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So far I have been chatting with a potential employer over email. She will eventually ask to meet in person. The problem is that I am very nervous when around other people and thus I reckon the way she will percieve me in the interview will not be what her expectations initially were. My social anxiety is bad enough that I probably won't be able to look her in the eyes while speaking. How do I manage this interview while dealing with this problem?

(This is an interview for a position as a software developer).


To be clear, the problem maintaining eye-contact was just an example. The point was to make it clear that I simply cannot function around other people. I wanted to know if you have any advice for surviving a job interview when you have social anxiety.

  • Is the interviewer with whom you've been speaking the actual hiring manager or someone from HR? – jcmeloni May 6 '14 at 16:18
  • @jcmeloni She's not the actual hiring manager just someone who wants to interview me. Yes I think she is from HR. – Me myself and I May 6 '14 at 16:21
  • Are you able to force yourself to maintain eye contact? I often have to consciously force myself, because my eyes want to look down naturally. – Garrison Neely May 6 '14 at 16:29
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    I hope you aren't interviewing for an office job if you "simply cannot function around other people". Why not look into remote work where you never have to interview in person? – Garrison Neely May 6 '14 at 18:07
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How do I manage this interview while dealing with this problem?

The key to getting better at anything, or getting past this sort of problem, is practice. You get better at sports by practicing. You get better at typing by practicing. Interviewing is no different - you will get better (and more comfortable) with practice.

Start with a trusted friend or family member. Have her/him take the role of interviewer and ask you interview-type questions. You answer, while remaining calm, maintaining good eye contact, etc. When each session is done, ask your friend how you did, what you didn't do well, and what you could do better. Repeat several times until it starts to feel more natural.

You could then have your friend find someone you don't know to take on the role of interviewer and practice some more. If you are still in contact with your university, often their placement offices can set you up with someone who can help you practice your interview skills and offer interview coaching as well.

Some folks even video-record their practice interview sessions. Playing them back can often be insightful.

To be clear, the problem maintaining eye-contact was just an example. The point was to make it clear that I simply cannot function around other people.

If there are medical issues preventing you from actually functioning around other people, you need to address those first.

It won't make any sense to find some trick that will get you through interviews, only to be unable to function around other people once you are on the job.

If it's just a matter of nervousness or inexperience, you may just need to suck it up and force your way through it until you naturally get better at it over time.

If instead this is a medical or mental health issue - seek professional help first.

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First, social anxiety is treatable. You owe it to yourself to get treatment for it.

In the meantime, you have corresponding with this person through email. Just tell her when she sets up the interview that you have anxiety issues. If you are more at ease after you get to know someone, then tell her that too. Can you talk to a camera? If so maybe set up the first interview over Skype.

If that loses you the job, then that particular workplace won't be a good fit for you anyway if the issues are a bad as you seem to be saying. You need an understanding workplace and the best way to find one is to eliminate all the ones that aren't going to be understnding by telling them you have an issue.

Be prepared to tell her what you are doing to fix the issue though if you bring it up, that is one reason why I told you to go get treatment first.

Of course if you do this it will take you a long time to get a job, but it will take longer if you don't say anything and go to interviews and be unable to talk. At least if you have disclosed and they still want to interview you, then you know they are sympathetic to your problem. That should give you more confidence in the actual interview and you are likely to do better in those interviews than ones where you don't disclose.

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    +1 for the first paragraph. If an issue such as Social Anxiety Disorder is impacting on your ability to lead a normal life, getting proper professional help is the most important step. Although I know from having a close friend in this situation that making an appointment and seeing a therapist is itself extremely stressful for an SAD sufferer. – Carson63000 May 7 '14 at 0:22
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If you are interviewing with an HR person who has actually been trained in HR, this person will understand that anxiety disorders are covered by ADA. Anxiety is such a common issue these days that you may find the interviewer is quite enlightened on the subject.

So I would be honest if I were you. I would say right up front that I have an anxiety disorder that makes it difficult for me to make eye contact (and whatever other symptoms I think are relevant). Then I would make a case for how this will not affect my ability to do the job in question. I would go to the interview prepared with examples of jobs I have performed despite the disorder.

None of this means you will get the job necessarily, but it will make both you and the interviewer less self-conscious about your lack of eye contact. It will be up to the interviewer to decide if he or she thinks that you could do this job with reasonable accommodation and whether you are the most qualified for the job.

Good luck!

  • If not diagnosed, he/she could say I have social anxiety issues. Whether or not it is a diagnosed disorder, the OP has said he/she "simply cannot function around other people." A savvy HR person will recognize that this is likely to require some accommodation. If the OP is trying to make a good job match, he/she needs to find an employer that is understanding. Honesty is the first step. – MJ6 May 7 '14 at 2:32
  • The OP is describing something much more severe than nervousness. Not being able to make eye contact is only one example of behaviors that total to "simply cannot function around people." The OP wants to know how to survive the interview. I say, be honest up front. HR people, who are trained in ADA whether or not it applies in this particular case, should understand how to work with an interviewee that has anxiety issues. A sensitive HR person should make accommodations in the interview process if they are made aware. – MJ6 May 7 '14 at 15:43
  • I don't see anything in the question to suggest that the OP is in America, so just assuming the ADA applies is perhaps wrong. Further, the extended chats with a potential employer sound like the actual manager or supervisor, not an HR professional. I think you've built your answer on assumptions that don't apply. – Kate Gregory Nov 17 '15 at 17:15
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I have a little a social anxiety myself, and I found the best thing to do is, first, get treatment, as others have suggested. If you're already working with someone, alert to them to your concerns. They will probably have resources available or be willing to walk you through it.

