Mind Blanking – why it happens, and how to manage it

Sam Wheeler

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​Mind Blanking – why it happens, and how to manage it

We’ve all been there.

Someone asks you a question, even a fairly innocent one which requires little contemplation… And your mind just ups and leaves.

Mind blank.

It can happen any time, but most of us will agree that it’s one of life’s many mysteries, bound to happen at the most inopportune moment. Having a ‘mind blank’ – as in, knowing you have the correct information somewhere but being unable to access it at present – is something many of us experience during, of course, a job interview – and it’s incredibly frustrating.

Let’s try to understand the science behind mind blanking occurs, in order to try and overcome them in time:

Why do they happen?

There’s science behind those blank moments of searching.

Like many innate reactions we humans experience day-to-day, the ‘mind blank’ is actually one of the age-old fight-or-flight mechanisms we developed to survive; based on feelings of anxiety, the brain attempts to shield itself from the situation it’s currently facing, in order to mitigate the stress said situation is inducing.

A lot, isn’t it. Melodramatic when put into the context of a job interview? Sure. But it makes sense; the brain feels under pressure, the human can’t perform, and so our brain moves to protect us from that fear. Almost entirely unhelpful in this context, but interesting nonetheless.

So, mind-blanking is indiscriminate and can hit any of us at any moment. When we do research and prep before an interview, our brain is at ease, hence how we’re able to learn.

When sat opposite your potential next employer, all that goes out of the window.

Whether you know the answer or don’t, you’re as likely to experience this – so the key is to be prepared when it happens:

Take a big, deep breath.

Simply put, you’re experiencing a mind blank due to nerves.

Buy yourself a little bit of time – take a deep breath, settle yourself and give your brain what it needs. The answer is in there, you just can’t access it right this second – but trust me, oxygen will help.

Repeat the question.

Going over what you already know not only gives yourself time to think, but reiterates to your interviewer that you understand XYZ – or, at the very least, presents an opportunity to deal with any confusion in the meantime. Repeating the question is a great way to nudge your mind into motion, as is summarising key points so far – talking about what you do know will help you find the info you need.

Admit that your mind has gone blank!

There’s no shame in it – and, as a recruiter of candidates junior, senior and everything in between – I can tell you for nothing that it happens to all of us, at any level of our career. It happens during interviews, important phone calls, at the key moment of a presentation; so make light of the situation. Trying not to “umm” and “err”, admit that your mind has pulled a blank and let you down; it won’t take long for it to catch up and get on board, so being honest and open in the situation breeds understanding amongst two
people who have both likely been through the same thing.

It isn’t a big deal. And it certainly doesn’t signify the end of your chances at success.

Your interviewer will be no exception – having a mind blank is completely normal, albeit inconvenient and nerve-wracking. Interviewing is a skill, one we’re proud to help individuals of all levels improve and develop. Job seeking is a tough game – so, if any of the above rings true, especially given the current circumstances, we’re happy to talk interview tips and technique here at Certus. Get in touch today.