Despite rapid advancements in the science of assessments and a booming market for recruitment technologies, it is still virtually impossible for anyone to get a job without first going through a traditional interview.
This is bad news, since typical job interviews tend to be poor predictors of future performance, and unreliable markers of someone’s true talent. The reason is that all humans are biased, to the point that it’s impossible to resist the impact of first impressions, even when we are determined to do so.
As a result, intuitive inferences of people’s potential are generally flawed and contaminated by a range of irrelevant signals. Those are the things that interviewers cannot ignore but should because they are poorly correlated with future job performance.
A common example is body language or nonverbal communication, which is known to impact others’ evaluations of candidates’ job potential far more than it predicts candidates’ future job performance.
In fact, it takes just 30 seconds for people to make consequential judgments about us based on their initial gut feeling, so there is really no second chance for a first good impression.
To put things into perspective: Imagine that wearing a red sweater increases your chances of being hired, but without boosting your probability of actually being good at that job. In other words, our nonverbal communication, which includes face, voice, body, touch, and interpersonal space, plays a significant role influencing others’ views of our employability without actually being a relevant indicator of it.
To make matters worse, the commonly held belief is that body language matters a great deal more than it does, with popular estimates absurdly claiming that 80% of communication is nonverbal; if this were true, we would not need subtitles when we watch a movie in a foreign language, or interpreters when we travel to a remote country.
But while we cannot stop people from making conscious and unconscious evaluations of our nonverbal behavior, we can pay attention to the signals we send, curating our professional self-presentation, and using our knowledge of what people look for to our own advantage.
In fact, a fundamental component of social and political skills involves displaying the right kind of verbal and nonverbal communicational signals to improve how we come across to others.
The more deliberately you seem to engage with the interviewers (e.g., nodding, smiling, making eye contact), the lower the status you will project. Conversely, if you want to project a powerful and high-status image, you may want to seem disengaged, disinterested, and basically play hard to get.