Post Interview Anxiety And Post-Event Processing

You just finished an important job interview at a software development company. It was nerve-wracking experience, but you got through it! It’s time to relax and give yourself some well-deserved props.

However, over the next few hours you begin to think back to the job interview.

  • Did you say everything right?
  • Was there anything else you could have added to the specific coding they gave you?
  • Should you have complimented the interview on his tie?

This type of repetitive thinking about a social situation and how it went is called post-event processing. Post-event processing is very common in social anxiety disorder, where we begin to reflect on a social situation and scrutinize every detail where we went wrong.

The tricky thing about post-event processing is that we’re bound to find small flaws in our interactions. Maybe we paused a little too long on a certain question; maybe we could’ve added a second point or validated an interview’s comment; maybe there was some stuttering at the end. Ad infinitum.

The problem with post-event processing is that it magnifies our perceived mistakes and leads to feelings of anxiety and low mood. Moreover, they are generally unhelpful because: 1) the event already happened and we can’t back in time and 2) our ‘mistakes’ were probably not noticed by the other person. Think to your last conversation you had with someone: did you recall them stuttering or saying anything that was sub-optimal? Probably not. We’re often much more focused on ourselves than we are to other people.

Below, I talk about a few evidence-based strategies to reduce post-interview anxiety and get you a well-deserved break.

1. Relaxation strategies to calm post-interview stress

Perhaps the most straightforward approach to reducing post-job interview stress is through relaxation exercises. Relaxation exercises help to reduce the physiological components of stress (e.g., heart-racing, shallow breathing) – this may also help to reduce anxious thoughts and emotions. A few relaxation exercises include diaphragmatic breathing, guided relaxations, and progressive muscle relaxation.

A nice 5 minute relaxation strategy you can use!

2. Mindfulness exercises to let go of anxious thoughts

Mindfulness exercises can be helpful to simply notice our feelings of anxiety and anxious thoughts and then letting them go. Mindfulness works by simply noticing our feelings and thoughts, but being able to sit with them and not engage with these experiences. By attending to these thoughts but not giving them power, we reduce the opportunity for these thoughts to spiral into unhelpful post-event processing. If you’re interested, here’s a post on the difference between relaxation and mindfulness meditation!

3. Reflect on the job interview instead of brooding on them

There are different types of post-event processing and rumination. Some rumination is largely unhelpful – they just repeat the same thing over and over again (e.g., “that was so bad”, “I should have done this”, “I’m not going to get the job”, “oh my gosh”). This is called brooding.

On the other hand, there are certain types of rumination that are more reflective, which focus on areas that we can improve instead of passively focusing on the same negative thought. These types of thinking may be thoughts like “What are aspects of the interview that I could have done better for next time” and “How might I improve my own questions to the company?”. More reflective types of rumination break down the perpetual cycle and allow us to progress forward. In this case, you might jot down some areas to improve for next time. If more rumination comes up, you can simply say “I’ve already thought about what I need and have steps to improve”. If you’re interested, this post on SMART goals can be a great way to learn how develop a feasible plan to support your goals.

4. Distracting yourself with enjoyable activities

Although distracting yourself sounds like a short-term strategy, it can be helpful to reduce the immediate anxious aftermath of a post-job interview. Moreover, distraction techniques are well-established strategies in emotion regulation and dialectical behaviour therapy. Consider doing something you enjoy to avoid sitting and re-thinking the situation over and over again; for example, going for a run, spending time with friends, or taking a relaxing bubble bath.

woman in bath
Using a bubble bath to reduce post-job interview stress!

5. Untangle sticky negative thoughts using thought records

If you notice that there are certain strong or unhelpful thoughts that are still coming to mind in spite of these strategies, then cognitive intervention could be helpful to tackle that specific thought. For instance, the thought record is a cognitive behavioural tool that clinicians will use to evaluate a negative thought to develop a balanced perspective based on facts.

For example, let’s say the thought was “I did so poorly on my interview – I definitely didn’t get the job”.

We will look for evidence for the thought and against the thought.

Evidence for the thought may include: “There was one question that I didn’t know the answer to” and “there were instances where I had to pause to answer the question”.

Evidence against the thought might be: “I generally answered all the questions well and the interviews are smiling throughout”, “the interviewers seemed pleased that I asked questions about the company”, and “even if I don’t get the job, that may not be because of how my interview went. I have other companies that I am going to apply to as well”.

Now, using both sides of the equation, we develop a balanced thought. It might look something like this: “although there are some areas of my interviewing skills that I can improve on, I generally answered the questions well and the interviews seemed please based on their tone and facial expression. Although I might not get the job, that doesn’t mean my interview went poorly and I also have other companies that I can apply to”.

By structuring our thoughts using facts, we come to a more realistic thought, which may have a beneficial impact on our post-job interview stress

I hope this post was helpful in getting you a well-deserved mental break after your job interview!

Best wishes,


Featured Photo Credits: Christina @ on Unsplash