Come-to-work eyes: Secrets of interview success
ONE thing you can be sure of when you walk into an interview is that you're not there to be tested on what you know. The people sitting in front of you are already aware that when it comes to technical skills and qualifications, you tick all the boxes. What they're dying to find out is what you're like as a person - whether you'll fit in, whether they can trust you, how you're likely to behave at the office party. From now on, it's all about chemistry - or, more accurately, psychology.
So how do you give yourself the best chance of success? The most common piece of advice you'll get is to "be yourself". Forget that, it'll only help if you're the chief executive's cousin. A better strategy is to exploit the psychological shortcuts that interviewers unconsciously use when deciding whether or not they like someone - cues such as eye contact and body language. We all use them when meeting someone for the first time, and research shows that interviewers rely on these more than rational analysis when assessing a candidate.
We're not advocating wholesale deception, just a bit of fine-tuning to help pitch things in your favour...
First impressions count
When we meet someone for the first time, we make our minds up about various aspects of their personality almost instantaneously. We can't help ourselves. Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov at Princeton University found that showing people an unfamiliar face for just one-tenth of a second is long enough for them to form judgements about the person's attractiveness, likeability, trustworthiness, competence and aggressiveness. Having more time to deliberate doesn't change our opinions, it only increases our confidence in them (Psychological Science, vol 17, p 592).
No doubt there are good evolutionary reasons for this, though it's not clear how accurate such snap judgements are. Unfortunately, your interviewer is as likely to jump to quick conclusions as the rest of us. So although it may seem obvious, be sure to walk into that room looking upbeat and friendly.
And it's best to keep it up, at least for half a minute. Tricia Prickett, while at the University of Toledo in Ohio, found that untrained observers who watched a video of the first 20 to 30 seconds of a job interview were astonishingly accurate at predicting whether the applicant would be offered the job. That doesn't mean the observers were especially good at picking good candidates. It means the interviewers, despite being fully trained, still go with their initial gut instinct.
Can we change an interviewer's first impression? That's difficult, but not impossible, says Frank Bernieri, who studies personality perception at Oregon State University in Corvallis. Though it's easier to dislodge a positive impression than a negative one, he says. "Socially undesirable information, such as picking your nose or farting, tends to be weighted more in our assessments. What this means is that good impressions are always at risk of being trashed at any moment."
DO be prepared to turn on the charm right from the start
DON'T pick your nose. Bad first impressions are even harder to dislodge than bogies
Attractive people make more money and go further in their careers because we are all biased towards beauty - unfortunate but true. This was shown by V. Bhaskar at University College London in a study of a Dutch TV show in which the highest-scoring player at the end of a round chooses which competitor to eliminate. He found that the least attractive players were twice as likely to be eliminated, despite scoring no worse than the others.
Attractive people make more money and go further because we're biased towards beauty - unfortunate but true
One reason for this is what's known as the halo effect: people assume that someone who scores highly in one character trait also scores highly in others. Social psychologist Richard Nisbett demonstrated that the thought process behind the halo effect is almost entirely subconscious (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol 35, p 250). Use this to your advantage: most interviewers are mugs just like everyone else when it comes to the subtleties of social psychology.
DO make an effort: dress sharp and make sure you look your best
DON'T be tempted to test out the halo effect using your comic genius
Start with the handshake
Unless you plan on abseiling through the interviewer's window, shaking hands with them is probably the first opportunity you'll get to make an impression. Seize it. But not too hard. Give it a nice firm press, then some up and down movement.
That may sound disquietingly ritualistic, but several studies have found that people unconsciously equate a firm handshake with an extroverted, sociable personality - and that's more likely than a shy disposition to please an interviewer. What's more, a handshake can set the tone for the entire interview because it's one of the first nonverbal clues an applicant gives about their personality, says Greg Stewart at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, who last year tested the theory in mock interviews with 98 students. He found that those who had a firm handshake were more likely to be hired (Journal of Applied Psychology, vol 93, p 1139).
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