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Interview Psychology Cheat Sheet (13 Things You Need to Know)

        posted by , February 16, 2013

You've probably heard that psychology plays a big role in job interviews. You've probably seen this in action.

It feels unfair, why should people's psychology affect your chances at your next job?

There's a simple answer: hiring teams aren't information processing robots. Hiring managers are human. And that's not a bad thing. Humans are great. But they're complex.

In many ways human hiring decisions are more effective than standardized interview testing. But they are strongly influenced by social psychological factors.

It's a good idea to learn a few things about social psychology before your next interview. These 13 cognitive biases are known to be a factor in candidate selection.

1. In-group Bias

People tend to trust people who have commonalities to themselves.

Commonalities as minor as attending the same university or having the same hobby as the interviewer improve your chances at a job.

Lesson: Find things in common with your interviewer. Research your interviewers before the interview. If you worked for the same company – bring it up.


2. Ambiguity Effect

People avoid making choices for which information is missing.

If you're the best candidate in the interview but no one can remember if you have a certain qualification. They'll check your resume. If it's not there they may choose someone else.

Lesson: It's in your best interest to make sure that your interview is comprehensive. If your conversation goes off on a tangent, the interviewing team will be missing information. You'll be the ambiguous candidate.


3. Anchoring Effect

People tend to make decisions based on one or two facts they consider important.

At the end of your interview, the interviewing team may highlight two or three things about you. "He's the guy who wrote that popular business book." "She was the top sales representative (by revenue) at her company for three consecutive quarters."

Lesson: The highlights of your career may receive heavy weighting in the interviewer's evaluation. Before the interview think about what career highlights you want to sell.


4. Decoy Effect

The decoy effect says that people are affected by extreme examples. It's used extensively in marketing and advertising.

It's effective to compare the price of your product to an extremely negative result. For example, "You could lose $2 million dollars to a security incident if you don't send your staff on our $4000 security training."

Lesson: The decoy effect has implications for salary negotiations. "You could save $20,000 in salary by hiring someone who has few industry connections. Or you could hire someone like me who has friends near the top of 50 fortune 100 corporations with combined revenues of over $1 trillion dollars."

Risks: Using the decoy effect can be perceived as manipulative or over-selling yourself.


5. Recency Illusion

People have a tendency to believe that technologies and business terms that they've never heard before are new.

Lesson: If you want to give the impression that you're trend aware, talk about obscure stuff.


6. Semmelweis Reflex

The tendency to reject arguments and information that go against mainstream thinking.

Lesson: An interview is no place to challenge conventional thinking. Show your innovative side but don't break conventional rules.


7. Status Quo Bias

The tendency to fear and resist change.

Lesson: Organizations are looking for candidates who can bend to the organization's way of doing things. They're not interested in bending to your way of doing things. Show interest in doing things their way.


8. Wishful Thinking

Wishful thinking is the evil twin of optimism. It's optimism without realism.

People may actively avoid information that contradicts their vision, strategy and plans.

Lesson: Job descriptions are sometimes hopelessly unrealistic. However, if you tell the interviewer their vision is impossible you won't likely be hired. It's generally difficult to negotiate changes in a job description.


9. Stereotyping

The expectation that members of a certain group are all similar. This goes beyond destructive stereotypes such as racism and sexism. For example, people will assume that all IT people are introverts or that all graduates of Harvard are brilliant.

Lesson: Be aware of the stereotypes that may apply to you. You may need to actively fight unfair perceptions in the interview. For example, if your background is in IT you may need to emphasize that you're good with people.


10. Halo Effect

When someone is good at one thing people tend to assume that they're good at everything.

Lesson: Show beyond any doubt that you're good at one thing and all perceptions of you will rise. For example, if you're an accomplished public speaker the interviewer may assume that you're generally skilled at business.


11. Humor Effect

People remember information that's humorous better than information that's dry and logical.

Lesson: Humorous stories that show off your capabilities will be remembered.

Cautions: An interview requires professional polish. It's not a good idea to give a comedic performance. Mild humor is best.


12. Spacing Effect

People need to learn things 3 times before they really remember it.

Lesson: Don't be afraid to repeat your key points on the 2nd and 3rd interview.


13. Peak-end Rule

People remember the peak and end of an event.

Lesson: Make sure your interview has high points and ends well.

This article is an installment in the ongoing series how to win your next job.


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