A job interview is a time in your life when the perception that others have of you can make a big difference. Whether or not you get an offer often relies on making a strong and memorable impression on those who are evaluating your performance.
Understanding the psychology of job interviews is twofold. First, it includes preparing yourself mentally for the big day. Second, it requires knowing what kinds of cues interviewers are looking for, including those they may not even be aware of.
This page will provide you with an overview of the psychology of the interview, both in terms of how to best prepare beforehand and things to be aware of during the interview itself.
Before the Interview…
Strike a Power Pose
Research has shown that your body language and psychological state are linked. For example, people that are feeling insecure tend to hold their bodies in ways that make them appear smaller. Slumped shoulders, arms close to the side or folded towards the center of the body, and even putting your hands in your pockets are all examples of postures that embody feelings of insecurity.
It is important to understand, however, that the relationship between mood and body position goes the other way as well. That is, by being intentional about striking a more powerful pose, your body will actually respond by producing more of the hormones associated with an empowered state of mind.
Not only does striking a power pose give you an opportunity to practice feeling confident, it also helps you project that to others who will then pick up on the subtle cues that come along with feeling sure about yourself. Of course, you don’t strike a power pose during the interview itself. Try it while checking your outfit in the mirror before you leave home, or in the restroom just prior to your interview.
Preparation and practice are excellent ways to mentally prepare yourself for the context of the interview. Ask some friends or family to put together some questions for a mock interview. Do everything as you would for a real interview, including wearing your interview attire and introducing yourself to each person as if you are meeting them for the first time.
Although getting constructive criticism on your performance is an important way that mock interviews can prepare you for the real deal, make sure each of the participants understand that you are also looking for feedback on all of the things you are doing right. This will help you have confidence in your ability to put your best foot forward under pressure.
Take some time each day in the week leading up to your interview to close your eyes and take 15-20 minutes to imagine yourself performing well. Start by visualizing your introductions: a firm handshake, a smile, you’re a little nervous but you can tell you are being well received.
Then imagine yourself sitting in the job interview itself. You are answering the questions confidently, you feel relaxed but alert, and you are impressing the interviewer. If you notice yourself having negative thoughts about your performance, simply redirect your thoughts to positive ones.
The power of positive visualization lies in your mind and body’s ability to come to associate certain cues with specific psychological states. By mentally practicing your interview while also staying relaxed and confident, you are helping to “program” your mind and body to respond to the actual interview with those feelings.
Put the Last Interview Behind You
Finally, one of the most critical aspects of your own psychology going into an interview is to fully let go of past experiences when you interviewed but did not get the job. Remember that most people have to go on several interviews before they get their next job. It’s okay and normal to be disappointed about that, but then you need to move on and orient yourself in a positive and hopeful direction for your next interview.
Remind yourself that each interview is an opportunity to learn and improve. Focus on what you did right at the last interview and build on that. And, remember that sometimes hiring decisions are made based on factors that are completely out of your control. All you can do is put that best foot forward each and every opportunity you get to strut your stuff.
During the Interview…
Be Authentic and Confident
Although projecting confidence is usually listed first when it comes to interview psychology, it is important to balance this with being authentic. If you try to pretend to be confident beyond your comfort level, it can come off as insincere, or worse, arrogant.
The interviewer wants to see who you are as a person. If you try too hard to be this or that you can obscure your genuine strengths and qualities. Rather than trying to figure out “how to act” just be the professional version of yourself that has brought you this far. People respond to authenticity, even when it isn’t perfectly polished.
Reflective listening starts by focusing clearly on what the interviewer is saying and really trying to hear it from his or her point of view. The second step in this technique includes rewording and repeating the intent of a question as the first part of your answer during an interview.
This strategy offers two main advantages. First, it shows that you can and do listen and communicate effectively. Second, and more importantly from a psychological standpoint, it makes the interviewer feel respected and heard, both of which are validating experiences. This can help the recruiter view you in a more positive light.
Establish a Connection
Interviewers are people too. They are looking for people that they want to work with. If you are able to establish a personal connection through a common interest or value, then you can connect on a personal level which is both memorable and favorable. We like people that we perceive to be similar to us. Being likeable in this way can give you an edge in a competitive environment.
Other ways to establish a connection include offering a compliment or using your interviewer’s name. However, it is critical to be sincere and judicious with compliments as they can come off as blatant, insincere flattery if overused. Similarly, you can overdo the first name technique and come off as creepy. Use good judgment with both of these techniques.
A lot of guides go into detail on specific nonverbal cues including everything from how to hold your hands to what facial expressions to make. However, getting too wrapped up in the “right” way to smile can add a new layer of self-consciousness for folks that are already grappling with the nerves that the pressure of a job interview can bring.
Instead, another approach is to simply focus on being “present” for the interview. But what does this mean in practice?
Being present means you focus on the moment at hand. When you walk into the interview, just let the rest of the world fall away. The only thing that matters is that you bring your full awareness to the people around you. Listen to what they have to say, hear their needs, and represent the ways that you are a strong fit for those needs.
When you are truly engaged in the conversation, the rest will follow. Your body language will naturally communicate your enthusiasm for the position. If you approach the interviewer as an interesting person that you want to get to know, your body language will naturally follow that intent and communicate that as well.
True “presence” is bigger than holding your hands just so or smiling and nodding on cue. It is about being in the moment with other people and bringing your full awareness to their concerns. That is how you can create a lasting impression that will give you the edge over the competition in the job search.