The Psychology of Applying to Your Dream Carrier

Seven Tips To Deal with Performance Anxiety


Many situations in life can cause tension and emotions such as nervousness. Speaking in public, a first solo flight, proficiency checks, applying and interviewing can cause severe nervous feelings. It is normal to experience healthy tension, especially when you are applying for your dream job. However, some applicants become so tense that they become paralyzed by fear of failure when applying for a job. Ultimately, getting that dream job comes down to the interview, and you do not want to ruin it. Here, I offer seven approaches to dealing with fear of failure during the application process and interview. 

Nervousness is not bad. In fact, tension can help you to perform better. For example, athletes and artists notice that they perform much better when feeling a healthy sense of tension. Your body prepares itself by releasing adrenaline that raises blood sugar levels to provide enough fuel for your body to perform. During the critical event, all senses are tense, which helps with focus. If you were not experiencing those nerves, you probably would not be performing at your very best either. That is why it is best to embrace this feeling instead of fighting it. 

Your beliefs, the image you have of yourself and the story you keep telling yourself create your behavior. Over time, these beliefs can cause tension, which can cause nervousness, which is a form of stress. Stress, in turn, comes from fear. In many cases, nervousness is due to performance anxiety – fear of failure. Performance anxiety arises because you want to achieve a particular result. 

The fear of failure often stems from a deep-rooted belief about oneself. One thinks that they are not good enough. This belief emerges over time. Babies are not afraid of failure, but sooner or later, they enter a system where they are constantly assessed; in school, by their educators and society in general. Interactions and comparisons with siblings, classmates, or even colleagues can lead to the self-belief that they are not good enough. If you consider yourself “not good enough” and constantly push yourself to perform better, tension and nervousness will increase, causing performance anxiety. 

Physical effects

Performance anxiety is the fear of making mistakes. These feelings can cause you to be afraid of doing new things or meeting new people. It can even get in the way of doing the work you enjoy doing. When suffering from performance anxiety, it is common to stay in your comfort zone. As soon as something new or unknown occurs, symptoms of performance anxiety will appear. Performance anxiety takes place mainly in the brain, but it can also cause physical complaints that are unwanted during a job interview. Performance anxiety can cause:

  • Headache
  • Stomach ache
  • Panic and tantrums
  • A blackout
  • Sweating
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Feelings of fear and anxiety

Fear of failure

There are three types of fear of failure are cognitive, social, and motor performance anxiety.

#1 Cognitive performance anxiety

Cognitive performance anxiety has to do with absorbing and applying knowledge. People with cognitive performance anxiety think that they will fail an exam, even though they are very well prepared.

#2 Social performance anxiety

Social performance anxiety includes contact with other people. For example, those with this form of anxiety may find it challenging to have their say in a social setting. They often also find it difficult to approach others to ask questions.

#3 Motor performance anxiety

Motor performance anxiety has to do with the fear of using the body. For example, a person may feel “paralyzed” by the tension during a driving test or sports performance. 

Behavior during the interview

Experiencing fear of failure when applying for a job indicates cognitive performance anxiety. You are well prepared for the job interview, but the fear of failure remains. This form can be divided into active or passive fear of failure and recognized through your observable behavior. 

Active fear of failure (fight) 

Active fear of failure is constantly working on perfecting what you want to achieve; you try to avoid making mistakes. You prepare everything in detail. This way, you spend hours on the perfect résumé or working out the best scenario for your perfect job interview. However, if a situation arises for which you are not prepared, you panic. There are interview questions for which you can always expect and prepare, but there are often situations that you are unable to foresee and prepare yourself for ahead of time.

Passive fear of failure (flight) 

People with passive fear of failure often avoid situations in which possible mistakes can be made. For example, someone procrastinates submitting their résumé and avoids the entire situation. The thinking process is often, “I am not good enough anyway.” Obviously, this way of thinking is not great for your self-confidence. If you do not believe in yourself, how is your dream employer supposed to believe in you?

Seven tips

Now that it is clear what performance anxiety is and what its effects can be, here are seven tips that will help you to start your interview with confidence!

1. Preparation is key

Preparation is half the victory. Immerse yourself into the position and into the company for which you will be applying and prepare for frequently asked interview questions. This reduces the chance that you will face questions with which you are not familiar. Being prepared reduces feelings of stress and gives a sense of control. Prepare a few questions that you want to ask. When you speak, you become more confident. 

