From the moment you receive confirmation that you’ve been invited for an interview to the anxious wait as to whether you got the job, the interview process can be extremely taxing and challenging for the body. It is very easy to put ourselves under enormous pressure, and our usual day-to-day routines can be thrown completely off-kilter for considerable periods of time. This in turn can have significant repercussions on our mental and physical wellbeing. 

With The Apprentice 2019 set to return to our TV screens next week, we explored the impact of the process from beginning to end, and spoke to Clinical Lead Dr Daniel Atkinson about the best ways to prepare for and approach interviews.

The interview date is set and the build up begins

You’ve received a phone call or an email from a recruiter or business manager confirming that you’ve been offered an interview. The prospect may trigger a feeling of anxiety, as the body releases hormones, stimulating the sympathetic nervous system.  In turn, the nervous system stimulates the adrenal glands, which release adrenaline and cortisol into the body. You may experience a “butterflies” sensation in the stomach as the stomach muscles become more sensitive, and this is due to the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response. 

The ‘fight or flight’ response is the body’s reaction to stress, and it entails us either choosing to fight the threat or opting to flee from it (in this case, we either get on board with preparing for and attending the interview or avoid it altogether). Its origins lie in our evolutionary ancestors making a ‘fight or flight’ assessment when faced with predators, such as lions.

As thoughts about the interview scenario start to recur, you may find that your heart rate begins to increase as the body speeds up its respiration rate, so that it can provide the body with the energy necessary to “flee”, or withdraw from the interview preparation and process. Your skin may also turn pale due to the blood surging into the brain, legs or arms, or it could become flushed, as blood rushes to your head and brain.

Excessive amounts of stress can hinder your ability to think clearly about the interview process,’ says Dr Daniel Atkinson.

‘Try not to put undue pressure on yourself. It’s also important if you are feeling stressed to give yourself some time to collect your thoughts. This will help to reduce the flood of adrenaline in the body.’

It should be noted that not everyone may experience the ‘fight or flight’ response to receiving an invitation for an interview. You may feel somewhat apprehensive about it without having any physical symptoms as such.

The interview is in a few days’ time and preparation for it is underway

You might have started to research the company you’re interviewing for and written some notes in anticipation of competency-based and hypothetically-led questions. You may begin to doubt the quality of your notes, or whether they contain sufficient detail, which can impact on your confidence or motivation as the interview nears.  

Anxieties about what you’re going to wear for the interview might come to the fore, and if it involves a considerable commute, perhaps feelings of stress at the prospect of a more extended journey by public transport or car. Worries about finding the location of the interview may also start to surface.

Such concerns can impact on your sleeping pattern, as the body releases more adrenaline. This might lead to your muscles feeling tense, along with an increase in your caffeine consumption or sugar intake, to energise you suitably for any final preparations for the event. 

‘The benefits of eating well in the build up to an interview can’t be stressed enough. Oily fish, wholegrains, blueberries and tomatoes are all excellent examples of foods which help to give the brain a boost,’ notes Daniel.

The night before the interview

Headaches, as a consequence of extensive note-taking, and the accumulative effects of mental fatigue may be present, with dehydration another potential risk having bolstered your caffeine and sugar intake. 

A second wave of the ‘butterflies’ sensation in your stomach and the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response might be triggered, once more leading to a release of adrenaline and noradrenaline from the nervous system and your blood pressure, heart rate and breathing patterns all becoming enhanced. This sudden swell of stress could even trigger a panic attack, which may produce shortness of breath, palpitations and a choking sensation. Such elevated levels of anxiety could impact on you getting a restful night’s sleep.

‘Using stimulants such as caffeine to keep the body and mind alert for any last minute cramming is extremely common, but some restraint should be exercised - especially the night before an interview,’ explains Daniel.

‘If you’re already feeling anxious, or are prone to anxiety, considerable amounts of tea or coffee can exacerbate it, leading to panic responses, or even cardiac arrhythmia, where the heart’s rhythm speeds up, which can be dangerous. 

‘These experiences are not going to help you get a good night’s sleep, so if you are going to drink tea or coffee, it’s best to do so in moderation.

It’s also best to give yourself a cut-off time the night before so that your brain isn’t too stimulated when you settle down to sleep.’

The day of the interview

Knowing that the interview is only a matter of hours away, you may find that you’re struggling to eat your breakfast, with the butterflies turning to nausea and bringing the digestive system to a halt. You might even vomit, as the sensitivity of the stomach muscles becomes intense, with physical trembling and shaking possibly accompanying this. It’s best to have something to eat for breakfast (or lunch, if your interview is later in the day) if you can, however, as it will help energise you for the event. 

‘It’s likely that you’ll be experiencing some nerves in the hours before the interview, which could make your stomach feel unsettled,’ says Daniel.

‘Provided you’re not feeling overly nauseous, however, it’s sensible to have something to eat to fuel your body, which will help you to think and formulate your answers during the interview

‘Wholegrain cereals are particularly good, as they provide your body with a slow release of energy, while wholemeal bread or brown rice in a salad are excellent options for lunch.’

Having boarded the bus or train or set out for the interview by car, you might find that your leg starts to bounce repeatedly. This is a further symptom of anxiety, and you may also become conscious of it as you wait to be seen for your interview. 

Coughing and dry mouth are further, common manifestations of worry pre-interview. As you sit in the reception / waiting area, your breathing may get faster and shallower, with the lack of oxygen making your throat tight. Although it is of little benefit in many cases, lots of people cough to try to combat these nerves. Upon being greeted by the interviewer, the magnitude of the event can be overwhelming and make it harder to speak, as the salivary glands stop creating the usual amount of saliva, producing the ‘dry mouth’ effect. 

During the interview itself

Once you’ve sat down in the interview room, you may notice that your heart starts to beat more quickly, as yet another gush of adrenaline hits the bloodstream. This can feel uncomfortable, but it actually increases the blood flow to the brain, making the mind more alert and responsive to the interviewers’ questions. Sounds become clearer as your senses are heightened. It’s what’s known as ‘good stress’. 

As the interview progresses and a tricky question that you hadn’t anticipated is pitched to you however, you may find that your palms start to sweat - a further symptom of the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response. Sweat is controlled by a part of the brain known as the hypothalamus, which processes the significant stress you may be experiencing as excess sweat. 

After the interview

Once you’ve navigated your way through those particularly challenging segments of the interview, and you’ve asked the interviewers several closing questions, you may begin to feel a sense of relief, having shaken the interviewers’ hands and made your exit from the building. The surge of adrenaline that was present during the event might start to dissipate, as the brain stops releasing stress hormones having established that the interview is now over. 

The sense of relief may begin to intertwine with feelings of considerable tiredness, as the adrenaline continues to subside. You might find that you are heavy-eyed on the train or bus ride home, and struggle to focus your attention on a book you may have brought to occupy yourself with. 

Once home, the sharp rise and fall of cortisol and adrenaline in the body may result in a state of exhaustion, and you might succumb to the temptation to nap or lie-down. If the interview process has been particularly testing, from the point of preparation to completion, you may even find that you become ill. Hormones such as norepinethrine are released by the body at times of extreme pressure to act as anti-inflammatories, but because inflammation is part of the immune system’s response, they also function as immunosuppressants. Subsequently, this can lead to dormant infections, such as the Epstein Barr virus, being reactivated.

Given how fraught interviews and the build-up to them can make you feel, try to avoid dwelling on the interview itself once it’s over and concentrate on getting some rest. Be kind to yourself having come full circle with a challenging process,’ advises Daniel.