Job interviews: two things people will assume about you when you first meet

Here is why you shouldn't worry about your first meeting with someone

Zlata Rodionova
Friday 26 February 2016 12:18
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Employers want people with opinions and ideas, not someone who tries to stay as neutral as possible, says Anna
Employers want people with opinions and ideas, not someone who tries to stay as neutral as possible, says Anna

Imagine you’re about to be interviewed for a new job.

The worry over the first impression you give the interviewer could be overwhelming.

But a new study suggests you shouldn’t worry after all, because the first assumption we make about people we have just met is that they are mostly “nice” and “normal”.

We are most likely to rate a stranger’s personality average rather than extreme, according to a new paper published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Researchers Katherine Rogers and Jeremy Biesanz tested more than 2,000 undergraduate students on two tasks. First the participant went through a three-minute speed dating exercise with a person they did not know before assessing the stranger’s personality traits.

Then they had to watch different individuals video footage and make assumptions on their personality characteristics from the short film.

Respondents rated strangers as “typical”, “socially desirable” and sometimes both, the study found after looking at the ratings.

The speed-dating exercise resulted in more favourable assumptions, as opposed to exclusively average, than the video experiments, the study found.

Passive viewing leads us to be less appreciative of a person, where one-on one, interactive meetings allow us to be driven by our emotions. That might be worth bearing in mind if you have the choice between a video or face-to-face interview.

Our trustworthiness is judged in a tenth of a second or less, according to another study by Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov, Princeton psychologists, published in Psychological Science.

Willis and Todorov conducted separate experiments to study judgments from facial appearance, each focusing on a different trait: attractiveness, likeability, competence, trustworthiness, and aggressiveness.

Judgements made after the briefest exposure, a tenth of a second, were highly connected with judgements made without time constraints. An increased exposure time did not increase the correlation.

“These findings suggest that minimal exposure to faces is sufficient for people to form trait impressions, and that additional exposure time can simply boost confidence in these impressions. That is, additional encounters with a person may only serve to justify quick, initial, on-line judgments,” the researchers said.

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