Coping with anxiety in remote job interviews: New research and recommendations

Talya Bauer and Berrin Erdogan of Portland State University’s School of Business collaborated with colleagues on a study titled “Distressed and Distracted by COVID-19 During High-Stakes Virtual Interviews: The Role of Job Interview Anxiety on Performance and Reactions,” published in Journal of Applied Psychology. Inspired by Bauer and Erdogan’s research, we spoke with them about their findings, and asked School of Business professional development specialists DeAnne Preston and Allen Thayer for recommendations to address interview anxiety.

Bauer and Erdogan on virtual interview anxiety research

During the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, many organizations hired new employees by conducting their interviews through recorded video interviews. In these interviews, applicants received their questions without the presence of an actual interviewer. They recorded their answers using the interview platform, and their responses were scored by Artificial Intelligence (AI). This technology is still very new to many applicants, has the potential to be perceived as impersonal, and not giving an opportunity to applicants to display themselves in the most positive light. At the same time, this technology was a lifeline to applicants and businesses who were unwilling to risk their own and public safety by conducting in-person interviews. 

Our research team hypothesized that higher levels of Covid-19 rumination would be related to higher interview anxiety which, in turn, would be related to lower interview performance, lower perceptions of interview fairness, and lower intentions to recommend the organization as a good place to apply for a job. To examine our hypotheses, we gathered data from job applicants between the end of April 2020 and the start of August 2020. In the end, we gathered data from over 8,000 applicants from 373 organizations across 73 different countries.  

Not a lot of research has examined the role that interview anxiety has on actual interview performance, so we saw the opportunity to contribute to this area of knowledge. Given the global pandemic, we also felt it was important to consider how this unique situation was helping or hindering vulnerable populations such as job seekers. 

Working with an organization engaged in virtual online interviews scored by AI presented a unique opportunity to see how job applicants reacted to this relatively new format. What we found was that interview anxiety harms interview performance. We also found that as the pandemic went on for longer and as the number of COVID-19 related deaths in a given job applicant’s area rose, they experienced greater exhaustion. So, those in areas most affected had greater challenges in terms of keeping their rumination and anxiety in check. Many respondents noted sentiments like “The company has been proactive during the pandemic about being able to interview people from home” even though this technology is relatively new 

One consistent feature we see in our work across topics is the idea that whether something is “good” or “bad” is usually nuanced. While some might assume that individuals would find a video interview scored by AI cold and impersonal, during the pandemic, job applicants found that online interviews were attractive. Overall, our findings generally supported our hypotheses.

Preston and Thayer on interview strategies

Prepare thoroughly

As you research the company, think about how the job you’re applying for contributes to the success of the team and the company. Be ready to talk about specific past work experiences that answer a variety of behavioral questions such how you have:

  • handled conflict
  • functioned in team environments
  • solved a problem
  • communicated when a team member wasn’t completing their work
  • handled missing your a deadline 
  • adapted to sudden changes
  • stayed organized 
  • prioritized multiple projects
  • achieved a goal you’re proud of 

Be sure to write your examples down and review them before the interview. You can ask someone to conduct a mock interview based on the job description. Anticipate any possible gaps a recruiter might perceive in your fit for the job so you are prepared to talk about how you will overcome them.

Get comfortable with the technology

It’s not enough just to know how to turn the camera on! Research recommended best practices for video meetings because they will increase the likelihood that you make a connection with the interviewer. Check that your technology is functioning properly an hour or more before the interview including connectivity, audio and video. Be positioned at your computer 15 minutes ahead of time with the job description, your list of questions to ask the employer and your cover letter and resume. Have a glass of water and a notepad nearby in case you need it. 

Once you’re set to go, focus on regulating your emotions. Is there a song that makes you feel calm or energized? Play it as you settle at your desk. Is there a trusted friend or colleague who believes in you? Ask them for a pep talk.

Remember that they hope you are the candidate, too 

Recruiters are competing to attract candidates with advanced education and up-to-date technical skills. Employers are hoping to find you, so take a deep breath, smile and remember all the ways you can be an asset to their team.

If you are a current PSU graduate student looking for more support, check out The School of Business Career Advising and Resources.

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