10 Psychological Techniques to Help You Get a New Job

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Get hired using the fruits of psychological research on interview technique.

In a competitive marketplace it’s harder than ever to stand out from others at interview.

You will have followed all the usual advice: researched the organisation beforehand, dressed professionally, arrived early, avoided vomiting on the interviewer and all the rest. Now you’re starting to talk, how can you impress them?

Hiring decisions are made on more than just skills and experience. It’s also about gut feelings and instinctual reactions. All sorts of subtle psychological factors come into play; so here are ten techniques which can help you give the interviewer the feeling that you are the one.

1. Schmooze but don’t self-promote

Schmoozing is good. One study looked at 116 students just out of college trying to get their first job (Higgins & Judge, 2004). The students who did best at interview were the most ingratiating: they praised the organisation, complimented the interviewer, showed enthusiasm, discussed common interests, smiled and maintained eye contact.

In contrast blatant self-promotion was surprisingly ineffective. It made little difference going on about skills, abilities and the positive events they’d been responsible for. It also didn’t help much taking charge of the interview or having impressive university scores.

So, although employers often say that work experience and qualifications are the most important factors in choosing the right person for the job, this study begs to differ. What most predicted whether they were considered a fit for the company was their ability to schmooze. It’s influence tactics that win the day (find out more in my series on the psychology of persuasion).

2. In control

Interviewers often ask questions about how you dealt with difficult situations in the past. You’ve probably prepared an answer, but does it display the qualities the interviewer is looking for?

To answer impressively research suggests you should emphasise how you controlled these difficult situations, rather than letting them control you (Silvester et al., 2003). Employers want to see you are taking the initiative yourself.

3. Talk to yourself

Most of us talk to ourselves from time-to-time to aid performance in many areas of our lives. It’s often said that talking to yourself is a sign of madness or certainly that you’ve been reading too many dodgy self-help books.

Well, it may be a bit cheesy, but in the context of job interviews—and when it’s called ‘verbal self-guidance’—it does seem to work (Latham & Budworth, 2006). You can say things to yourself like “I can enter the room in a confident manner,” and “I can smile and firmly shake the interviewer’s hand.” And you can implement other points mentioned here or elsewhere in the same way.

Just don’t talk to yourself out loud and in front of the interviewer…

4. Mental imagery

If top athletes can successfully use mental imagery to improve their performance, then why not job interviewees?

In one study half the participants were instructed to visualise themselves feeling confident and relaxed at an upcoming job interview (Knudstrup, Segrest, & Hurley, 2003). Then they imagined the interview went well and they were offered the job.

Those who used mental imagery performed better at a simulated job interview than those who didn’t. The mental imagery group also experienced less stress.

5. Cut out the fake smile

All the usual positive body language can help make a good impression: smiling, eye contact, forward lean and body orientation. All of these nonverbal behaviours have been shown to positively affect interviewer ratings (Levine and Feldman, 2002).

That said, try to avoid too much fake smiling. False smiling during an interview results in less favourable evaluations than does genuine smiling (Woodzicka, 2008). The same may well be true for all body language that might appear too fake.

6. The famous handshake

While we’re talking about body language, we might as well mention the handshake. It’s difficult to believe a handshake makes that much of a difference, but the research begs to differ.

Stewart et al. (2008) found that a good quality handshake did affect hiring recommendations. In this study the importance of a firm shake was greater for women.

7. Be defensive (if required)

Often interview advice is to avoid being defensive. People say you shouldn’t make excuses for holes in your experience or apologise for your shortcomings. This isn’t always true.

In fact some research suggests you shouldn’t worry about being defensive if the situation calls for it. When problems emerged in a simulated job interview, applicants who made excuses, expressed remorse and promised it wouldn’t happen again, were rated higher than those who avoided being defensive (Tsai et al., 2010).

8. Be upfront about weaknesses

Similarly, we’ve all got weak spots in our CVs, but is it best to try and cover them up or to be upfront and honest?

Given that liking is the most important factor in job interviews, the problem becomes how to reveal those weak spots without damaging the interviewer’s liking for us.

Jones and Gordon (1972) tested whether damaging revelations are best made at the start or end of an interaction. They found that when someone was upfront about weaknesses, those listening liked him more than if he concealed it until the end.

It seems that we find honesty refreshing so interviewees should be upfront about their weakness.

Exactly the reverse is true for strengths. Coming out with your biggest achievements upfront is boastful; these make a better impression if left to the end, as though they had to be dragged out of you. There may also be a memory effect at work here. When you leave the interview on a high, that is the impression that the interviewers carry of you into their deliberations.

9. Try to, like, cut out the, err, you know, like…all the fillers

I’m talking to, like, you young people! Yes, you know, like, who you are, don’t you? Or, like, maybe you don’t? Whatever.

FYI: one study has found that interviewees who overuse the word like, and put in, like, too many, errr, fillers, were found less professional and were less likely to be hired (Russell et al., 2008).

10. Be unique

You’ve learnt the same old responses to the same old interview questions. But is this wise if you want to stand out from the crowd?

One recent study has found that interviewees who answer standard questions in novel ways are at an advantage (Roulin et al., 2011). Across different job types, ages and levels of education, they found that interviewer’s ratings were higher for those who gave novel answers.

This may be because novel answers are easier to recall and being memorable is a good thing—as long as it’s for the right reasons.

Get some coaching

If you’re still not getting the nod at interview, then think about interview coaching.

Coaching can encourage you to exhibit the right body language, ingratiate yourself with the interviewer and better communicate your skills and experience. Research suggests coaching can help people improve their interview performance (Maurer et al., 2008). And in this economy you need every advantage.

Image credit: bryan



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About the author


Dr Jeremy Dean is a psychologist and the author of PsyBlog. His latest book is "Making Habits, Breaking Habits: How to Make Changes That Stick". You can follow PsyBlog by email, by RSS feed, on Twitter and Google+.

Published: 24 August 2011

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