As children, we have all experienced not being able to sleep the night before a new school term. This anxiety may repeat itself before meeting new classmates or excitement at catching up after the holidays. I remember having to address 900 pupils aged 16 years as Chairman of the School charity appeal and being terrified that the microphone would fail to work.
For many people this worry continues during exams, when moving away from home to go to university, or when starting a new job. Later in life, the same anxiety can appear when under pressure from an employer, being asked to make a presentation in front of your colleagues or pitching to win new business.
Recognising the signs and symptoms can prepare you for the unknown. Once I was pitching for an insurance professional indemnity mutual in front of 30 people when there was a 41-gun salute from The Tower of London. I never uttered a word as the Board of Directors simply renewed the contract, to much hilarity.
I often remind our student candidates that it is normal to be nervous before an interview. At their age, I was so very fortunate to shadow Esther Rantzen from her green room to live broadcast on BBC That’s Life and Hearts of Gold. The minute before she waited to walk on to receive rapturous live audience applause, you could see stage fright kick in and the shear look of terror on her face. Of course, it was all gone as quick as it arrived once the programme titles started rolling.
A candidate we had helped, found himself in the middle of an interview when the fire alarm went off. To the consternation of his prospective employer, he was a little too insistent in trying to collect his personal effects instead of simply leave the building. This didn’t augur well for his employability chances.
What are the practical steps that you can follow to tackle your employability nerves prior to an interview? Firstly, if the meeting is virtual, practice with a mentor who you don’t know so that you gain confidence in the type of questions that you might be asked. Secondly, if you are invited to an in-person meeting go and visit the office location to familiarise yourself before the interview, ensuring that you allow enough travel time to turn up at the requisite hour. Thirdly, there is a tendency to wear new clothes and shoes, make yourself comfortable and don’t dress to feel awkward. Fourthly, speak to the receptionist about what life is like in the office. You may find that your future employer might seek a second opinion about you, after you left the building.
There are many techniques which can help those who panic, including taking slow deep breathes or exhaling by screaming under a railway bridge. Whatever works for you, never drink a double tall latte before you arrive at interview. A little caffeine is good but don’t overdo it.
Ronel Lehmann is Chief Executive of Finito Education