Social anxiety and the job interview
People often wonder how much self-disclosure is appropriate for job interviews. Would it be better to come right out and be honest about their struggles and weaknesses? Or is it more appropriate to avoid saying anything that could negatively affect their chances of finding employment?
These considerations may be particularly important for people with social anxiety. They may fear that their inexplicable behaviours or anxiety when interacting with others may come out in the interview or in their job. Consequently, they wonder if it would be better to disclose their shyness to circumvent these awkward encounters.
Should I let the interview know about my social anxiety?
The simple answer is no.
Personal disclosure of social anxiety during a job interview can lead to an awkward and uncomfortable environment. Moreover, if done inappropriately, it can lead to the interview evaluating you as a considerably weaker candidate even if you are actually exceptional in your field.
The more nuanced answer is that you can certainly disclose your social anxiety in an appropriate manner (or even see benefits in doing so) in a job interview. There are considerations and methods of reframing that I will discuss prior to making a decision for disclosure.
Social anxiety or introversion
One question that is important to consider is whether you are truly socially anxious or if you are simply introverted.
Social anxiety is marked by a fear of negative evaluation – you are constantly worried about what other people are thinking about you. “He seems so boring”, “she is dumb”, “they look weird”.
On the other hand, introversion is a personality trait in which a person values significant time alone and social interactions deplete energy (an extrovert typically gains energy from social interactions). Introverts tend to be more reserved, but they may not necessarily be socially anxious.
In both cases, however, you can still be a fantastic conversationalist. People who are introverted or socially anxious may be particularly attentive to social cues and others’ needs, which is a strength. These traits are only a problem when they begin to interfere with your functioning or cause you significant distress.
Reframing social anxiety into an area for improvement
Although stating outright that you have social anxiety is probably not ideal, you can reframe social anxiety as an area for improvement if your employer asks about weaknesses.
For example, you might say: “I care a lot about being a good coworker and employee. Because of that, I can sometimes be a little nervous when interacting with others and to make sure that their needs are met. I am working towards becoming more confident in my speech and my interactions”.
In this way, you may be seen as being personable due to your sharing of a sensitive topic in an employer appropriate manner that makes your anxiety a strength rather than a key weakness. Moreover, this reframing shows insight into areas of improvement which you are actively working to improve.
Tackling social anxiety during the interview
Some people may be worried that their social anxiety may negatively impact their interview. They may be worried about tripping up their answers or that their interviewer will see how nervous they are.
Most people tend to be much more focused on themselves than others; we may think we are stuttering a lot or sweating but the truth is that it is probably scarier in imagination than reality. The other person is unlikely to notice these personal experiences.
As anxious as you may be, we as humans have the amazing capacity to act in spite of how we feel. Do your best to be pleasant (smile, make eye contact, firm handshake) and show genuine interest in the other person and the job. By showing interest in the other person and the job, this can relieve anxiety by listening to them more than speaking yourself.
Address the questions as best you can. If you need a moment to reflect, simply say “that is a very interesting question – let me take a moment to carefully consider it”. If you notice your mind starting to veer towards anxiety, take note of it mindfully and consciously stop yourself to take a mental breath before continuing.
Continue working on your social anxiety
Beyond the interview stage, it may be important to continue working on your social anxiety if it is indeed causing you distress or problems in your daily life.
If your application is successful, the job itself can be a great way to continue working on your social anxiety. In your interactions with other employees and customers, you may test beliefs such as “other people won’t be happy to see me” or “I will do a terrible job and customer’s will be angry at me”.
If you are interested in learning specific strategies, here’s a post on a few evidence-based tools for social anxiety!
I would recommend not disclosing in a job interview that you suffer from social anxiety. Rather, I would approach this from an area of strength and improvement.
Although it can be very tough, try your best to be friendly and polite to the interview and get them to speak freely about the job and themselves. That will take pressure off you to feel compelled to continue speaking and make the other person enjoy the interview experience. It’s a win-win because you feel less pressured, and they may see you more favorably.
I hope this post was helpful to you! Please consider subscribing to the mailing list for more evidence-based information on mental health!
Reframing social anxiety in this way in a job interview is such a great idea!
As my anxiety impacted on my time at university I have mentioned it in an interview but never at length and I’ve certainly never reframed it in this way. Thanks for sharing this.
I’m glad this post was helpful to you Charlotte! Thanks for reading 🙂
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