Although in the moment they might seem larger than life, interviewers are people just like you.
That means they’re susceptible to the same psychological preferences and cognitive biases that affect the rest of us.
To help you get into your interviewer’s head and learn what they want to see in a candidate, we rounded up a list of science-backed strategies to make yourself seem more likeable, competent, and ultimately hireable.
1. Schedule your interview around 10:30 a.m. on a Tuesday.
According to Glassdoor, the “best” time to arrange an interview is the time that’s best for the interviewer — not the time that’s best for you.
So if the hiring manager offers you some flexibility in choosing an interview time, ask if you could come in around 10:30 a.m. on a Tuesday. That’s likely when your interviewer is relatively relaxed.
In general, you should avoid early-morning meetings because your interviewer may still be preoccupied with everything she needs to get done that day. You’ll also want to avoid being the last meeting of the workday, as your interviewer may already be thinking about what they need to accomplish at home.
2. Don’t interview on the same day as the strongest candidates.
Research suggests that interviewers base their evaluations of individual candidates on who else they’ve interviewed that day.
One study found that applicants who interviewed at the end of a day after a series of strong candidates were rated lower than expected. On the other hand, those who interviewed after a series of weak candidates were rated higher than expected.
It’s not clear whether this is an unconscious phenomenon, or whether interviewers are consciously rating the last candidates higher or lower than they should because they don’t want their supervisors to think they’re giving everyone the same ratings.
Either way, if you have any knowledge of who else is interviewing and when, choose to come in after comparatively unqualified candidates.
3. Match the color of your outfit to the image you want to project.
A CareerBuilder survey of hiring managers and human-resources professionals found that different clothing colors convey distinct impressions.
Twenty-three percent of interviewers recommended wearing blue, which suggests that the candidate is a team player, while 15% recommended black, which suggests leadership potential.
Meanwhile, 25% said orange is the worst color to wear, and suggests that the candidate is unprofessional.
Here’s what other colors indicate:
Green, yellow, orange, or purple: creative
4. Tailor your answers to the interviewer’s age.
You can learn a lot (but not everything) about your interviewer and what she wants to hear based on her generational age.
In their book “Crazy Good Interviewing,” John B. Molidor, Ph.D., and Barbara Parus write that you should conduct yourself a little differently based on which generation your interviewer belongs to. Here’s their breakdown:
Generation Y interviewers (between 20 and 30): Bring along visual samples of your work and highlight your ability to multitask.
Generation X interviewers (between 30 and 50): Emphasize your creativity and mention how work/life balance contributes to your success.
Baby Boomer interviewers (between 50 and 70): Show that you work hard and demonstrate respect for what they’ve achieved.
Silent Generation interviewers (between 70 and 90): Mention your loyalty and commitment to previous jobs.
5. Hold your palms open or steeple your hands.
According to Molidor and Parus, your hand movements contribute to the impression you convey in a job interview.
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.
6. Find something in common with your interviewer.
According to the “similarity-attraction hypothesis,” we tend to like people who share similar attitudes.
So if you know your interviewer really values community service and you do, too, try to work that topic into your conversation.
7. Mirror the interviewer’s body language.
The “chameleon effect” is a psychological phenomenon that describes how people tend to like each other more when they’re exhibiting similar body language.
Body language expert Patti Wood says that, ideally, it should look like you’re “dancing” with the other person. Otherwise it can seem like you’re not interested in what they’re saying, you’re not a team player, or even that you’re lying.
So if your interviewer is leaning forward in his chair and putting his hands on the table, feel free to do the same. Chances are he won’t notice that you’re copying him.
8. Compliment the interviewer and the organization without self-promoting.
In one study, cited on PsyBlog, researchers found that students who ingratiated themselves with their interviewers, without coming across as self-promotional, were more likely to be recommended for the job. That’s likely because those students seemed like a better fit for the company.
Specifically, the students who ingratiated themselves praised the organization and indicated their enthusiasm for working there, and complimented the interviewer. They didn’t play up the value of positive events they took credit for or take credit for positive events even if they weren’t solely responsible.
9. Show confidence and deference simultaneously.
Success in business is often a matter of competing and cooperating, say the business professors who wrote the book “Friend and Foe.”
In a job interview, that means showing deference to your interviewer, while also demonstrating self-confidence. One way to do that is to say something like, “I love your work on [whatever area]. It reminds me of my work on [whatever area].”
