Career Testing
Career Testing
Career Testing
INTERVIEWS / AUG. 25, 2014
version 3, draft 3

Why Nervous Interviewees Prefer Criticism to Praise

Interviews are generally speaking one of the more nerve wracking experiences we can go through in our professional lives.  As recruiters, whilst this may offer you an insight into how the candidate handles pressure, it may be more effective to think of a way to set their nerves at ease.

Whilst you may intuitively think of giving the plucky candidate a smile and nod at their answers, a new study suggests that such a gentle approach may actually do more harm than good.  Indeed, it goes as far as to suggest that giving the candidate a hard time may be much more effective in calming their nerves.

The research, conducted by researchers from North Illinois University, saw a series of mock interviews conducted, whereby the interview would alter things such as their posture, tone of voice, facial expressions and so on in order to provide a range of feedback to each interview candidate.

Each session was recorded in order to allow the research team to evaluate how they went, and in particular explore the performance and behaviour of the candidates when given each type of feedback.  In addition to this, each participant was given a questionnaire to complete based upon their social anxiety levels.

Tough Love

The results are fascinating.  When candidates were naturally relaxed, then giving them positive or neutral feedback contributed to better interviews overall.  However such an approach actually made anxious candidates worse.

When the feedback was negative however, this pattern reversed, with the previously anxious performer coming out on top of their more chilled rivals.  It emerged that the nervous candidate actually benefited from the negative feedback and began giving better answers under that specific condition.

It transpired that when the nervous candidate was given positive or neutral feedback, it resulted in an increase in displays of anxiety, i.e. things such as minimal eye contact and fidgeting, but also a reduction in more assertive tactics.  When the interviewer appeared to dislike them however, these symptoms seemed to vanish and a more spiky individual emerged.

Looking in the Mirror

The researchers suggest that this could all be down to our desire for a consistent self image.  For instance, the relaxed candidate is given positive feedback, which confirms their image of themselves.  This allows them to focus on the external things, such as acing the interview. 

The nervous candidate however has a more negative image of themselves, and therefore the negative feedback from the interviewer confirms that, whilst the positive feedback runs counter to their own perception.

The researchers conclude their paper with a recommendation that nervous candidates might benefit most of all by learning techniques that boost their self esteem, thus reducing the difference between how they view themselves and positive feedback.

For instance, you might try and think of all the reasons why your interviewer might express positive emotions without it necessarily being purely about you.  You could even try this tactic out on friends and colleagues of a cheery disposition.  Hopefully this will ensure that your next interview allows you to take a more balanced approach.

See also: Interview Preparation Advices

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