Demeanor and Appearance: How to Dress and Act When Conducting an Interview

If people consistently do one thing wrong when conducting an interview, it’s being too stern, judgmental or unapproachable. Closely following this is an appearance which is not conducive to a relaxed atmosphere. Think about it: we are going to be asking someone to share their thoughts with us, to let us in the “inner circle”, to open up to us. What are the odds that someone will feel comfortable with us if we’re acting hostile, unfriendly, officious or strictly professional an appearance and bearing? I know that interviewers are not always in control of their appearance: department, agency or company policy may dictate a manner of dress which projects professionalism. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating conducting interviews in cut-offs, flip-flops and suntan oil, I’m just saying that small changes to your appearance greatly enhance your approachability. Taking off a suit coat, removing a tie, unbuttoning the top button on a shirt or rolling up your sleeves conveys an atmosphere of informality which you can use to your tactical advantage. Let’s contrast the stiff professional with being warm, casual, empathetic, a good listener and generally nice. We’ve all had experiences with people who were too stern; bosses, school teachers, perhaps a parent or two. Remember how we felt when talking to that person? We also have all had a special someone in our past that we could talk with about virtually anything. What was the critical difference between these people? I am a firm believer in “old sayings” or folklore, because they all have at least a grain of truth in them or they wouldn’t have lasted long enough to become “old sayings.” I am thinking of a particular saying here: “It’s easier to catch flies with honey than with vinegar.” It’s true; it’s easier to get people to respond to you by being nice, warm, open and friendly. An important psychological point is often overlooked by interviewers. That point is the “carrot and the stick” principle. Call it what you will, “good guy – bad guy” or “carrot and the stick” the principles are the same, any approach is more effective if there is both reward and punishment. Numerous psychological studies have shown that punishing bad behavior is effective, as is rewarding good behavior. However, when we combine the two – punishing bad behavior while simultaneously rewarding good behavior – the results are dramatic. So, let’s use that principle to our advantage: be nice and friendly when people are talking to you (especially when they are telling the truth) and become less friendly when we detect lies. Psychologically, this “rewards” the person with our friendly behavior while “punishing” them when we aren’t so friendly. The results are worth the effort.

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