You’re confident in that you’re taking the initiative to guide the conversation, but also deferential in that you’re admiring your interviewer’s work.
10. Emphasize how you took control of events in your previous jobs.
Other research cited on PsyBlog suggests that, to impress your interviewer, you should talk about past work experiences where you took initiative.
In the study, retail salespeople heard hypothetical scenarios (e.g. A customer comes into the store about to go on vacation, and she doesn’t know what to take with her, so you talk to her about different products, and the customer purchases suntan cream and sunglasses.) and were asked to indicate how responsible they would feel for the positive outcome.
Employees who implied that they were responsible for the purchase generally received higher performance ratings from their managers.
The same idea likely applies in the case of job interviews. If you can show how you contributed to a positive outcome at your company, your interviewer will likely be more impressed with you than if you act like you had little to do with it. (But be careful not to overstate your role in the outcome — see No. 8.)
11. Be candid about your weaknesses.
In answering the question “What’s your greatest weakness?” your initial impulse might be to craft a strategic response that really emphasizes your strengths. For example, you might say, “I’m such a perfectionist” or “I work too hard.”
But recent research suggests that “humblebragging,” or boasting concealed by a complaint, can be a turnoff in interviews. It’s wiser to say something genuine like, “I’m not always the best at staying organized,” which sounds more honest, and could make your interviewer more inclined to recommend you for the position.
12. Prime yourself to feel powerful.
A growing body of research suggests that you can easily make yourself feel and appear more powerful in business situations.
In one study, participants who wrote about a time when they held power over other people were more likely to be cited as influential during a group-work task — and that impression remained even two days later.
In another study by Harvard Business School professor Amy Cuddy, some students practiced two “high power” (expansive and open) poses for one minute each before giving a speech about their dream job, while others adopted “low power” (contractive and closed) poses. Results showed that students in the high-power group were rated as more confident and were more likely to be recommended for hypothetical jobs.
It’s definitely not a good idea to adopt a power pose while you’re interviewing, but you can certainly take one before you enter the building or the conference room. For example, you can stand with your feet hip distance apart and hold your arms up over your head.
13. Speak expressively.
If you want to sound smart, avoid speaking in monotone.
According to Leonard Mlodinow, author of “Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior,” “If two speakers utter exactly the same words, but one speaks a little faster and louder and with fewer pauses and greater variation in volume, that speaker will be judged to be more energetic, knowledgeable, and intelligent. Expressive speech, with modulation in pitch and volume, and a minimum of noticeable pauses, boosts credibility and enhances the impression of intelligence.”
Over at Inc., Geoffrey James suggests that you “slow down and speed up depending upon the importance of what you’re communicating at the time. If you’re summarizing or going over background, speak more quickly than when you’re providing new information. When you’re introducing an important concept, slow down to give listeners time to absorb it.”
14. Make eye contact when you first meet your interviewer.
Don’t be bashful — when your interviewer comes to greet you, look them in the eye.
In one study, researchers asked participants to watch videos of strangers talking to each other for the first time and then rate how intelligent each person seemed. Results showed that the people who consistently made eye contact while speaking were considered more intelligent than those who didn’t make eye contact.
15. Be friendly and assertive at the same time.
One fascinating study sought to address the reasons why candidates who seem anxious are less likely to land the job.
Turns out, at least in mock interviews, it’s not nervous tics like fidgeting that hurt your chances. Rather, it could be that being anxious makes you seem less warm and assertive, and makes you speak slowly.
“If you’re not naturally extroverted, you need to make sure you sell your skills,” study coauthor Deborah M. Powell told Forbes. “Don’t be afraid to take ownership of your contribution to a project.”
Powell told Forbes that slow talking hurt candidates’ chances because interviewers may have assumed that the candidates were having a hard time answering their questions.
16. Showcase your potential.
You might be tempted to tell your interviewer all about your past accomplishments — but research suggests you should focus more on what you could do in the future, if the organization hires you.
In one study, participants received information about a hypothetical job applicant. Some participants learned that the applicant had two years of experience and had received a high score on a test of leadership achievement; others learned that the candidate had no experience and had received a high score on a test of leadership potential.
Results showed that participants thought the candidate would be more successful when they learned he had great potential.
According to social psychologist Heidi Halvorson, our brains pay more attention to uncertain information because they want to unlock it. That means we end up spending more time analyzing that information and, if the information is positive, we’re left with a more favorable view of a person’s competence.