If you do this before answering a question, you will not get the job

We all want to be perceived as credible and sincere, especially during important moments like a big job interview or the first meeting with a potential new client. After all, if it doesn’t seem like you believe what you’re saying, there’s no chance the person on the other side of the table will take anything you have to say seriously.

Books, seminars, and entire courses have been constructed in pursuit of ways to appear believable. Now, however, a new study just released by the American Psychological Association has a new piece of advice on the subject. 

Researchers say one of the simplest ways to come across as confident and credible is to always answer questions quickly. 

A series of 14 experiments conducted for this research all came to the same conclusion. Whenever a person paused, even for just a few seconds, before answering a question their response was perceived as much less sincere and believable. Notably, the longer it took for a person to respond, the less credible their answer appeared.

“Evaluating other people’s sincerity is a ubiquitous and important part of social interactions,” says lead author Ignazio Ziano, Ph.D., of Grenoble Ecole de Management. “Our research shows that response speed is an important cue on which people base their sincerity inferences.”

The questions posed to study participants fluctuated greatly in terms of subject matter and seriousness. For example, while one question was about favorite pieces of cake, another inquired about any past crimes committed. Across the board, when participants paused before answering their responses were considered less sincere and possibly untrue altogether.

Many will probably read these results and wonder what happened to thoughtfulness or introspection? Taking a moment to collect one’s thoughts certainly doesn’t guarantee anything deceptive is going on. But, as they say, perception is often much more important than reality. 

Over 7,500 people took part in this study, hailing from the United States, United Kingdom, and France. Each person was provided with either an audio clip, video, or printed transcript of a person answering a question. In some of those scenarios, the person took anywhere from one to 10 seconds to answer, other times the individual would respond immediately.

After viewing, reading, or hearing the conversation, each participant rated the sincerity of the answer.

“Whenever people are interacting, they are judging each other’s sincerity. These results can be applied to a wide range of interactions, going from workplace chit-chat to couples and friends bickering,” Ziano comments. “Further, in job interviews and in court hearings and trials, people are often tasked with judgments of sincerity. Here, too, response speed could play a part.”

Ziano even went on to cite one of the classic mistakes people make while searching for a new job; exaggerating their skills or accomplishments on a resume. Imagine Ann and Barb are interviewing for the same job, and both have Javascript listed on their resumes under “skills.” Well, when the interviewer asks Barb if she is really highly skilled with Javascript it takes her three seconds to respond “yes.” Ann, on the other hand, answers “yes” immediately.

“Our results suggest that in this situation, the hiring manager is more likely to believe Ann than Barb, and therefore more likely to hire Ann,” Ziano explains. “In general, whenever there is a response that requires an answer, such as in a job interview, delayed responses can be perceived as less sincere.”

Study authors did make a point to mention that a few scenarios helped people see past delayed responses while determining sincerity. One of those being if the answer is considered “socially undesirable.” For instance, if your friend asks you if they’re a bad cook, and you take a few seconds before answering “yeah, you could use some practice in the kitchen,” chances are your friend isn’t going to think you’re lying. 

“Nevertheless, our research shows that, on the whole, a fast response seems to be perceived as more sincere, while a response that is delayed for even a couple of seconds may be considered a slow lie,” Ziano concludes.

So, these findings may be worth keeping in mind the next time you’re looking to make a great first impression or convince someone of something. A few seconds may be all that’s separating success and failure.

This research was a joint effort between scientists from James Cook University and Grenoble Ecole de Management. 

The full study can be found here, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.