How to Master the Interview

You might think you’ve got an intuitive knack for interviewing prospective talent, but a whole body of research begs to differ. As it turns out, our brains are often swayed by the least meaningful moments of the interview process. Recognizing those quirks before you start out can make you a more effective interviewer — just as strategically (some might say, cynically) deploying them could make you a more attractive candidate.

So be aware. Be very aware.

Let’s start with flattery. Most people would be loath to work with a fast-talking, ingratiating narcissist, but a study in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology found they’re pretty likely to hire one. Researchers asked 222 raters to assess 72 mock interviews and found that candidates scored much higher if they complimented the interviewer, spoke quickly and were overtly self-promotional.

University of Iowa researchers found that because so many candidates tend to say similar things in interviews (“I’m a team player! XYZ is my passion!”), the handshake can be interpreted as an indicator of the candidate’s true personality.

Then there’s timing. While we probably assume our judgment remains consistent throughout the interview process — as fair to the first candidate as we are to the last — the fact is, it’s all over the place. A study in Psychological Science found that, since humans have a natural tendency to balance judgments across a batch, we’re more critical of the third or fourth candidates we meet because we subconsciously worry we might have given too many high marks to the first two.

Finally, there are the problems of fatigue and confirmation bias. When you’re down to the last couple of candidates, you’re likely tired of vetting people and thus hypermotivated to close the deal. You also — whether you admit it or not — have a favorite. This combination makes you far more likely to miss any new red flags. All the more reason to really dig in in the early rounds of interviews, when you have more candidates to evaluate, and more energy to do it with. Just watch out for those flatterers.