Scared about securing your next job interview? Laurie Clarke is here to help
Who can forget this infamous scene from Trainspotting where a rambling and intoxicated Spud deliberately sabotages his interview for a job in the “leisure industry” so he can stay on the dole? The scene is comical because it violates the social norms inherent in the interview process, undermining the stereotypical relationship between interviewer and interviewee.
Job interviews are such serious affairs, haven’t we all at some point longed to break the tension by addressing our interviewer as “the dude in the chair”? However, unlike Spud, most of us would actually like to be given the job and so must remain calm, coherent and, regrettably, sober. Yet this alone will probably not be enough to earn you the position, so can scientific research in this area provide any useful interview tips?
I’m sure you’ve heard the often repeated wisdom that interviewers make their decisions within four minutes of meeting a candidate. Although this finding was demonstrated in a 1958 study, the sample was small and the methodology not very sensitive. In a more recent study with a larger sample, it was shown that this was the case for only 25% of interviews. This statistic may be linked to the effect of the infamous “make or break” interview handshake. Although this is often cited as a highly influential factor, studies have shown that it actually has only a small effect on interviewer decisions.
Nonetheless, it has been found that your handshake can actually convey some valuable information about you, namely how extraverted you are – a variable that has been linked to success in interviews. So introverts, put some muscle into it. Grip intensity may not be the best way of communicating the strength of your passion for accounting records but simultaneously a limp and half-hearted effort may convey reticence.
When it comes to duration, don’t create the impression of unfriendliness by wrenching away your hand too early. You don’t want to make your interviewer feel like a spurned suitor. Adjectives that could be used to describe an ideal interviewee also apply to the perfect handshake: firm, steady and emotionally stable.
What about during the interview itself? Research has shown that candidates can use “impression management” techniques to bolster interview ratings. These techniques include ingratiation and self-promotion. Ingratiation describes the use of flattery such as profusely admiring the company or interviewer. On the other hand, self-promotion describes drawing the interviewer’s attention to your attractive qualities in order to increase the perception of competency – a slightly nauseating example being “people look to me for leadership”.
One study indicated that self-promotion was more effective than ingratiation, but a combination of both these techniques was best. Confusingly, another indicated that self-promotion was not an effective technique. This may be because different tactics work better on different interviewers. Some may find attempts at ingratiation disingenuous and shameless self-promotion a turn off – this isn’t America after all. Another study indicated that if you find yourself explaining a past failure it is better to take ownership of it rather than trying to pass blame. For example, admitting that a poor exam result may indeed have been due to a lack of revision.
The similarity effect
Interviewers often show a preferential bias towards candidates they recognise as similar to themselves. So if possible, do some background research on your interviewer; who knows how well a reference to your shared love of water sports might go down?
Interestingly, the similarity effect can be taken one step further into the realm of “mirroring”. This describes the unconscious imitation of non-verbal behaviour like posture and facial expressions in an interaction between people who like each other. It has been shown that cheating the system by consciously mimicking your interlocutor can increase their ratings of how much they like you. So, if you can manage to keep a straight face, this technique may be worth a try. However, it’s probably safer to concentrate on constructing coherent answers to the interviewer’s questions than worrying about reproducing their odd hand gestures.
The uniqueness effect
We’ve all heard the exhortation to “stand out from the crowd” so I’m sure you’ll be happy to know that this advice has been endorsed by a study showing that a unique answer to the notoriously tricky, “What are your weaknesses?” led to better interview ratings. In the study, participants read three transcripts with answers containing variations of “I’m impatient” and one that read a variation of “I’m a perfectionist” (or vice versa). The one with the unique answer was disproportionately preferred for the job over the other three candidates. This supports the idea that how memorable you are may play a big part in interview ratings.
So forget the clichés and start crafting those left field responses: “Some find my intellectual prowess intimidating”, “I’m slightly too organised”, or -in Spud’s case- “I have a wee problem with heroin abuse…”
Featured image credit: Kaz