Professor develops strategies for those with social anxiety to improve interview skills

Sunday, February 12, 2017 - 3:32pm

.

Design by Katie Beukema

 

Whether you are applying for your first summer job or a high-stakes professional career, job interviews are often the most frightful part of the entire hiring process. LSA senior Krysten Dorfman is one of countless job-seekers who has felt this nervousness when seeking employment opportunities.

“You’re coming in and talking to someone who’s a stranger and you don’t know who they are, they don’t know who you are,” Dorfman said. “I feel like there’s a lot of pressure to present yourself really well, really quickly and really efficiently.”

For those suffering from social anxiety, however, job interviews are more than just a brief bout of stomach-churning nerves — they are excessive triggers of fear and self-consciousness and can often lead to a total avoidance of crucial interviews. 

Joseph Himle, professor of social work and psychology, researches mental health and social anxiety and, specifically, how social ability functions in today’s workforce and economy. According to a recent article published by University of Michigan Research, Himle’s research led him to a project in Detroit, where he helped unemployed adults who experience social anxiety both manage their symptoms and find resources for employment.

What Himle has found, however, is that the effects of social anxiety usually become relevant before the job interviews themselves, and remain present long after employment begins.

“It interferes with asking for job leads, certainly can interfere with going to an interview, or how you do an interview, but it can also cause you problems once you get to work,” Himle said in an interview with the Daily. “It can cause you problems when you talk to your supervisors or co-workers, and sometimes you don’t build relationships or your supervisor doesn’t know what you’re doing well and what you’re not doing so well.”

LSA senior Victoria Rai is a member of Alpha Kappa Psi professional business fraternity, where she assists in interviewing incoming pledge members and providing feedback on their interviews. When one of her family members, who experiences several symptoms of social anxiety, was preparing for an interview, Rai said she was able to use her experience from Alpha Kappa Psi as well as her knowledge of social anxiety to give him successful interviewing strategies.

“What I told him was really just pretend like he’s talking to a family member or someone he knows pretty welI,” Rai said. “I just went over with him some topics that he’s comfortable talking about and then I just asked him a few questions to see if he was prepared for answering typical interview questions, so I think that practice really helps with people who might have a little more social anxiety.”

These are the same methods Himle is using to assist those with social anxiety who are seeking employment. As stated in the research article, he worked with the Jewish Vocational Services in Detroit to find 58 residents of southeast Michigan, both unemployed and facing social anxiety, to participate in his study.

Half of these participants were taught small strategies in order to prepare for job interviews, while the other half learned these skills in addition to cognitive behavioral therapy to help them manage social anxiety symptoms.

By the time they had completed treatment, the group who received both services and therapy saw large improvements in dealing with the effects of social anxiety, as well as in expanding the confidence needed to succeed when seeking employment.

“When we did the first project we found that people improved in their social anxiety, they improved in their general anxiety, they improved in their depression,” Himle said. “Also they went on more job interviews and had more confidence about finding a job.”

The National Institute of Mental Health, which funded this study, has also begun to fund a second study that will broaden the pool to 300 participants in Detroit and Los Angeles. With this new project, the follow-up period with participants will be longer, helping researchers to analyze the long-term effects of those who take extra classes at the Jewish Vocational Services Center.

“Our prediction is that the people who get the extra classes will do better in finding and maintaining employment.” Himle said.