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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

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Victor Ng

Executive coach

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Last Updated on September 11, 2020

Why a Life Without Pain Is the Guarantee to True Suffering

Why a Life Without Pain Is the Guarantee to True Suffering

No one wants to suffer. As a general rule, people like to avoid hurt and pain as much as possible. As a species, humans want a painless existence so much that scientists make a living trying to create it.

People can now choose “pain-free” labor for babies, and remedies to cure back pain, headaches, body-pains and even mental pains are a dime a dozen. Beyond medicine, we also work hard to experience little pain even when it comes to loss; often times we believe a breakup won’t hurt as much if we are the ones to call it off.

But would a world without pain truly be painless? It’s unlikely. In fact, it would probably be painful exactly for that reason.

If people never experienced hurt, they wouldn’t know what it was. On the surface level, that seems like a blessing, but think for a moment: if we didn’t know pain, how would we know peace? If you don’t know you’ve hurt or been hurt, how would you know that you need to heal? Imagine someone only knowing they have an incurable cancer at the final stage because no obvious symptoms have appeared at early stages.

Without the feeling of pain, people won’t be aware of dangerous situations—what should or shouldn’t do for survival.

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Pain Is Our Guardian

Pain serves to protect human beings from harmful actions. It’s the same reason parents teach babies that fire equals hot, and that hot equals hurt. Should the baby still place its hand in a fire or on a stove, the intense pain remains so memorable, that the child is certain never to repeat that action.

In the same way, pain within human bodies can serve as a warning that something is not right. Because you know what it is to feel “well,” you know what it is to feel poorly.[1]

Along with serving as a teacher of what not to do, pain also teaches you what you are made of in terms of what you can handle as an individual.

While the cliche, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is a tired term, it’s used excessively for a reason: it’s true. Pain helps you learn to cope with life’s inevitable difficulties and sadnesses— to develop the grit it takes to push past hardships and carry on.

Whether it’s a shattering pain, like the loss of a loved one or a debilitating accident, pain affects everyone differently. But it still affects everyone. Take a breakup as an example, anyone who has experienced it knows it can hurt to the point of feeling physical. Especially the first breakup. At a young age, it feels like the loss of the only love you’ll ever know. As you grow and learn, you realize you’re more resilient with every ended relationship.

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No Pain, No Happiness

You only know happiness when you have known pain. While the idea of constant happiness sounds nice, there is little chance it would be. Without the comparison to happiness, there’s no reason to be grateful for it. That is to say, without ever knowing sadness or pain, you would have no reason to be grateful for happiness.

In reality, there is always something missing, or something unpleasant, but it is only through those realizations that you know to be grateful when you feel you have it all. Read more about why happiness and pain have to exist together: Chasing Happiness Won’t Make You Happy

In a somewhat counter-intuitive finding, researchers found one of the things that brings about the most happiness is challenge. When people are tested, they experience a greater sense of accomplishment and happiness when they are successful. It is largely for this reason that low-income individuals can often feel happier than those who have a sense of wealth.[2]

This is a great thing to remember the next time you feel you would be happier if you just had a little more cash.

Avoiding Pain Leads to More Suffering

Pain is inevitable, embrace it positively. Anyone who strives to have a painless life is striving for perfectionism; and perfectionism guarantees sadness because nothing will ever be perfect.

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This isn’t a bleak outlook, but rather a truthful one. The messy moments in life tend to create the best memories and gratitude. Pain often serves as a reminder of lessons learned, much like physical scars on the body.

Pain will always be painful, but it’s the hurt feelings that help wiser decisions be made.

Allow Room for the Inevitable

Learning how to tolerate pain, especially the emotional kind, is a valuable lesson.

Accepting and feeling pain makes you human. There is no weakness in that. Weakness only comes when you try to blame your own pain on someone else, expecting the blame to alleviate your hurting. There’s a saying,

“Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting your enemy to die.”

Think back to the last time you were really angry with someone. Maybe you were hurt because you got laid off from a job. You felt angry and that anger caused so much pain that you could feel it in a physical way. Being angry and blaming your ex boss for that pain didn’t affect him or her in any way; you’re the only one who lost sleep over it.

The healthier thing to do in a situation like that is acknowledge your pain and the anger along with it. Accept it and explore it in an introspective way. How can you learn and grow? What is at the root of that pain? Are you truly hurting and angry about being laid off, or is the pain more a correlation to you feeling like you failed?

While uncomfortable, exploring your pain is a way to raise your self-awareness. By understanding more about yourself, you know how to deal with similar situations in the future. You can never expect to be numb to difficult situations, but you will learn to better prepare financially for the loss of a job and be grateful for an income since you now know nothing is promised (no matter how much you work or how deserving you may feel).

Pain Hurts, but Numbness Would Be Worse

Pain does not feel good, but the bad feeling of it will help you learn and grow. It makes the sweet moments in life even sweeter and the gratitude more sincere.

To have a happier and more successful life, you don’t learn from success or accomplishment, but through pain and failures. For it is in those moments that you learn how to do better in the future or at least cope a little more easily.

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You are the strong person you are today because of the hardships this life has presented to you. While you may have felt out of control when those hard times came, the one thing you will always have control over is how you choose to react to things. The next time you hurt or you’re angry or sad, acknowledge it and allow yourself to ruminate in it. Then take a deep breath and start learning from that pain. You’ve got this!

Featured photo credit: Stocksnap via stocksnap.io

Reference

[1] University of Calgary: Why is Pain Important?
[2] Greater Good Magazine: The Importance of Pain

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