Better interviewing through psychology

Using psychology to ace employment interviews

Posted Feb 17, 2009

In these difficult economic times, many people are in transition and looking for new jobs. Even though employment interviews are often unreliable and invalid predictors of job performance, they remain the most common and most heavily weighted selection methodology for most employers.

Much has been written about the subjectivity of interviews, and how interviewers often make up their minds in the first few seconds of an interview. Here's an excellent article on the topic by Malcom Gladwell that was published in the New Yorker. Knowing about the psychology of interviewers can help you if you're an interviewee.

Based on my experience coaching clients who are in the process of interviewing, here are several suggestions: 

- Practice, practice, practice. Do as many interviews as your schedule will permit, including informational interviews and mock/practice interviews with colleagues and friends. Also, try to get videotaped doing a simulated interview and then review the tape to see how you come across. It can be disconcerting to watch oneself on camera, but doing so can help you identify and remedy problematic verbal or nonverbal habits.

- Don't answer the cliched question "what are your greatest weaknesses?" with strengths disguised as weaknesses, such as "I'm a perfectionist" or "I work too hard". Interviewers will see through this and your credibility will be hurt. Instead, describe capabilities you've developed over the course of your career and how the role for which you are being considered will help you further develop those skills.

- Have questions ready for your interviewer about the organization and its culture. This will show that you are trying to assess the potential fit between yourself and the role, rather than just looking to take the first offer you get. This also implicitly shows that you are considering whether the role is right for you, even as you describe why you are right for the role. The more your interviewer talks during the interview, the more likely he or she is to view you favorably.

- Don't be defensive about having left your last job, and don't rush through your description of the circumstances under which you left your last job. Take the time to be thoughtful as you describe what happened, and don't come across as trying to rush through that part of the interview, as rushing may create suspicion or concern on the part of your interviewer.  

For a TV segment about how to enhance your interview skills, see this clip from NY1 News, February 16, 2009.

I look forward to hearing from you- what are some best practices you have come across in interviewing?