How to nail an interview (both for a job and a date) according to psychologists

Job interviews and first dates share the same panic-inducing conundrum: How do I convince this stranger that I’m not an incompetent psychopath in under 10 minutes?

Thankfully, likability is a science – one several psychologists have been hacking at for decades. Here are a few words of insight from certified social etiquette mavens.

Impression management

From personal experience, I can confirm that there are zero benefits to being a self-effacing, dim-witted ball of nerves. But despite popular belief, an overt demonstration of aptitude doesn’t do us any favors either. At least according to a recent study published in the Journal Basic and Applied Psychology.

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The study makes a point not to confuse over-confidence with arrogance. Arrogance is a quality universally understood to be off-putting. Confidence in one’s abilities and attributes is a pretty important ingredient to success, but how we express it is also crucial.

The author of the study, psychologist Janina Steinmetz says, presenting our achievements, whether on a first date or a job interview, without explaining exactly how we went about achieving them can leave a bad taste in the receptor’s mouth.

Expounding on the process that led us to success, at once highlights our capabilities and drive, while also opening avenues of relatability. It sends a message of “My success was staffed by my hard work and dedication, not born out of my magnificent God-given talent.”

Steinmetz put together three experiments: Two were mock job interviews and one was a mock date. On the topic of impression management, all respondents agreed to be negatively impacted by an over-eagerness to imply competence.

Charm is all about being human, which Steinmetz points out is not always glamorous. Nevertheless, conveying struggle is sure to win people over, especially as the prelude to declarations of victory.

Body Language and Presentation

A Career Builder survey of hiring managers from 2013 broke down the way colors influence the impressions gathered by potential employers. Black, blue, gray and brown were shown to convey a sense of professionalism and leadership, while light colors like blue advertised an employee that’s a team player. Louder colors like yellow, green and pink insinuate creativity.

Whatever virtue you wish to suggest through your wardrobe, be sure the presentation is on point-no wrinkles, no stains. As stylist Nicole Russo says: “Not knowing how to pull yourself together comes across as incompetent.”

Once you have your attire figured out, you should give some heed to what you wish to get across with your movements and gestures.  Very Well Mind reports that body language accounts for between 50 to 70% of all communication. It’s all about nuance. The piece, medically reviewed by Steven Gans MD,  goes on to state that a trustworthy face is indicated through a slight smile and a subtle raise of an eyebrow.

Most of the physical gestures and their emotional association mentioned in the article are fairly common knowledge, but it still serves as a  helpful reminder to be ever aware of them. In 2018 a career builder report revealed that  67 of the 2,500 employers surveyed cited insufficient eye contact as the predominant reason for not hiring potential employees.

What to say and how to say it

Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic is an author who’s expertise belongs to psychology and leadership strategies. A little while back he wrote a piece instructing young professionals on how to better answer the stock questions employers love so much, namely the dreaded: Tell us some of your weaknesses? 

Eagerness and panic become the devil and slightly more pathetic devil on our shoulders, causing us to spout out rigid lies, or pedantic cheeseball lines like: “My weakness is I’m too punctual.”

Premuzic, emphasizes how important it is – whatever your answer is, lie or truth (preferably truth), to not sound too rehearsed.

Previously connected studies have shown that verbal and non-verbal communication that seems authentic is linked to positive perceptions. Premuzic says, “The more prepared you seem, the less credit they will be able to take for asking the question (which equates to making them feel less competent), and the less truthful your answer will seem.”

To that point, while it is more beneficial to be honest than to tell a bald-faced lie, interviewees shouldn’t be too honest. The primary reason employers hurl the weakness inquiry at us is because they want to observe our ability to convincingly portray self-awareness and false modesty. Pulling this off gives the impression of sanity and stability.

Steer clear of cliches, take pride in the struggles that birthed your success and advertise self-awareness.

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