Good preparation is essential, but do not overdo it. Trying to prepare everything to perfection can cause stress. For example, over-rehearsed stories might lead to additional stress during an interview if you forget a certain part of the story or are not prepared for a particular question. When asked about something you have not prepared, do not panic. After all, you cannot prepare for everything.

2. Increase confidence

People with performance anxiety often remember what went wrong and not what went right. Fear of failure is that voice that says, “You cannot do it.” However, when focusing on the positives and things you are good at, this voice becomes less powerful. Therefore, before you go for an interview, write down your strengths. It is also essential to reflect on successes. For example, write down what you have already achieved in your career. This might come in handy during the interview as well. In addition, during the interview itself, it is crucial to focus on what is going well instead of focusing on what is not going as expected. Concentrating on positives increases self-confidence. 

3. Relax

If you suffer from performance anxiety, it helps to relax before the interview. It might help to talk to someone you enjoy talking to or having a playlist ready with music that gets you in a positive mood. Exercising helps relax and clear your mind. Another positive side effect is that you will enter the job interview full of energy. In addition, focusing on relaxation exercises such as breathing or meditation will help you relax and forget about your fears. 

4Reconnect the brain

When feeling stressed before or during the interview, moving can help. Movement helps the brain hemispheres to start working together again and the corpus callosum opens again. Even in the setting of an interview, there are several tricks to activate both hemispheres of the brain simultaneously:

1. Make an opposite movement with your hands. 

2. Make an opposite movement with your feet. Put your left foot on your toes and your right foot on your heel, and keep changing. 

3. Make a figure eight with your eyes. 

With these tactics, you can reconnect both hemispheres of the brain

5. Breathe

Paying attention to your breathing helps calm the brain and the nervous system as well. The lower you get your breath, the calmer you will become. As you exhale, pull your belly button towards your spine and release your belly as you inhale again. This flattens your diaphragm, and your lungs can fill with air. When calm abdominal breathing is established, the parasympathetic system is activated, sending a signal to the brain to relax more. Controlled breathing, in combination with an alternating movement of the body, such as your feet, hands, or eyes, breaks the pattern of anxious thoughts. 

Square or box breathing

Find a comfortable chair or place to sit or lie down.

Step 1: Inhale for four seconds.

Step 2: Keep the air in your lungs for four seconds.

Step 3: Exhale for four seconds, blowing all the air out of your lungs. 

Step 4: Keep your lungs empty for four seconds.

Repeat the above steps for as long as necessary (for example, for five minutes or longer) until you are relaxed and focused again.

6. Be honest

Another thing you can do when in a stressful situation is to break the pattern by just naming it. It might make you feel very vulnerable, but you can be honest about what is going on as an interviewee. Naming the anxiety alone breaks the pattern and reveals a vulnerability that can create a connection. The interviewer may even help reassure you in this situation, which may be helpful to calm the nerves on the spot. 

In addition, people often forget that it is not wrong when you cannot answer a question right away. It is common to take a moment to think about your answer. Do not focus on not knowing the answer. Instead, ask to get back to the question later. Stay focused on what you do know, and stay calm. Do not focus on how the anxiety is expressing itself, such as trembling hands or feeling warm. Doing so might have the opposite effect and worsen. 

When you do not know an answer, do not make something up. Your made-up answer could be wrong which could have a greater adverse effect than simply admitting that you do not know. Recruiters know that the perfect candidate does not exist and that it is nearly impossible to answer every question correctly. The application process, and the job interview in particular, will always be nerve-wracking for people with performance anxiety. Focus on what is going well and be honest.

7. Provide plans B & C

See what options are available if the job does not work out. Make a plan for what to do after the interview. For example, select companies hiring and write down your plan a, plan b, or perhaps even plan c. This will reassure you that there are other options. It takes the pressure off and you may have less trouble with your anxiety and performance anxiety. 

Final thoughts 

These tips can help reduce your anxiety but are mainly for symptom relief. They work to get rid of your nervousness for a while, but it is still essential to address the cause as well. If you continue to experience anxiety, you may choose to seek professional help to overcome your fear of failure. It is advisable to look into options for job application training and/or working with a mental health professional. You can find out what makes you doubt yourself and what you can do to change it. Job application training could help you regain confidence in your abilities, allowing you to enter your interviews with greater self-assuredness.


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