Non-verbal behavior and impression management

The applicant’s nonverbal behavior can also have a surprisingly large impact on his or her rating. In one study, 52 HR specialists watched videotaped job interviews in which the applicants’ verbal content was identical, but their nonverbal behavior differed markedly. Researchers told those in one group to exhibit minimal eye contact, a low energy level, and low voice modulation. Those in a second group demonstrated the opposite behavior of the 26 personnel specialists who saw the high-eye-contact, high energy level candidates, 23 would have invited him or her for a second interview. None who saw the low-eye-contact, low-energy-level candidate would have recommended a second interview. It certainly seems to pay for interviewees to “look alive”

In another study, interviewers listened to audio interviews and watched video interviews. Vocal cues (such as the interviewee’s pitch, speech rates, and pauses) and visual cues (such as physical attractiveness, smile and body orientations) correlated with the evaluator’s judgment of whether or not the interviewees could be liked and trusted and where credible.

Why are the candidates’ nonverbal behaviors so important? Perhaps because, accurately or not, interviewers infer the interviewee’s personality from the way he or she acts in the interview. In one study, 99 graduating college seniors completed questionnaires both before and after their job interviews; the questionnaires included measures of personality among other things. They then reported their success in generating follow-up job interviews and job offers. The interviewee’s personality, particularly his or her level of extraversion had a pronounced influence on whether or not he or she received follow up interviews and job offers. In part, this seems to be because interviewers draw inferences about the applicant’s personality based on the applicant’s behavior during the interview. Extraverted applicants seem particularly prone to self-promotion, and self-promotion is strongly related to the interviewer’s perceptions of candidate job fit.

Of course, clever interviewers take advantages of this, by managing the impressions they present. One study found some used ingratiation to persuade interviewers to like them, for instance by praising them or appearing to agree with their opinions. Others used self-promotion tactics for instance by making complimentary comments about their own accomplishments.

It’s true that applicant behaviors that seem to reflect extraversion and conscientiousness probably do translate into higher ratings, it’s not clear that clear those such findings always apply in real world settings. The problem is that much of the interviewing research uses students as raters and hypothetical jobs, so it’s not clear that we can apply the findings to the real world. For example, “In operational settings, where actual jobs are at stake, faking or socially desirable responding may be more likely to distort personality measurement and obscure relationships.

Interviewer Behavior:

The interviewer’s behavior also has an effect on the interviewee’s performance and rating. For example, some interviews inadvertently telegraph the expected answers, as in: This job calls for handling a lot of stress. You can do that can’t you? Telegraphing isn’t always so obvious. For example, subtle cues (like a smile or nod) can telegraph the desired answer. Some interviewers talk so much applicants have no time to answer questions. At the other extreme, some interviewers let the applicant dominate the interview, and so don’t ask all their questions. Neither is a good situation. Similarly when interviewers have favorable pre-interview impressions of the applicant, they tend to act more positively toward that person (smiling more, for instance), possibly because they want to increase the chance that the applicant will accept the job.

Other interviewers play district attorney or psychologists. It’s smart to be alert for inconsistencies, but uncivil to play “gotcha” by gleefully pouncing on them. Some interviewers play amateur psychologists, unprofessionally probing for hidden meanings in everything the applicants say.

The demographic similarity between interviewers and applicants may also have a small effect on how interviewers rate applicants. For example, a perceived similarity in attitudes may influence how the interviewer rates the applicant’s competence.

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