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The Effects of Stress When Interviewing

Evolutionary and psychological understanding reduces interview stress.

Key points

  • Interviewing brings up deep evolutionary psychological factors of belonging and rejection.
  • Positive changes like a job promotion or receiving a new job present stress, known as eustress.
  • Stress does not distinguish between distress or eustress: psychophysiologically, stress is stress.

People are interviewing now more than ever. And if you are a part of a younger generation, you are interviewing for jobs more frequently than any other generation in history.

Today, entry-level jobs are readily available, and workers are starting and leaving jobs at levels never seen before, leading to a constant ebb and flow of interviewing. Twenty-three percent of new hires turnover before completing their first year, often well before the 12-month mark (Ferrazzi, 2015).

But, given the current inflationary environment and interest rate increases by the Federal Reserve combined with stagnating political polarization, virtually all economists are predicting a substantial economic recession. One effect of this will be that entry-level jobs that are so abundant now probably will not be in the near future. Younger generation workers will not be able to change jobs as frequently as they have the last few years.

And keep in mind that 46 percent of new hires are terminated or face disciplinary actions in their jobs before they reach 18 months of employment (Kai Lin, 2022). As a result, finding the right job and learning how to remain in it for a longer period of time (two related but distinctly separate issues) will likely become a necessity.

As a CEO for over 20 years, I’ve interviewed hundreds of people. And I’ve been interviewed many times by board members and community leaders. So, I have considerable experience on both sides of the table. Many articles, books, websites, and tips exist on how to interview more effectively from a technically oriented standpoint. However, I am approaching this topic from a different perspective. I am coming at this from an underlying evolutionary and developmental psychological perspective.

Being interviewed is stressful for all of us. It invokes many evolutionary-driven psychological fears, which can result in stress reactive processes, leading to poor interview performance and even detrimental mental and physical health.

Edmond Dante/Pexels
A successful interview
Source: Edmond Dante/Pexels

Why is interviewing stressful?

Interviews are just stressful. Period. You are putting everything about yourself out there to be exposed. Your career, education, personal life, background, and even your inherent personality traits are scrutinized and evaluated often by committees of people with no more than a resume on which to form quick opinions.

Often interviews can feel like the panel is trying to find reasons not to hire you instead of reasons to hire you! You may even have some professional or personal skeletons from your past that you must address in an interview.

And if you pass the interview and get the job, you then encounter a whole new range of stressful issues with which you must deal. You will have to resign from your current job, possibly relocate your family, leave family and friends, sell your home, find and buy a new home, learn a new neighborhood, and of course, throw yourself into a completely new job scenario.

It is no wonder interviewing causes your stress response system to go into overdrive! For background on stress responses, see my posts: "Beyond Stress and Burnout: What is Psychoneuroimmunology?" and "Fight or Flight is Just One Part of Stress Reactivity."

All of this brings up deep evolutionary and developmental psychological issues, most of which are unconsciously hidden. As humans, we have come a long way in our developmental progression; however, our brains have not evolved rapidly enough to keep up with societal and technological development.

From an evolutionary psychological and biological concept, our brains still operate as if we were on the plains of Africa, avoiding threats and focusing on survival. From that context, a clan is essential–our ancestors could not survive for long without being a part of the safety of a clan. So, joining a new clan is psychologically stressful to our evolutionary brain.

The interview process and subsequent life disruption of a new job are psychologically about leaving current clans and joining new ones, uprooting your evolutionary sense of security. You are leaving your previous clans, not just at work, but if you have to move, your social clans as well, as you have to leave friends, churches, gyms, and communities–basically everything that has provided psychological safety and support, which creates distress.

Of course, finding a new job and perhaps getting a promotion with more responsibility and higher pay can certainly be quite positive. However, it still leads to physiological responses that produce stress: specifically, eustress–or stress resulting from positive stimuli. Stress does not distinguish between distress or eustress: psychophysiologically, stress is stress.

Combining eustress with the distress of leaving your clan, having anxiety about interviewing, possibly having a perceived fear of rejection from the interview, and feeling a loss of control often experienced during interviews, for some, particularly introverts, harboring substantial discomfort of talking about (and selling) yourself to strangers in an interview all compound to produce understandable stress.

In summary

Interviewing is stressful for everyone, ranging from entry-level job seekers to seasoned CEOs. Interviewing affects us at our inner evolutionary psychological being, linking in with our deepest needs for belonging and fears of rejection. In Part 2 of this post, I discuss the four evolutionary and psychological approaches that can help make interviewing a more pleasant experience.


Ferrazzi, K. (2015). Technology can save onboarding. Harvard Business Review.

Kai Lin, S. (2022). Hiring and firing: 10 must know statistics to inform you HR strategy. Workstream.

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