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Psychologist Tells Us How to Leave a Great First Impression in Interviews

Psychologist Tells Us How to Leave a Great First Impression in Interviews

Upon meeting you, an interviewer can decide if he or she likes you, if you’d fit in the company culture, and if they should hire you — in the time it takes for you to finish reading this paragraph.

Psychologists call it “thin slicing”, which means making quick decisions based on limited information.

Welcome to the wild world of first impressions. Where people are judged with the speed and ease no less than hitting a “like” button.

Many job candidates make the mistake of trying to be perceived as smart or witty. They show up with all-too-ready answers or awkwardly force in one-liners that comes out limp. It usually ends with a painful, indefinite wait for a phone call that will never come.

Don’t try to be the smartest guy in the room, if you want to get in the room.

In her book “Presence”, Harvard Business School professor and Ted Talks sensation Amy Cuddy [1] distills the science of the first impression into two simple questions:

1. Can you be trusted?

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2. Can you be respected?

The qualities that you need to have (or at least be perceived as having) are warmth and competence respectively, according to psychologists.

Even Cuddy admits that most people in a professional setting believe that competence is the more important factor. Naturally, you’d want to prove that you’re smart and talented enough to handle the organization’s business.

But the first requisite of warmth, or trustworthiness, is the most important factor in how your prospective employer will evaluate you. Competence remains highly coveted, but it is evaluated only after trust is established.

With those insights in mind, here is how can you leave a great first impression:

Be Who You Are

Your interviewer can meet up to dozens of job candidates every month. What makes you — and your first impression — different from others? Having interviewed over 300 people in my career, my first piece of advice is: Be yourself. Sure, there could be many eligible candidates, but there is only one you.

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Who you are, what you stand for, what drives you, your set of work and life experiences, and your values as a professional and a person, set you apart from everyone else in the field. The good news is, your interviewer wants to get to know this real side of you.

The bad news is, you may feel the need to conceal it. Or at least veneer it with some slick, corporate gloss you see everyone else using.

Authenticity is the origin of all trust. 

Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not. Don’t fake-laugh to fill up a silence. Don’t fake enthusiasm, be enthusiastic. Don’t boast of big things you’ve never done before, speak passionately of the small things you’ve actually done that made a big difference. Don’t try to be the next Elon Musk or Richard Branson, be the first (your name here).

Now I’m not asking you to show up and behave like you’re with your childhood friends at a backyard barbecue. It’s a job interview. Do be pleasant. Do be positive. Do be professional.

Find Common Connections

It amazes me that people still show up for interviews without doing any homework on who is interviewing them. With Google, LinkedIn, and company websites all literally at your fingertips, this one is just one notch below not showing up at all.

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When you subtly share what you know about your interviewer — his or her past experience, milestone achievements, significant work, press interviews — you’re saying, “I respect you and getting to know you obviously matters a lot to me.” Respect is a two-way street. As you give, you’re more likely to receive.

Just as important is the opportunity to find and build on common grounds. You probably already know that humans actually like other humans who are like them.

Do you homework well enough, and you may discover that you went to the same school as your interviewer. Or are fans of the same football team. Or are advocates of the animal-rights movement. Or are hardcore workaholics. This won’t land you the job right away but imagine the human connection you can make.

Perfect Your S.H.E.

The basics of good body language in a professional context can be summed up in this neat acronym: Smile, Handshake, and Eye contact.

Smile from you heart. If that’s not clear, smile like you really mean it, like you’re actually happy to see your interviewer. Not the plastic “See, I’m smiling for you” smile. Not the creepy “I’m still smiling after 13 minutes” smile. Not the non-smile.

Give a good hearty handshake. Firm but not crushing (especially important when shaking a female interviewer’s hand). Smile (see above). And hold eye contact (see below).

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Keep a comfortable level of eye contact with your interviewer when you’re speaking. Always look at them when they are talking. Never sneak-check your phone. Or steal glances at the lush office interior. Your interviewer just need to catch you looking away once while he or she is talking to break the connection.

Turn Weakness into Strengths

Perched atop the Interview Questions Hall Of Fame is the all-time classic “What is your biggest weakness?”

There are many, many resources that will prep you well for this one. Many of them will advocate answering this to come out looking like your weakness is some sort of a misunderstood strength. Your interviewer will see right through it and smile politely with an “um-hum”, and make a mental note that she’s been served some corporate-level PR.

