Career advice

Interview skills: what to do when your mind goes blank

How to keep your cool and avoid ‘brain freeze’ during a job interview

How to keep your cool and avoid ‘brain freeze’ during a job interview

Picture shows models recreating a job interview, with a nervous young woman waiting for questions from recruiters
Picture: iStock

Love them or loathe them, interviews are a necessary step to most new career opportunities.

Spotting an advert for a job you’d like can be exciting, but the process of trying for it – from submitting the application to attending the interview – can be stressful and exhausting.

Depending on where you are in your career and personal life, you may find yourself applying for jobs that hold no great emotional pull for you. Yes, it would be nice to be offered the post, but overall you are content where you are.

At other times, however, it can feel as though everything depends on you getting this new job.

Wanting it so much can affect your ability to answer 

When you really want a successful outcome, the pressure to perform well in the interview can be overwhelming. Wanting the job so much can cause your brain to ‘freeze’, affecting your ability to answer even the most basic questions.

Ultimately, the interview panel’s decision is out of your hands. But if the outcome could open or close potentially life-changing doors, how can you ensure you leave knowing you did everything you could have done?

An interview is essentially a sales pitch – it is your chance to sell your skills and experience and shine. When an interview is going well you can get into your flow, engage with the interviewers and generally feel more relaxed.

A good interview can even be enjoyable, but most people usually leave the room thinking ‘if only I’d said this or asked that’.

‘On reflection, she could answer all the questions perfectly’

My partner Sarah recently had an interview for her ‘perfect’ job – it was in a clinical specialty she was passionate about, and the hours were ideal. She had all the required skills and experience. Words cannot describe how much she wanted this post.

She had put in hours of preparation, but when it came to the interview her mind just went blank. On reflection, she could answer all the questions perfectly. But at the time, she froze and the answers she provided didn’t do her, or the role, any justice.

It wasn’t much consolation to Sarah at the time, but this ‘brain freeze’ phenomenon is relatively common, and not just in relation to interviews. It can also affect people in situations such as giving presentations or making acceptance speeches at awards ceremonies.

This is similar to being on a busy shift

A lot has been written about brain freeze, one of the theories being that simple distraction can cause your mind to go blank. It’s not that you suddenly start thinking about what you want for dinner in the middle of an interview, more that you have so many things on your mind and you are trying to remember them all at once.

In some ways this is similar to being on a busy shift: you have so much to do but suddenly your mind goes blank and you have no idea what to do next.

But the difference with interviews is that on top of juggling things in your head, you desperately want to impress. This combination can make people forget everything they have so meticulously prepared - but there are steps you can take to ease the pressure and boost your chances of success.

What you can do to avoid brain freeze

Tips to ensure you perform to the best of your ability in an interview


  • Look at the facts It can be easy when you really want a job to get carried away with what you think it entails, but your interview will revolve around the job description and the qualities listed in the candidate specification, so make sure you read these carefully
  • Watch yourself Ask a friend or colleague to video you during a mock interview. Pay attention to your body language, tone of voice and rate of speech. How can you improve?
  • Be systematic Plan responses to questions using the STAR approach – Situation, Task, Action, Results
  • Stay balanced Getting in touch with your passion and purpose will help show your enthusiasm for the role, but make sure to balance this with objectivity
  • Don’t overload your brain Plan your interview preparation – don’t leave it until the last minute – and try to do something relaxing the night before, such as having a warm bath or reading a book


  • Take your time It is important that you answer the question being asked, not one you want to answer. Don’t rush headlong into an answer – take a sip of water to give you time if necessary and ask the interviewer to repeat the question if you need to. Think of your STAR responses
  • Stay positive Try to stay calm – if you don’t answer one question well, take a deep breath, re-focus and start afresh on the next one
  • Be honest If your mind goes blank, say so. If you can revisit the question later try to do so, but don’t dwell on it if that isn’t possible


  • Get feedback Regardless of the outcome, make sure you get constructive feedback. This will help you identify what you need to work on
  • Move on It’s okay to be upset if you aren’t successful, but don’t beat yourself up. Use reflection and any feedback you receive to help you see what you could do better next time


Mandy Day-Calder is a life/health coach and former nurseMandy Day-Calder is a life/health coach and former nurse

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