine my performance, because there’s no avoiding the fact that I will be nervous. But will it be debilitating or empowering? That is the question. See the pie charts below for elucidation:

A smaller pie is a healthier pie.

Ok, so how can you limit these factors to shrink this pie of nerves? No. 2 is fairly obvious, prepare in good time and quantify this too. Figure out exactly what preparation you need to do and limit it with defined goals ie. research recent news stories (2-3 articles), learn company’s service lines and selling points, think of and learn examples for the 6 main competencies – tick, tick, tick, all covered, I’m prepared as sufficiently as can be. For this I like to create revision packs for each company comprising mainly those elements mentioned above so I can treat it like revising for an exam. [I’ll upload some examples/ templates sometime.]

No. 3 I’ll steer clear of because that’s stuff for a self-help book or clearex or something. But I will say this, take confidence in the fact that you’ve gotten this far – they’ve obviously seen value in you somewhere (however hard it might or might not be to believe)

But No. 1, now this I am acutely familiar with and is perhaps my biggest anxiety. In order to try and alleviate the pressure, I would suggest applying to a healthy number of companies so you have many opportunities to learn, to make mistakes and to be successful. Have a look at my spreadsheet for an example in the About section. This way you’re not putting too much pressure on too few points – spread the load. Then rack up your experience and take all these processes one stage at a time. If you think about the end goal too much, chances are you’ll get demoralised and slightly overwhelmed by it all. In short, I guess what I’m describing in too many words, is always have options.

Brilliant, that’s my two pence in on how to deal with nerves. I hope someone might find it useful one day.

But before I end, I’d like to share my top ticket: believe in fate. All you can do is do your best. Even if things go badly, you prepared fully and you did your best considering the circumstances. It’s just the luck of the draw, the roll of the dice, the hand you’re dealt. One day you may get through where a better person hasn’t; another day it might be the opposite. Sometimes it’s a bit hit and miss, you’ve just got to roll with the punches and like the great man said, ‘it ain’t about how hard you hit, it is about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward’.

Check out these articles for more on how to deal with nerves:


2 responses to “Nerves are Down. Performance is Up. Outlook is +’ve – How to control your nerves

  1. Great post Consultinggrad.

    A couple of additional thoughts:

    1) Nerves are merely energy flowing to help you deal with a perceived threat – i.e. they’re a response to stimulus – if you only treat the response you don’t change the game.
    2) Energy follows attention. Try this – walk down a shopping street on the left side of the pavement, turn your head to the right and stare into the shop windows as you walk – look at all the clothes, stereos, whatever – walk for about twenty yards focusing ONLY on the shop windows. Stop walking. You’ll be closer to the middle of the pavement.

    Taking all of the above together, look at how to channel the energy (your nerves) towards the perceived threat. If you perceive yourself as the ‘victim’ of the interview, then you won’t turn things around, in fact, your energy (or nerves) will undermine you.

    If, instead, you realize that EVERY company is desperate to find talented, motivated people, then your energy can be applied to seeing whether there’s a strong fit or not – that should be the aim, not just getting a job.

    Once you begin to turn to face the threat, you’ll likely feel more nerves the less-aligned you are to the role in question.

    You’re human, so move with the energy and not against it.

    Keep posting!


    • Thanks BC. You’re absolutely right. When I was prepping candidates for interviews I would always say that it was as much about whether the company was a good fit for them as it was how good a fit they were for the company. Therefore, looking at modifying one’s approach one needs to redress the balance of power as you say, and treat the interview as more of a meeting.

      Sure to begin with you’ll pitch yourself and answer their questions, but then it’s often over to you to ask some questions of your own and so it’s your chance to put the interviewer under a bit of pressure and find out what’s important for you. I usually ask some of the same questions they’ve asked me, like why they joined the company, what they think is so good about it, and what they don’t like about it etc.

      I especially like the idea of nerves as energy flow.

      Cheers again for the comment BC

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