Using REBT to Overcome College Students’ Interview Anxiety

By Sarah Schmidt and Marion Cavallaro

Interviewing is a nerve-wracking experience for most people, especially for college students. They are usually unfamiliar with the process and overly anxious about meeting the interviewer and answering their questions. If it is too difficult for them to overcome these anxieties on their own, they may seek help from career counselors. While counselors frequently assist these students with concrete issues such as how to make an impression, the types of questions asked, and what to wear, they often do not delve into the thoughts and feelings behind the anxiety. If these feelings are not addressed, the students' anxieties may not subside and may continue into all of their interviews as well. For this reason it would be useful for career counselors to utilize the ABC method of Albert Ellis' Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) to help students overcome their anxious thoughts and feelings and learn methods of coping with anxiety. REBT can be easily taught to and utilized by college students because it is a step-by-step process that is simple to follow. The following case study illustrates the use of REBT with a college student seeking help for interview anxiety.


A Case Study

"Jane" is a graduating college senior pursuing a bachelor's degree in accounting. She is from a middle-class family where her mother is a successful nurse and her father is a self-employed chiropractor. She appears overly nervous and fidgety. Jane has sought career counseling because of an upcoming interview with an accounting company where she would like to work. She explains that she is terrified of interviewing and very awkward with new people. She is extremely afraid of how the employer is going to perceive her during the interview. She wants to make a good impression so that she can be successful in obtaining the position. Jane wants a job not only for herself, but also to please her parents because of the expectations that she perceives they have for her. She has been nervous about the interview since she found out she had been selected for it. Jane is afraid of hurting all her chances of getting a job, not just with this employer, but even with other companies and employers.


REBT is an applicable process to use with Jane because she is cognizant of some of her anxious feelings and underlying irrational beliefs about the interviewing situation. Using the ABC's of REBT, it is easy to visualize the steps to help Jane overcome her anxiety.

1). "A" - Identify the Activating Event. Help Jane summarize the situation causing her anxiety (the interview with the accounting firm).

2). "B's & IB's" - Identify the Irrational Beliefs and "Musts," usually in the form of demands, negative self-ratings, low frustration tolerance and/or awfulizing the situation. Jane feels as if she must get the job at this desired company or she won't get any job at all and that she must be great at everything she does. She thinks it will be terrible if she does not get this job.

3). "C" - Identify Consequences of holding the IB's. Point out Jane's unhealthy negative emotions (anxiety and embarrassment) and self-defeating behaviors (avoiding the interview).

4). "D" - Dispute the IB's by asking if the beliefs are logical and helpful or irrational and self-defeating. Help Jane to see that she will have other interviews with other companies; it will not be completely terrible if she does not obtain this position. She should feel proud of herself for her achievement so far.

5). "B's & RB's" - Identify new Rational Beliefs based on non-demands, realistic evaluations and high frustration tolerance. She would like to obtain this position, but there will be other interviews if she does not. It would be unfortunate if she did not make a good impression, but there will be other chances.

6). "E" - Adopt a New Effect. Help Jane to feel new healthy emotions and thoughts about the interview, such as concern for the interview instead of dread, and annoyance and disappointment if she doesn't do well instead of imagining catastrophic, long-ranging consequences.

Therapeutic Process

In working with Jane the counselor would teach her the above listed step-by-step process and give her homework assignments to practice the new thinking process. Since REBT follows a multimodal, practical approach, the counselor would also teach Jane relaxation strategies such as deep breathing, muscle relaxation, and meditation to utilize before, during and after the interview (Bourne, 2005; Davis, Robins-Eschelman, & McKay, 2008). Jane could also practice rational emotive imagery to help visualize herself overcoming anxiety during interviews. Finally, the very useful tools of role-playing the interview and using bibliotherapy to learn more about the interviewing situation would help Jane become mentally prepared for the actual interview.


REBT is a technique that could be successfully employed to help graduating college students overcome their interview anxieties and fears. While helping the students to overcome their interview anxieties, REBT may also help them to overcome their irrational beliefs about themselves and fears or anxieties they may have in other areas of their lives. "Fortunately, you create much of your serious, unhealthy anxiety and even more fortunately, you have the power to remove or decrease it." (Ellis, 1998, p. 23)


Bourne, E. (2005). Anxiety and phobia workbook (4th ed.). Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.

Davis, M., Robbins-Eschelman, E., & McKay, M. (2008). The relaxation and stress reduction workbook (6th ed.). Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.

Ellis, A. (1998). How to control your anxiety before it controls you. New York, NY: Citadel Press.

Sarah Schmidt graduated Cum Laude from The College of New Jersey (TCNJ ), , with her Bachelor's Degree in Clinical/Counseling and Developmental Psychology. She is a graduate student currently in her final year of study at TCNJ in the Master's Degree program in Counselor Education. In addition, she works full time and is the counseling intern with the Office of Career Services at TCNJ. She can be reached at Schmidt6@tcnj.edu.

Marion Cavallaro, Ph.D., LPC, a full time faculty member in the Department of Counselor Education at The College of New Jersey, teaches the career counseling course and provides personal and career counseling at the TCNJ Counseling Clinic. She received her Ph.D. and M.A. in Counseling Psychology from the Ohio State University and her B.A. from the University of Delaware. She can be reached at Cavallar@tcnj.edu.

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