Anxiety Patterns in Employment Interviews

By Young, Melissa J.; Behnke, Ralph R. et al. | Communication Reports, Winter 2004 | Go to article overview

Anxiety Patterns in Employment Interviews

Young, Melissa J., Behnke, Ralph R., Mann, Yvonne M., Communication Reports

Research in public speaking arousal patterns can be used as a framework for understanding the anxiety produced in an employment interview setting. Because heightened levels of anxiety are linked to negative behavioral outcomes, identifying specific anxiety producing milestones in the interviewing process is important for successful therapeutic and pedagogical interventions.

By adapting methods used to measure anxiety in public speaking, this study identifies patterns of anxiety produced in employment interviewing settings. Results indicated that unlike public speaking where anxiety is highest immediately before speaking, anxiety in an employment-interviewing context remains stable until the interview is over, when anxiety levels drop. Interestingly, anxiety levels returned to the initial level at the evaluation milestone. The interpersonal nature of interviewing as well as other contextual differences are discussed to explain anxiety pattern differences between public speaking and employment interviewing.


Studies of anxiety and its debilitating effects on human performance are numerous and psychologists have theorized that moderate levels of arousal are ideal (Duffy, 1962). Surprisingly, there are few extant studies of anxiety in employment interviewing contexts, where performance is a critical determinant in hiring decisions and anxiety levels are likely to be high. According to work by Ayers, Kereetaweep, Chen, & Edwards (1998), some key factors in hiring decisions include eye contact, body language, voice level, and projected confidence. Since anxiety levels directly and adversely affect such cues (Freeman, Sawyer, & Behnke, 1997) there is a need to understand and reduce high performance anxiety of job interviewees.

Cox and Schlueter (as cited in Ayers et al. 1998) believe that the most important criteria in a successful employment seeking process are for an interviewee to demonstrate appropriate responses and enthusiasm; both of which are influenced by high levels of anxiety and apprehension. Further, work by Ayers et al. (1998) indicates that anxious individuals are less likely to be hired in both simulated and real situations, possibly because interviewers perceive highly anxious people to be less trustworthy, less task-oriented, and less socially attractive than low anxiety interviewees.

These findings suggest that apprehension and context-specific anxiety have a significant impact on the success or failure of the interview process. This study will examine the pattern of anxiety mean levels before, during, and after a mock employment interview in an undergraduate speech communication course.


Research on public speaking anxiety provides insight into how anxiety develops and is dissipated during and after a communication performance. Sawyer and Behnke (1999) identified a decreasing monotonic function for speaking-induced anxiety based on measurements at four milestones, or significant events in terms of their anxiety provoking potential. The highest level of anxiety was found in the pre-speaking time period (anticipation). Anxiety decreased significantly as presenters began speaking (confrontation), and continued to decrease at the end of the speech (adaptation). The lowest level of anxiety was reported when the speech was over (release).

To further understand the implications of anticipatory anxiety, Behnke and Sawyer (1999) used Spielberger, Gorsuch, and Luschene's (1970) STAI-A-State scale to measure psychological state anxiety levels before speakers began their presentations at three distinct time periods. The first measurement occurred when the speech was first assigned to the participant. The second measurement occurred at a mid-point time of a lab session in which students were preparing their speeches. The third measurement was taken immediately preceding the formal presentation of the speech to the class. …

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