Mastering the Psychology of Job Interviews

Job interviews, like all other human interactions, are influenced by psychological factors. By understanding the psychology behind the dialogue and applying some useful techniques, you can force the interviewer to focus on your strengths, and exert some amount of influence over the outcome.

For instance, even if they try to be objective, every interviewer has biases that affect the way they interpret the information they receive from candidates. By answering questions in a certain way, you might be able to overcome a hiring manager’s unconscious biases and establish a stronger connection, noted Dr. Nicolas Roulin, associate professor of Industrial/Organizational Psychology at Saint Mary’s University and author of “The Psychology of Job Interviews.”

Here are some psychological techniques to help you influence the impression you make on an interviewer.

Harness the Power of Perception Management

You’ve probably heard the expression: “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

That saying is based on the primacy effect, which describes the tendency of interviewers to form expectations of behavior based on the way a candidate looks, dresses, and makes small talk.

Garner immediate receptivity by giving a firm handshake, greeting the interviewer by name, stating your name clearly, smiling during introductions, and dressing like a member of the team.

When you appear nervous or tense, you can trigger a biochemical response in the interviewer that influences his or her impressions of you, explained Dr. John Molidor, professor of Michigan State University College of Human Medicine and author of “Crazy Good Interviewing: How Acting A Little Crazy Can Get You The Job.”

Try to relax by avoiding negative self-talk. It may also help to view the meeting as nothing more than an information exchange.

Build a Bridge

We tend to like people who are similar to us. But how can you find commonality with a virtual stranger who may be a complete opposite?

When answering the inevitable “tell me about yourself” interview question, create an emotional bridge by sharing personal information and highlighting your values, in addition to your technical skills and experience.

For example, explain that you’re good at teamwork and compromising because you had five siblings. And that coming from a large family has helped you become a better developer by teaching you to be self-reliant and taking the initiative to learn new languages.

“If you follow this template, the interviewer is bound to relate to something you say, even if they are older, younger or come from a different cultural or technical background,” Molidor explained.

Use Storytelling

Everyone uses both sides of their brains to process information. Create empathy and strengthen your emotional ties with the interviewer by using storytelling and colorful anecdotes to explain how you’ve leveraged your technical expertise.

For example, recall the challenges you faced during a project, or detail how your work supported the company’s initiatives. That will demonstrate your core values and passions, Roulin suggested. In other words, structure your answer in a way that appeals to both sides of the interviewer’s brain.

Demonstrate Self-Awareness

How should you answer the dreaded “What is your greatest weakness?” Don’t say that you’re a perfectionist or you work too hard; instead, show your more human side.

“Demonstrate a realistic understanding of your strengths and limitations by mentioning an area you’re working on, and specifically what you’re doing to improve,” Molidor said.

Bring Closure

Don’t leave the interviewer hanging. The recency effect states that people are most likely to retain and be influenced by what they last hear or see, so be ready to summarize why you’re the best person for the position.

Mention three traits or skills that make you qualified for the job and how you intend to use them to make a positive contribution. Then, ask about next steps or if there’s anything else you can provide, such as references or code samples. This simple three-plus-one formula is an effective and memorable way to close out a job interview.

“The brain loves closure because it’s comforting,” Molidor said.

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