How attachment styles shape the interview experience: 4 personal stories

Sep 07, 2023

9 mins

How attachment styles shape the interview experience: 4 personal stories
Natalia Barszcz

Freelance journalist and writer

In the moments before an interview, as we wait in reception or for a Zoom call to begin, nerves can take hold. But what if the root of these nerves isn’t just about the impending questions? What if they’re also influenced by our early life experiences and the way we connect with others? This is where the concept of ‘attachment styles’ comes into play.

Together with Dani Tan, a leadership and career coach, we explore the intriguing link between attachment styles and job interviews. By sharing real-life narratives from four women—each embodying a distinct attachment style of secure, anxious, avoidant, or disorganized—we reveal the profound influence of these styles on interview approaches and workplace performance. And for those eager to harness this knowledge, we’ll offer actionable insights on using your unique attachment style as an asset during interviews and in your career.

Secure attachment: Confident, open, and dominating

Considered the only healthy attachment style, secure attachment is the most popular in the US, with 66% of Americans being securely attached. People with this attachment style tend to be confident, social, and expressive. They’re usually in tune with their emotions and they thrive on creating meaningful connections with those around them.

“I’ve always felt good in situations where I have contact with people. I’m extroverted, I like to talk and enjoy public speaking, I can easily have a conversation with anyone,” says Suze, securely-attached project manager at a think-tank. “I surround myself with many people all the time, but when it comes to building meaningful relationships, I’m quite selective and I tend to have very few close relationships.”

Secure attachment in job interviews

Suze admits that her secure attachment has not always been viewed in the best light when it comes to job interviews. “So far, I’ve been turned down from most interviews I’ve had, and it usually has to do with the confidence that shines from me,” she says.

Indeed, the confidence that securely attached individuals demonstrate at a job interview can occasionally be perceived as a negative attribute. “So many recruiters rejected me because I was ‘too confident’ for them or ‘too outspoken,’” Suze shares. “I got feedback that I was perceived as a leader, a person with a strong character, or that I seem feisty.”

According to Tan, this is a very common issue with securely attached people. “They’re confident, open, extroverted … All those things are great but, unfortunately, they can also be perceived as dominating and self-centered by recruiters,” she explains.

So how can securely attached people let their confidence shine without unintentionally making a bad impression during a job interview? “It’s all about bridging that gap between how your strengths align with the company’s strengths. Try to find that happy balance of self-confidence and awareness about the company you’re applying to,” explains Tan. “You should definitely stay true to yourself, and be confident and bubbly—but instead of making the interview one-sided and dominated by your personality, you can show that this confidence of yours leads to curiosity and proactivity, which helps you better understand the organization, its goals, and the mission.”

Another issue securely attached people may face during job interviews is coming across as too relaxed and unprofessional—or, in Suze’s case, too outspoken. “This comes up a lot with my securely-attached clients. I’m really impressed by how natural it is for them to just open up and make everyone their friend. But with their ease to make connections and get involved in a conversation, they might accidentally overshare personal information, go on tangents, ask the recruiter questions that are a bit too personal, ” says Tan.

“In a situation so specific and nerve-racking like a job interview, you don’t want to come off as too personal or invasive. To avoid this, you need to define a set of professional boundaries for yourself,” Tan explains. Try approaching your mentor or a coworker in your current workplace who knows you. “You can give them a few examples of situations you’ve been in and ask for their feedback on whether they think what you’re telling them does or does not cross that professional boundary,” Tan explains. The key here is to do this with someone whose judgment you can trust.

Anxious attachment: Empathetic, proactive, and overachieving

This is the first out of three unhealthy attachment styles and it is rooted in low self-esteem and a profound fear of rejection. Anxiously attached individuals often crave closeness while harboring a deep-seated fear of abandonment. They may exhibit dependency on others and heavily rely on their relationships.

“My anxious attachment style presents itself in my constant overthinking and as little anxieties that I have throughout the day, even about small and mundane things,” reflects Maddy, an anxiously attached content writer working in the public sector. “The older I get, I realize that my attachment style presents itself as the constant need to do things. I rarely relax or do nothing, and when I do, I then feel guilty for not doing something productive or creative. I’ve always had this need to do different things, multitask, change hobbies, learn new things, take different courses, and then change my interest when I feel like I should be doing something else.”

Anxious attachment in job interviews

Maddy openly says that job interviews are usually a lot more stressful for her than she would want them to be. Her anxious attachment style makes her go into autopilot—she masks her anxiety and insecurities and tries to sell herself as much as she can. “I always try to show that I am the best candidate, even if I might not believe in it entirely myself. I think this is why I’ve had a lot of different jobs, internships, and projects going on in the past. I just tend to fight for every job or opportunity that arises.”

“Anxious attachment is very complex,” explains Tan. “This anxiousness Maddy feels before every job interview comes from fear—fear of judgment, fear of failure, fear of not being seen.”

“The need for approval and acceptance that comes with [the] anxious attachment style can sometimes make anxiously attached people feel like they need to put on a show of what they think the interviewer wants or perceives is the best candidate for the role,” Tan continues. However, she advises that the better alternative for people with this attachment style would be to work on reminding themselves that they are qualified, they have experience, they have the skills and the expertise.

Maddy says the biggest fear she has about job interviews is the fear of never doing enough. “I often feel that I’m not as skilled or as passionate as other candidates. I notice that I have this inner fear that the interviewer will see it and will feel the same.”

