Mindset Performance

9 Reasons Why We FEAR Interviews

Written by Jonathan Burston

Interviews have the ability conjure up a whole host of emotions. But the one emotion I hear time and again is FEAR. The fear of an interview.

So What is Fear?

Fear is an emotional response that is brought on either by a real threat or a perceived one.

The fear response is almost entirely automatic. We don’t consciously trigger it or even know what’s going on until it has run its course. It happens often without us realizing. It’s a response designed to protect us.

And fear often generates in our bodies:

  • Racing heart
  • Fast breathing
  • Energized muscles

Do we need to fight or take flight?

Fear can leads us to hide, run away or freeze.

9 Fears of Interviews

So what is it about an interview that can create the emotion of fear?

1. Fear…of the unknown

Interviews lead us into the unknown.

Unknown in the sense that we have no idea what the person who will be interviewing us will be like. Nor do we know what questions they are going to ask us?  Or how difficult the questions will be?

And that can make us fearful of what we’re about to enter into.

This is probably the biggest fear that we face with interviews. It’s one I’ve felt time and again. And it’s certainly the number one fear candidates tell me about.

2. Fear…of rejection

Rejection. It’s a word we all hate to hear or rather feel.

We’ve all experienced it at some point in our lives. And it doesn’t feel good.

In our day-to-day lives we can control rejection by the things we do or don’t do. It’s relatively easy to avoid.

Sadly not with interviews. Interviews expose us to either acceptance or rejection. It’s either one or the other. There is no middle ground. You either get the job or you don’t.

So it’s natural to be fearful of rejection. It’s about how we deal and manage it that is important. See ‘Overcoming Interview Rejection’ for some tips you might find useful.

3. Fear…of being judged

We sit in interviews with one or more people sitting across the table and they are judging us. They are forming an opinion. They are judging our suitability based on our experience, skills and the answers we’re giving.

4. Fear…of being the focus

Over the years I’ve stood on many stages presenting to small and large groups. I still get nervous about being the main focus.

I really don’t like it. It would come as a surprise to many who know me, but I don’t like being the focus. And unfortunately that’s exactly what interviews are. We are the main focus and that can lead us to being fearful of being the focus.

5. Fear…of not liking talking about yourself

You’ve no doubt met people in your life who just love talking about themselves. In fact most of those kinds of people do nothing else. I certainly know a few.

But not everyone is like that. For most of we are humble and modest. That can mean we’re not comfortable talking about ourselves – our experiences and accomplishments.

6. Fear…of selling yourself

Selling! One of the most disliked and hated words. Unless of course you’re in sales.

Most of us don’t think of ourselves as sales people. But unfortunately we are. We are selling ourselves. But that can drive us to be fearful of selling ourselves.

7. Fear…of knowing you really need a job

If you really need a job, we apply such pressure to ourselves that it can lead us to underperform. And that underperformance is driven by fear.

I wrote an article recently on ‘Why Pressure Leads to Underperforming’. Focusing on the fact you really need a job puts us under so much pressure. That pressure makes us fearful of the interview which leads us to underperform. It’s a vicious circle.

8. Fear…of sounding stupid

Have you ever experienced that moment when you’ve said something and then thought, ‘Why the hell did I say that? I must have sounded so stupid!’ I know I have. And certainly on more than one occasion.

None of us want to come across stupid. But the fear of interviews and sounding stupid can mean that we say something that afterwards we wish we’d never said!

9. Fear…of being someone you’re not

Some years ago, I sat interviewing a lady called Lisa. She was answering the questions pretty well, but something didn’t feel quite right.

I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I just knew I didn’t quite believe what she was saying. I felt that she was trying to be someone else.

I asked her the following question, “Lisa, can I just make an observation. You come across very well however I’m not sure I completely believe what you’re telling. I don’t think I’m seeing the real you.”

What happened next was not one of my proudest moments in an interview. She started to cry. I can tell you that that certainly wasn’t my intention. But she turned to me and said ‘You’re right!” (Click here if you want to read about ‘How I Made an Interviewee Cry?’)

And that’s a valuable lesson for all of us is that we fear having to be someone we’re not in an interview. A good interviewer will unearth it. But the risk of not being the true puts us under so much pressure and more often than not you’ll be caught out at some point.

Fear is Natural

Fear is natural. And it’s not a bad thing either.

Yes it can lead us to run away, hide or freeze. But harnessed in the right way it can also energise us, focus on the key details and give us an inner strength.

In my next article, I’ll look at techniques you can use to overcome or manage fear.


Overcoming Interview Rejection

Why Pressure Leads to Underperforming

How I Made an Interviewee Cry


YES! I want to stand out at interviews.

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About the author

Jonathan Burston

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