Second, remember that social interactions are little like learning to swim. Just let yourself in gently. There may be community centers near by you that will allow you to have practice interviews, and there you can also practice the 'small chat script': firm handshake, "how are you today?","How about this weather/traffic?". 60% of your interactions through this interview process will be along those links. The other 40%, you'll find, is covered in numerous 'common interview questions' articles across the internet. Read them, and work on answering them calmly to yourself, in the mirror. Practice asking questions too, and visualize yourself listening intently. Plan to bring a notebook and be ready to take notes. Practice speaking clearly and looking up instead of down. 4 seconds of eye contact is all you really need. Practice and visualize until you can imagine being in the office space without panicking. Remind yourself that if you can pass this test once, you probably won't have to do it again for awhile.

When you get to the interview, take deep breaths, and imagine you are back in your practice space, practicing! Don't panic if the interviewer is suddenly quiet when you're finished answering a question, just smile contently and wait for them to continue. And remember, the worst thing that could happen would be that you wouldn't get this job. There are other jobs out there. Heck, you might even decide that this particular job isn't for you anyway.

You worked hard to get to this point, and you'll do great at your interview. You know your stuff. Good Luck!

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I think the issue here is the society anxiety. If it's stopping you from going to a job interview then it's quite severe, and it's almost certainly impacting you in other areas of life such where social interaction is important, and so reducing your overall quality of life.

A psychological condition is generally considered severe if interferes with your ability to perform functions generally considered essential to living, such as getting and keeping a job. If the condition is ongoing (six months or longer is one measure for anxiety disorders), then it is also chronic.

If you haven't already done so, speak to your general practitioner about your options. Speaking to a psychologist is something well worth doing.

In the short term, anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications may be of benefit to get you over the "hump" of the interview. Newer medications are effective with less side-effects.

In the long term, changing your behaviour and patterns of thinking, if possible, will be of the greatest benefit and improve both your enjoyment of life and social functioning. The first line of psychological treatment is usually cognitive behaviour therapy, which is commonly delivered in a fixed set of around ten sessions.

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In Asian and Latin American cultures, looking at somebody in the eye is considered bad to extremely bad manners. I usually don't give myself permission to look into someone's eyes unless something ugly and physical is about to happen, and I am in it. In which case, the social niceties are out and total awareness of the situation is mandatory.

http://womeninbusiness.about.com/od/businessetiquette/a/making-eye-contact_2.htm

I usually look at people's foreheads or at their whole heads. The only time I ever looked at people in the eye is when I was studying the martial arts, during fighting practice :)

I moved into New York City at a time when the rents were cheap and human life even cheaper. Situational awareness was mandatory, but the possibility of physical harm from a bunch of unarmed working stiffs in an office setting was not something I worried about. Not unless I was going to the US Post Office, that is :)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Going_postal

I'd say that but for this singular exception, there is absolutely no objective reason why you should be nervous around office people.

Your tenseness may be due to an unspoken presumption that the interview process is adversarial. It's not. The purpose of the interview is for the interviewer to work with you and vice versa to make a determination as to whether your candidacy should move forward. That's all there is to it. The interviewers are unarmed and have no intent to physically harm you and I am more worried about what you could do to them than versa :)

Follow-up comment from @JeffO:

"Can you tell the difference when someone is looking you in the eye and when they're just staring at your forehead? I can't especially from socially acceptable distances"

I am counting on that I can't and so the other person can't either :) Supposedly, in American culture, the claim is that you can tell whether the other person is lying when you look at that other person in the eye. You can see how badly off that bit of folk wisdom can be when you are dealing with people from African, Asian and Latin American subcultures in the US. In addition, Soviet officers on mission abroad were taught to look at you in the eye even as they were spouting the most grotesque whoppers. They are probably teaching that bit of skill to Russian officers today :) And yes, I am naturally shifty-eyed :)

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    There's quite a lot of 'noise' (information not relevant to the issue) in your post. I don't believe that's really in line with the straight-to-the-point no-chit-chat mindset of Stack Exchange. – Dukeling May 6 '14 at 19:23
  • @Dukeling You are entitled to your own opinion. I made two points and I backed them up: (1) the OP is not the only one who doesn't like looking at people in the eye, I certainly don't and I backed my point up; (2) the OP is intimidated by being in groups of people, I told him he has no cause for worry and I backed my point up. – Vietnhi Phuvan May 6 '14 at 19:40
  • Can you tell the difference when someone is looking you in the eye and when they're just staring at your forehead? I can't especially from socially acceptable distances. – user8365 May 7 '14 at 1:12
  • @JeffO I am counting on that I can't and so the other person can't either :) Supposedly, in American culture, the claim is that you can tell whether the other person is lying when you look at that other person in the eye. You can see how badly off that bit of folk wisdom can be when you are dealing with people from African, Asian and Latin American subcultures in the US. In addition, Soviet officers on mission abroad were taught to look at you in the eye even as they were spouting the most groteque whoppers. They are probably teaching that bit of skill to Russian officers today :) – Vietnhi Phuvan May 7 '14 at 1:31
  • I can tell the difference when one of my family members looks at my forehead instead of my eyes and it angers me. – Garrison Neely May 7 '14 at 22:00

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