Tan explains that it’s very common for anxiously attached people to have low self-esteem and feel like they’re not good enough. To remedy this, she recommends reminding yourself of one very important thing: you were invited to this job interview for a reason. “You were chosen for this job interview from a pool of candidates, probably because you do have the skill set and the experience. So instead of going into autopilot and trying to be the candidate you think the interviewer wants you to be, tell yourself, as many times as you need: ‘I am enough and there is nothing more that I need to do to fit this role.’”

Avoidant attachment: Protective, private, and critical

Avoidant attachment is also considered unhealthy and is characterized by a tendency to prioritize independence and reject emotional and physical intimacy. Those with an avoidant attachment style often exude confidence and self-sufficiency but struggle with trusting others.

“I would say that I’m a textbook example of an avoidantly attached person. I struggle with commitment issues, trust issues, social distancing, and reluctance to intimacy,” says Claire, an avoidantly attached lawyer working in-house at an e-commerce company. “I remember how funny and weird reading the description of the avoidant attachment style was the first time I found out about it as I could see myself in every single description.”

Avoidant attachment in job interviews

Claire feels that due to her attachment style, it’s much easier for her to take a pragmatic approach to job interviews. “It’s almost automatic for me to show to an interviewer that I’m not desperate to get the job because deep down I never feel desperate. I tend to have a ‘I don’t need them but I’ll make them need me,’ kind of attitude.”

Claire admits that she also tends to be very critical during job interviews. “I know that I’ll be fine if I don’t get the job because it’s important to me that my workplace appreciates what I do and views me as an asset. Maybe this also comes from this need to protect myself and my well-being at all costs,” she says. “I remember that during my last job interview, I was asking a lot of questions to the recruiter even though I was very ready to change my job. I was working in a toxic and unprofessional law firm and I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t going to a similar environment.”

Claire’s attachment style shows up even before the interview itself during the preparation process. “Every time I go through a recruitment process I never tell anyone about this. No one—not my family, not my partner, not my closest friends.”

“I prefer to prepare for job interviews alone and on my own terms, without anyone knowing and without having to update anyone about the process. If it doesn’t go well, I can choose to not even tell anyone about this,” she explains. “This is the only way I can feel fully at peace and calm when undergoing the interview. And this is how I managed to feel truly prepared and excited for my last successful job interview. No one was asking me about it, no one was putting any pressure on me.”

Tan explains that this is a representation of a combination of the fear of failure and the self-protection mechanism. “Claire might be protecting herself from the fear of being judged and seen as a failure by others. If she doesn’t tell them, she doesn’t have to face and sit with the emotion of disappointment or exposure.”

This approach can have pros and cons. “Because you don’t tell anyone about the interviews and you don’t have to tap into the emotional side of your attachment style, you have much more time and capacity to prepare really well and present yourself as a strong and critical candidate. But it can also be a little lonely, so you can try sharing the information about your next interview with just one person whom you trust and lean into how you feel about it.”

Disorganized attachment: Reserved, reliable, and overwhelmed

The final and most challenging unhealthy attachment style is known as disorganized attachment. Individuals with a disorganized attachment style tend to fear intimacy, exhibit avoidance towards others, and hesitate to form relationships. Their behavior can be inconsistent, and they often struggle with trust issues.

“At the beginning, I wasn’t sure whether I really represent disorganized attachment but the longer I analyzed my behavior, the more signs I started noticing,” says Jenny, a disorganized attached communications specialist working in advertising. “I’m not afraid of intimacy and rather enjoy building relationships with others, including at work, but I’ve noticed that the more I have on my plate, the less organized I am and the worse it is for me to get my act together. I also often compare myself to others, especially when I see that they’re better organized than me and can still show charisma in busy times. I feel this lowers my self-esteem.”

Disorganized attachment in job interviews

Jenny says that her disorganized nature mainly affects how she prepares for job interviews. “I tend to put off things that stress me out and I always catch myself preparing for job interviews very last minute and a bit all over the place,” she explains. “Because of that, I also never feel satisfied with myself or I never feel that I did well. Rather, I always feel that I did badly and repeat to myself that others surely performed better than me—even during job interviews that then turn out to have been successful.”

Tan explains that this behavior is normal for people with disorganized attachment styles. “I see this very often—a person has something big coming up and because the magnitude overwhelms them, they put it off, which then makes them even more overwhelmed. This usually comes from growing up in an environment where the emotions of others were not regulated which made it hard for this person to identify and regulate their own emotions.”

To deal with this, Tan recommends setting goals for things to do. For job interviews, she suggests dividing your preparation process into four steps. You split the workload between four days and work on each step for 30 minutes to an hour:

  1. Update your resume
  2. Prepare to negotiate salary
  3. Research the company
  4. Compile your interview questions

“If you feel like you need to be held accountable, find a buddy. Whether it’s a friend, family member, or colleague,” Tan adds.

Don’t let your attachment style define you

By understanding your attachment style, you can leverage your strengths and navigate potential interview challenges. “Remember, attachment styles are not inherently good or bad—they simply reflect where we fall on a spectrum,” says Tan. Treat your attachment style as a helpful tool to understand your habits and perspectives, but avoid fixating on it or overanalyzing every aspect of your life. You are more than your attachment style, so embrace it as a guide while allowing your unique qualities to shine through in interviews. With this knowledge, you’re well-equipped to make a positive impression and seize exciting opportunities.

Photo: Welcome to the Jungle

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