Picture it now: You’ve spent the last week intensely preparing for your job interview, you are confident and mentally ready for anything the interviewer may throw at you. You walk into the room when suddenly, to your horror, your mind has gone completely blank when asked the first question.
Why do our minds suddenly go blank?
We’re only human and whether it be during an exam, presentation or, indeed a job interview, we have all experienced this to some extent. What matters is how we deal with the situation. We must first understand a little more about why this happens in the first place, and what’s going on in your brain when your mind appears to, out of nowhere, go completely blank at crucial moments.
Studies show when we become stressed, “…the brain tends to shut off the cortical networks involved in creativity, contemplation, planning and thinking abstractly.” What does this mean? Instead of concentrating on the task at hand, the brain goes into ‘fight or flight mode’. This is a physiological reaction to the presence of something or a situation that the brain perceives as terrifying, either physically or mentally.
‘Mind-blanking’ is defined by a lack of conscious awareness. For instance, an interviewer may ask you a simple question – one that you have rehearsed the answer multiple times before and can fully articulate the right response – and your mind can go ‘blank’.
Preparation for a job interview and actually being in one are two very different scenarios. Similar to sitting an exam and revising for one, during revision or preparation, you’re naturally more relaxed, allowing for a logical and rational thinking process, often referred to as ‘cold cognition’, to take place.
When relaxed, the brain produces fewer stress hormones, and the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex of the brain works normally. In more stressful scenarios, such as exams, job interviews and presentations, the brain begins to release more stress hormones, subsequently triggering a period of ‘hot cognition’. These hormones make it harder for regions of the brain to communicate – and, suddenly, your mind can go completely.
As mentioned earlier, no one is exempt from brain freeze, so here are some simple tips that could help you deal with your mind going blank in a job interview – as well as ways to prevent it from happening in the future.
Four things to remember if your mind goes blank in a job interview
- Stay calm and don’t panic. This is vital. It’s key to know that the sense of impending disaster filling your mind isn’t everything you fear it is. Staying calm will allow your mind to re-enter back its state of cold cognition, allowing you to think more rationally.
- Take a deep breath. As well as giving you a moment to collect yourself, a deep breath sends a message to your brain to calm down and relax. In a job interview – your brain has reacted to a scenario it perceives as hostile. By taking a deep breath, you are calmly sending your brain a message that, on this occasion, it is mistaken.
- Be honest, let your interviewer know that your mind has gone blank. This shows honesty and humility while providing the opportunity to move on. It may also help you to relax from the sudden fight or flight response and give you time to have the question repeated.
- Or, repeat the question back to the interviewer. By repeating the question back to the interviewer, you have given yourself a moment to collect your thoughts and listen to the question again from a familiar voice. This method can also confirm to the interviewer that you have correctly heard their question.
Each of these steps are designed to give you that vital extra time you need to collect and process your thoughts. Following these steps will help clear your mind and very soon, and you’ll be back to answering the interviewer’s questions articulately and without hesitation.
How to avoid your mind going blank in your next job interview
We’ve covered what to do if your mind suddenly goes blank in the middle of a job interview. But what can you do to prevent it from happening in the first place?
- Relax as much as you can during the job interview. When relaxed, you’re in a state of ‘cold cognition’, thinking logically and rationally and in the best position possible mind frame to do the best in your interview.
- Avoid preparation overkill – memorising your answers to common interview questions can make your answers sound scripted. You are also more likely to forget the crucial details. Over-preparing for a job interview can also give you the false impression that there is only one right answer, which will stress you out even more if you start to forget details.
- Pay attention to the interviewer and listen to the question being asked. Stop worrying about every detail, and, instead, actively listen to what is being asked of you.
- Take notes whilst the question is being asked. You can note the key parts of the question and therefore align your answer with these to give the most relevant answer. It’s also fine to refer to any notes you’ve brought with you, which you may have put together whilst preparing for the interview.
- Don’t worry about filling the gaps, they are normal in any conversation, regardless of the situation, so do not panic if they arrive. Instead, take the time to reflect on your answer.
- Gestures are welcomed if they help you to retrieve key information. A study, published by the University of Illinois, found that participants who were allowed to use hand gestures while recalling information performed far better than those whose gestures were restricted.
We’ve all experienced our minds going completely blank before – and at the most inconvenient times – such as job interviews. When it does happen – it’s important to remember that this isn’t as disastrous as you think. Any momentary mind blanks shouldn’t affect your whole interview, as long as you keep calm and do not panic. What’s more, you can even reduce the chances of them happening in the first place by following the tips in this blog.
If you’re considering your next step, get in contact with one of our expert recruitment consultants for a confidential chat about the career options available to you. Alternatively, check out our latest career advice.
About this author
Orlagh Reynolds is a Senior Business Director leading a team of Hays recruiting specialists across Office Support, Accountancy & Finance, Senior Finance HR and Procurement and Supply Chain. Orlagh has over 16 years’ experience in the recruitment industry, in both Ireland and Australia, and is based in our Dublin office.