Many interviewers will privately admit that it’s not your weakness they want to know, but how you express and address your weakness that they are more interested in. I’m one of them. They know absolutely nobody is without weaknesses, but they are looking for somebody who is honest, self-aware, and willing to improve.

To build a connection based on trust and authenticity, actually tell your weakness. Look them in the eye and admit to a weakness that isn’t a deal-breaker (such as you’re careless but would like to be considered for the role of senior accountant). Let them know how you’re aware of it and the specific actions you have taken or are taking to improve on it. Keep it short and professional.

Only when your interviewer feel that they can trust you as a professional can they look into your competencies and fit for the organization. Keep these strategies in mind as you work on being and showing the best version of yourself.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Victor Ng

Executive coach

12 Essential Communication Skills That Aren’t Taught in Schools at All Psychologist Tells Us How to Leave a Great First Impression in Interviews

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Last Updated on October 30, 2019

How the Stages of Change Model Helps You Change Your Habits

How the Stages of Change Model Helps You Change Your Habits

Change is tough, there’s no doubt about it. Old habits are hard to shift, and adopting a new lifestyle can feel like an uphill battle!

In this article, you will learn about a simple yet powerful model:

Stages of change model, that explains the science behind personal transformation.

You’ll discover how and why some changes stick whereas others don’t last, and how long it takes to build new habits.

What is the Stages of Change Model?

Developed by researchers J.O. Prochaska and Carlo C. DiClemente over 30 years ago[1] and outlined in their book Changing For Good, the Stages of Change Model, also known as the Transtheoretical Model, was formed as a result of the authors’ research with smokers.

Prochaska and DiClemente were originally interested in the question of why some smokers were able to quit on their own, whereas others required professional help. Their key conclusion was that smokers (or anyone else with a bad habit) quits only when they are ready to do so.

Here’s an illustration done by cartoonist and illustrator Simon Kneebone about the different stages a smoker experiences when they try to quit smoking:

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    The Stages of Change Model looks at how these conscious decisions are made. It emphasizes that change isn’t easy. People can spend a long time stuck in a stage, and some may never reach their goals.[2]

    The model has been applied in the treatment of smoking, alcoholism, and drugs. It is also a useful way of thinking about any bad habit. Social workers, therapists, and psychologists draw on the model to understand their patients’ behaviors, and to explain the change process to the patients themselves.

    The key advantages to the model is that it is simple to understand, is backed by extensive research, and can be applied in many situations.

    The Stages of Change Model is a well-established psychological model that outlines six stages of personal change:

    1. Precontemplation
    2. Contemplation
    3. Determination
    4. Action
    5. Maintenance
    6. Termination

    How are these stages relevant to changing habits?

    To help you visualize the stages of change and how each progresses to the next one, please take a look at this wheel:[3]

      Let’s look at the six stages of change,[4] together with an example that will show you how the model works in practice:

      Stage 1: Precontemplation

      At this stage, an individual does not plan to make any positive changes in the next six months. This may because they are in denial about their problem, feel too overwhelmed to deal with it, or are too discouraged after multiple failed attempts to change.

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      For example, someone may be aware that they need to start exercising, but cannot find the motivation to do so. They might keep thinking about the last time they tried (and failed) to work out regularly. Only when they start to realize the advantages of making a change will they progress to the next stage.

      Stage 2: Contemplation

      At this stage, the individual starts to consider the advantages of changing. They start to acknowledge that altering their habits would probably benefit them, but they spend a lot of time thinking about the downside of doing so. This stage can last for a long time – possibly a year or more.

      You can think of this as the procrastinating stage. For example, an individual begins to seriously consider the benefits of regular exercise, but feels resistant when they think about the time and effort involved. When the person starts putting together a concrete plan for change, they move to the next stage.

      The key to moving from this stage to the next is the transformation of an abstract idea to a belief (e.g. from “Exercise is a good, sensible thing to do” to “I personally value exercise and need to do it.)[5]

      Stage 3: Preparation

      At this point, the person starts to put a plan in place. This stage is brief, lasting a few weeks. For example, they may book a session with a personal trainer and enrol on a nutrition course.

      Someone who drinks to excess may make an appointment with a drug and alcohol counsellor; someone with a tendency to overwork themselves might start planning ways to devise a more realistic schedule.

