hiring managers

Memo to jobseekers: Switch to decaf

August 20, 2013: 12:54 PM ET

A new Harris poll says the No. 1 reason people get the jitters in job interviews is that they're nervous about seeming nervous.

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FORTUNE -- Few workplace rituals are more suspenseful than a job interview, but is it really a "dreaded, stressful ordeal"? Yes, says a new report that sums up the results of a survey of 1,002 employed adults by Harris Interactive and Everest College. It seems that 92% of Americans fear at least one thing, and often several, about meeting a prospective employer.

The most widespread worry: Seeming nervous (17%), followed by being overqualified (15%), being stumped by an interviewer's questions (15%), showing up late (14%), being underqualified (11%), and not being prepared (10%).

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The poll turned up a few interesting differences between men and women. The most common fear among men, with 19% choosing it as their top worry, is being seen as overqualified. Women apparently are humbler (not always a good thing, in this context): Their chief fear is seeming nervous, tied at 19% with being unable to answer a specific question.

The more money you make, the less likely you are to be fazed by a job interview, the poll suggests: 22% of those whose household income is less than $50,000 said that they worry about seeming nervous on an interview; 11% of survey respondents with incomes of $100,000 had the same fear. Moreover, among the 8% minority who claim to have absolutely no qualms about job interviews, those with incomes between $75,000 and $100,000 are "more likely not to fear anything than those making between $35,000 and $50,000," the report says.

A related finding: College makes you confident. "22% of the survey participants with a high school diploma or less ranked being too nervous as their top fear, compared with just 11% of college graduates," the report notes.

Age also makes a difference, with people aged 18 to 34 more likely than older employees to say they worry about making a bad first impression -- in some cases, rightly so. John Swartz, West Coast regional director of career services for survey co-sponsor Everest College, says he hears from hiring managers that young job candidates often take phone calls and send or read texts during interviews. This doesn't necessarily make them appear nervous as much as uninterested in the process altogether, Swartz says. "The job interview is still a traditional environment, where the distractions of social media and smartphones are not appropriate."

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How can you conquer the job interview jitters? "Everyone is different under pressure," says Swartz. "But the best way to manage fear is simply to be prepared." Researching the company thoroughly ahead of time, doing your best to anticipate questions, and thinking up some smart questions of your own can help calm you down, he adds.

It might also help to keep in mind that, in a high-stakes situation, a mild case of sweaty palms is perfectly natural and unlikely to count against you. Every hiring manager has, after all, sat on your side of the desk, too.

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