Avoiding Emotional Triggers during a Job Interview

Avoiding Emotional Triggers during a Job Interview

By Kelly Primacio, Career Development Coordinator 

For many people, looking for work can be a daunting task. For some, it can be inspiring; an opportunity for a new direction in life. Whatever your take or reasons are for seeking employment, there is, to some degree, an element of stress when it comes to the dreaded “I” word. That’s right, THE INTERVIEW. First of all, if you’ve been selected to interview with an employer, kudos! According to articles written by the staff at Glassdoor and LinkedIn, employers spend an average of 6 seconds reviewing a candidate’s resume. A whole 6 seconds! So, if your resume got you an interview, that’s an accomplishment you should be proud of.

Tips to “make a good first impression” at job interviews are ubiquitous online. Know where to go. Know where to park. Know who you’re interviewing with. Dress professionally. Arrive 15 minutes early. That’s all really good advice that you should not ignore, however, there’s more to the interview than logistics. This is where the anxiety lies. Hiring managers and recruiters hold the key to opportunities that may never again present themselves. Their decision to offer you a position is often based solely on how well the interview goes. If that’s not anxiety-inducing, I don’t know what is!

Preparing to answer these kinds of questions appropriately could be the most important thing you do, in terms of beginning your career or landing a “dream job”. These questions are designed to get you thinking critically. They are designed to give the employer a glimpse into your communication style and problem-solving capabilities. And these questions can stir up very personal experiences that become emotional triggers. You have to outsmart these triggers.

It happens. People are susceptible to getting emotional when asked about challenges they’ve overcome and goals they’ve achieved. This is no different in an interview. And while the verdict is still out as to whether or not getting teary-eyed or choked up absolutely kills your shot at being offered the position, we’d like to offer suggestions on how to avoid it all together.

One of the common questions that we ask students during a mock interview is, “Tell us about a time you’ve had to overcome an obstacle.” Life is full of obstacles, so choosing the right one to share during an interview is very important. One of the first things you should do to avoid an emotional response to this question is BE PREPARED for it. Prior to any interview, think long and hard about a personal, social, or professional situation that you can share. Come up with a few instances and analyze them, remembering that the objective of the interview and the purpose of your answers are to showcase how you work through problems.

Whatever example you provide, be it personal, social, or professional, it should:

  • Identify an authentic problem, dilemma, or challenge you’ve dealt with.
  • Show how it affected you, others around you, or your work/environment.
  • Demonstrate how you came up with a solution – through some kind of action, team collaboration, thought process, self-reflection, or a shift in personal attitude.

While we encourage students to share a variety of stories and examples, it’s imperative to understand what makes you emotional. We recommend staying away from sharing very personal family experiences such as death or divorce. Unless you are absolutely certain that you can handle telling the story without tearing up, just avoid it – pull from a different example. 

Again, life is full of obstacles, so think about one you can realistically share that highlights your ability to solve problems. And remember, don’t EVER feel obligated to share personal information with an employer especially if it makes you uncomfortable. 


Friedman, A. (2017, February 16). 6 Seconds is the Average Time Spent Reading a Resume. Retrieved from www.linkedin.com: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/six-seconds-average-time-spent-reading-resume-andrew-j-friedman/

Jackson, A. (2017, August 2). This Is Exactly What Hiring Managers & Recruiters Look For When Scanning Resumes. Retrieved from www.glassdoor.com: https://www.glassdoor.com/blog/scanning-resumes/

Marks, S. (2014, April 16). Should You Leave Your Emotions Out of an Interview? Retrieved from www.recruiter.com: https://www.recruiter.com/i/should-you-leave-your-emotions-out-of-an-interview/


For more information on the resources offered by HPU’s Career Development Center and to contact the staff, go to: www.hpu.edu/cdc