I once got told that I seemed nervous in an academic job interview. This didn’t seem right to me, and there are several reasons why and I thought I would share these in the hope that some interviewers out there read it and appreciate where us nervous academics come from and why commenting on nervousness is not a) helpful or b) something that should be said during feedback from an interview.
1) If you have experienced anxiety on and off your whole life, being told you look nervous in an interview setting feels like someone can see your deepest darkest secrets. Like they know the back story of your life and they have chosen this point to single out because they know it is going to go straight to your insecurities and the stories you’ve been telling yourself all these years that you are a nervous person and that being nervous is bad because it has now been affirmed right?
It feels like you have been stripped naked in front of a room full of people and they can see all the thoughts and feelings circling through your body and mind at a million miles per hour and they know that you are scared and, well, nervous.
2) It is also discrimination. Being nervous is potentially a sign of someone having a mental illness i.e. anxiety and for someone to use this in a negative light when providing feedback for an interview is breaking the law.
In Australia, the Disability Discrimination Act 1992:
“provides legal protection for everyone in Australia against discrimination based on disability. Disability discrimination occurs when people with disability are treated less favourably than people without disability.”Disability Discrimination Act 1992, Australian Network on Disability
This includes mental impairment and prohibits people from being discriminated against at every stage of the job hiring process. Including interviewing and decision making regarding hiring.
For someone to provide feedback, and zone in on nervousness as being something that potentially set you apart from others is therefore discrimination.
3) I have been a mindset coach for five years now and in that time have spent many many hours coaching people on anxiety, speaking, and using techniques such as mindfulness to help them be okay with being nervous. Because being nervous is okay and being nervous in a job interview or presentation is completely normal.
One of the hardest things for people with anxiety is speaking in front of others and feeling we need to prove that we are not anxious or that we need to somehow hide this side of us because it would be a terrible shock if people were to a) notice that we were anxious or b) comment on our anxiety.
To have someone then say ‘you seemed very nervous’ is playing into the narrative that nervousness is bad and I wholeheartedly disagree with this line of thought.
It is quite normal to feel nervous every now and then, especially in a high stakes interview setting, and you are allowed to feel nervous or unsure. Being you, in every way shape or form is far more interesting than pretending to be someone you are not. As well as this, feeling like you should have to hide this is a sign of our ludicrous society that says we should be happy and confident in every moment. This, my friends, is simply untrue and deeply harmful to those who experience nervousness or anxiety.
Earlier this year I taught a student who experienced severe panic attacks. There was never any moment that I felt the need to in some way insinuate that her experience was not okay and that she should take her panic attacks somewhere else. Maybe this is just because I am a compassionate person, but maybe it is also because I could see her as a person despite her panic attacks. I.e her panic attacks did not define her as a person, and neither should anxiety or nerves.
4) Our society has become increasingly consumed and obsessed with confidence. Being confident. Having confidence. Showing how confident you are. Knowing what you want. And so it goes.
There are some confident people in the world. And there are some people in the world who are not as confident.
It doesn’t mean that you won’t do a good job. It doesn’t mean that you are not a good person or a competent person. It is not a reflection of you or who you are as a person. It is a story that society has created about who you should be and who others want you to be. Be yourself, it’s far more interesting.
5) Lastly, and it should go without saying, but being nervous or anxious is completely separate to the job you will be doing and does not detract from the content of your interview/presentation or make your argument any less compelling. It simply means you’re nervous. That is it. All other meaning is a story. If those interviewing candidates in academic settings can not see that, then we have a serious problem in our hiring process. It is failing to take into account the work and effort that each candidate has put into their application and their career up until that point and is putting far too much emphasis on irrelevant and, quite frankly, discriminatory factors.
Take it from me, being nervous does not define me or take away from all the years of experience and work I have done up to this point. I am proud of it all and so should you be.
For anyone who has experienced this, I see you, I hear you, and I stand with you.