Interviews for a job or acceptance into an educational program (like medical, law, or graduate school) can be a daunting and anxiety-arousing experience.  Although you may have submitted supporting documents (e.g., resume or curriculum vitae, letters of reference/recommendation, personal statement, etc.), the personal interview can carry tremendous weight in whether you get the job or are accepted into the program.

One of the most important processes that occurs when strangers meet is the impression they make on each other.  People who don’t know you can form opinions and beliefs about you on your first meeting.  It’s just human nature to do that.  There are a lot of variables that go into that first impression (e.g., your appearance, your attitude, your manners, your attentiveness, even the type of car you drive).  Those ideas about you may really capture who you are or they may be inaccurate, or the observer may be a poor judge of character.  The point is, impression formation goes on all the time and you should be attentive to it if you want this job or program.  Why would you intentionally do anything that could jeopardize your chances?  With this in mind, we present some information found to be related to successful interview outcomes.  Clearly, there is no guarantee; but, attending to these factors is likely to be more helpful than not.

An issue that is written about the most is: how to prepare for an interview.  Some suggestions include

  • Thoroughly researching the company or school you are applying to
  • Being prepared to answer questions about your qualifications, strengths, weaknesses, fit into the company or program, and career goals
  • Developing a set of questions for the interviewer(s) so you can better assess the organization and how you can contribute to it as well as how it can contribute to your aspirations
  • Engaging in practice interviews prior to the interview
  • Paying attention to your physical appearance by being appropriately dressed, well-groomed, and rested
  • Being professional in your manner, posture, speech, and interactions before, during, and after the interview

Although these suggestions will help prepare the applicant for the interview and may play a role in whether the individual gets hired or accepted, personality characteristics are also important.  Psychologists who study personality have categorized personality traits into five broad factors, which are known as the “Big Five.”  These are “open to experience,” “conscientiousness,” “extraversion,” “agreeableness,” and “neuroticism” (or “emotional stability”).

Research regarding the “Big Five” has found that conscientiousness, emotional stability, and extraversion are the personality categories that are the most frequently evaluated in all interviews.  When considering important characteristics for a wide variety of jobs, conscientiousness and agreeability are viewed as positive attributes.  However, this may not be the case for every job nor are they the most valued by every interviewer.  For example, some occupations, such as those involving sales, may value extraversion; whereas, openness to experience may be desirable for positions involving research or science.

Another important element derived from the interview that may be used to form an opinion about the applicant is non-verbal cues. 

  • Eye contact is a behavior that is always stressed because it aids in establishing rapport, conveys one’s interest, and gives the appearance of trustworthiness.  A person who maintains eye contact appears more conscientious than one who does not. 
  • A person who smiles can be viewed as sociable and extraverted.
  • Having a dominant sounding voice gives the impression that the individual can be an effective leader.
  • Visual cues can influence an interviewer’s opinion of the applicant’s conscientiousness and openness for experience.
  • Vocal cues can lead to impressions of extraversion and conscientiousness.

Although the issues mentioned above are important in how they may influence the interviewer’s opinion, another critical factor is the applicant’s self-efficacy.  That is, the degree of confidence the applicant has that she or he can perform well during the interview.

  • For example, if the applicant is feeling frightened, unsure, or defeated before entering the building, the applicant is coming to the interview with an expectation that it will not have a successful outcome, and consequently, the applicant’s motivation is negatively affected.

Low self-confidence can be damaging. Therefore, it is important to build up one’s self-esteem.  This can be accomplished by

  • applying for jobs or programs where the applicant has the necessary qualifications and aptitude
  • having numerous practice interviews with constructive feedback and coaching
  • and if necessary, cognitive behavioral interventions to better assess and treat the issues affecting one’s self-efficacy

In sum, there are a number of factors that influence interview outcomes.  Although no one can really anticipate and meet each and every one of them, we can take steps to be better prepared and to understand their importance.  We can also learn from the experiences of others as well as our own.  Indeed, life is full of “interviews,” not just for jobs or educational programs, but for every important encounter.  It never hurts to put your best foot forward.


DeGroot, T. & Gooty, J. (2009). Can nonverbal cues be used to make meaningful personality attributions in employment interviews? Journal of Business and Psychology, 24, 179–192. DOI: 10.1007/s10869-009-9098-0

How to prepare for an interview.

Sackett, P. R. & Walmsley, P. T. (2014). Which personality attributes are most important in the workplace? Perspectives on Psychological Science, 9, 538–551. DOI: 10.1177/1745691614543972

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