      Stage 4: Action

      When they have decided on a plan, the individual must then put it into action. This stage typically lasts for several months. In our example, the person would begin attending the gym regularly and overhauling their diet.

      Stage 4 is the stage at which the person’s desire for change becomes noticeable to family and friends. However, in truth, the change process began a long time ago. If someone you know seems to have suddenly changed their habits, it’s probably not so sudden after all! They will have progressed through Stages 1-3 first – you probably just didn’t know about it.

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      Stage 5: Maintenance

      After a few months in the Action stage, the individual will start to think about how they can maintain their changes, and make lifestyle adjustments accordingly. For instance, someone who has adopted the habit of regular workouts and a better diet will be vigilant against old triggers (such as eating junk food during a stressful time at work) and make a conscious decision to protect their new habits.

      Unless someone actively engages with Stage 5, their new habits are liable to come unstuck. Someone who has stuck to their new habits for many months – perhaps a year or longer – may enter Stage 6.

      Maintenance can be challenging because it entails coming up with a new set of habits to lock change in place. For instance, someone who is maintaining their new gym-going habit may have to start improving their budgeting skills in order to continue to afford their gym membership.

      Stage 6: Termination

      Not many people reach this stage, which is characterized by a complete commitment to the new habit and a certainty that they will never go back to their old ways. For example, someone may find it hard to imagine giving up their gym routine, and feel ill at the thought of eating junk food on a regular basis.

      However, for the majority of people, it’s normal to stay in the Maintenance period indefinitely. This is because it takes a long time for a new habit to become so automatic and natural that it sticks forever, with little effort. To use another example, an ex-smoker will often find it hard to resist the temptation to have “just one” cigarette even a year or so after quitting. It can take years for them to truly reach the Termination stage, at which point they are no more likely to smoke than a lifelong non-smoker.

      How long does each stage take?

      You should be aware that some people remain in the same stage for months or even years at a time. Understanding this model will help you be more patient with yourself when making a change. If you try to force yourself to jump from Contemplation to Maintenance, you’ll just end up frustrated. On the other hand, if you take a moment to assess where you are in the change process, you can adapt your approach.

      So if you need to make changes quickly and you are finding it hard to progress to the next stage, it’s probably time to get some professional help or adopt a new approach to forming habits.

      The limitations of this model

      The model is best applied when you decide in advance precisely what you want to achieve, and know exactly how you will measure it (e.g. number of times per week you go to the gym, or number of cigarettes smoked per day). Although the model has proven useful for many people, it does have limitations.

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      Require the ability to set a realistic goal

      For a start, there are no surefire ways of assessing whereabouts in the process you are – you just have to be honest with yourself and use your own judgement. Second, it assumes that you are physically capable of making a change, whereas in fact you might either need to adjust your goals or seek professional help.

      If your goal isn’t realistic, it doesn’t matter whether you follow the stages – you still won’t get results. You need to decide for yourself whether your aims are reasonable.[6]

      Difficult to judge your progress

      The model also assumes that you are able to objectively measure your own successes and failures, which may not always be the case.[7] For instance, let’s suppose that you are trying to get into the habit of counting calories as part of your weight-loss efforts. However, even though you may think that you are recording your intake properly, you might be over or under-estimating.

      Research shows that most people think they are getting enough exercise and eating well, but in actual fact aren’t as healthy as they believe. The model doesn’t take this possibility into account, meaning that you could believe yourself to be in the Action stage yet aren’t seeing results. Therefore, if you are serious about making changes, it may be best to get some expert advice so that you can be sure the changes you are making really will make a positive difference.

      Conclusion

      The Stages Of Change Model can be a wonderful way to understand change in both yourself and others.

      While there’re some limitations in it, the Stages of Change Model helps to visualize how you go through changes so you know what to expect when you’re trying to change a habit or make some great changes in life.

      Start by identifying one of your bad habits. Where are you in the process? What could you do next to move forwards?

      Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

      Reference

      [1] Psych Central: Stages Of Change
      [2] Boston University School Of Public Health: The Transtheoretical Model (Stages Of Change)
      [3] Empowering Change: Stages of Change
      [4] Boston University School Of Public Health: The Transtheoretical Model (Stages Of Change)
      [5] Psychology Today: 5 Steps To Changing Any Behavior
      [6] The Transtheoretical Model: Limitations Of The Transtheoretical Model
      [7] Health Education Research: Transtheoretical Model & Stages Of Change: A Critique

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