The Psychology of Interviewing

Part 2: During the Interview

In my last article, I touched on science-backed ways to help prepare yourself for an interview from what clothes to wear, how to prime yourself to feel powerful, and what research to do in order to make the interview seem more conversational. From a psychological perspective, much of an interview takes place on a subconscious level. Many people are hired or match not because of what they say in an interview, but instead, how they make the interviewer feel. While it is important to say the right things, body language, posture, and the manner in which you say things are just as important as the words themselves. In this article, I will reveal some research proven methods of elevating your interview style, making you a more likable, polished, and composed applicant.

Use the Interviewer’s Name

Remember all the research you just did on the person about to interview you? Time to put it to use; the first step is to use their name upon meeting them, during the interview, and when it is time to conclude. Stating someone’s name makes them feel closer and more connected with you, thus repeating it at least twice gives you a friendly first impression.

Develop a Firm Handshake

While most of us probably won’t be shaking hands this interview season, developing a firm and repeatable handshake is a must when interacting with people on a daily basis. A firm handshake does a few things. First, it is usually the first interaction with the interviewer, and on a subconscious level, the interviewer is drawing a lot of assumptions from this first encounter. This means a good handshake can elevate us in someone’s mind before we even begin to speak, while a bad one can immediately put us at a disadvantage. Next, a firm handshake has been shown to be associated with positive attributes such as strength, social acuity, and openness. And finally, a recent study out of the University of Iowa found that, “applicants with firm handshakes had stronger ‘hire’ recommendations.” A firm handshake is an easy way to start and finish the interview strong; practice it and make it a part of your everyday routine.

The Chameleon Effect

The “chameleon effect” is a psychological phenomenon that describes how people tend to like each other more when they’re exhibiting similar body language. In essence, we like other people who seem like us. This has been one of my favorite tactics to use over the years, and it is rather simple once you get the hang of it. By observing the interviewer’s posture and body language, start to mirror what they are doing. By mirroring their body language and movements, they subconsciously feel more connected to you and like you better all because you are reflecting what they are doing. Here are a few examples:

  1. Make solid eye contact when you first meet the interviewer, then adjust your amount of eye contact to match theirs. Some people like a lot of eye contact, while others shy away from it. Gauge this at the begging of the interview so you can make the interviewer feel comfortable with the right amount of eye contact.
  2. If interviewer crosses his legs, you can then cross your legs as well. Take caution though – in some more professional interviews, I would avoid crossing my legs. However, if it is a more relaxed one, feel free to cross your legs and copy the interviewer’s body language.
  3. Gauge the type of hand movements the interviewer makes and try to mimic and incorporate some of them into your routine. If you are unsure what to do with your hands, hold your palms open or steeple your hands. Showing your palms generally indicates sincerity, while pressing the fingertips of your hands together to form a church steeple indicates confidence. On the other hand, you don’t want to hold your palms downward, which is a sign of dominance. You’ll also want to avoid concealing your hands, which looks like you have something to hide; tapping your fingers, which shows impatience; folding your arms, which indicates disappointment; and overusing hand gestures, which can be distracting.

Gather your Thoughts

Many people make the mistake of trying to rapidly answer questions. However, for trickier questions it is much better to pause for 5-10 seconds before answering the question in order to make sure you give a clear, concise, and thoughtful answer. One trick you can use to buy a little time is to simply say, “Dr. Johnson, that’s a really good question, let me take a few seconds to think about it.” This allows you to gather your thoughts and avoid an awkward silence. In addition, it shows that you are composed, while preventing you from giving a rushed and unthoughtful answer that you may regret later.

“Go into every interview with the mindset of ‘this is where I am going to match next year’ and your performance will be elevated to reflect that belief.”

Dr. Patrick Young, Contributor, Med Student Edge

Make Every School you Interview at your Number One Choice

Making each interviewer believe that they are your number one choice is one of the most difficult things to do, and it is something I have certainly dropped the ball on before. However, in today’s very competitive environment, it is essential that we put our best foot forward in every interview regardless of whether or not it is at the top of our list. Remember, if you act like you don’t want to be there, you most likely will not get the position. Selling each school as your number one choice goes back to the extensive research you did before the interview and then using that knowledge to explain how you fit in and can thrive at that particular school.

If you are asked about another school you have applied to or interviewed at, try to deflect the question and talk about what you like about the place you are at. For Example:

  • Interviewer: “I saw you also interviewed at UNC, how was your experience there?”
  • You: “I enjoyed visiting UNC, but I have really loved UAB so far. The students and faculty really make me feel at home.”

The truth of the matter is that we do not have complete control over where we match. However, we do have control of our attitude, how we conduct ourselves, and the work we put in to prepare for the interview. Go into every interview with the mindset of “this is where I am going to match next year” and your performance will be elevated to reflect that belief.

I hope you enjoyed Part 2 of The Psychology of Interviewing. It is my hope that you can use a few of these tactics in your upcoming interviews. While we are in unusual times with the presence of COVID-19, many of these tips hold true for virtual interviews as well. Just remember, body language, posture, and how you conduct yourself all play a huge role in the subconsciousness of the person interviewing you. Be poised and confident and you will be well on your way to matching at the top program of your choice.

What have you done during an interview that you believe helped you or hurt you during the interview process? Comment below or contact us directly.

Back to more interview resources.

Practice your interviewing skills with a mock virtual interview.

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