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Don't Try to Be 'Perfect' in Job Interviews

Don't Try to Be 'Perfect' in Job Interviews
Credit: George Rudy/Shutterstock

If you know you are a strong job candidate, there is no reason to pretend to be someone better than you already are during interviews, new research finds.

A study recently published in the Journal of Applied Psychology discovered that high-quality job candidates who present themselves accurately during interviews increase their chances of receiving a job offer. However, the same can't be said for candidates who aren't seen as appealing by employers.

"People are often encouraged to only present the best aspects of themselves at interview so they appear more attractive to employers, but what we've found is that high-quality candidates – the top 10 percent – fare much better when they present who they really are," said SunYoung Lee, one of the study's authors and an assistant professor at the University College London School of Management, in a statement. "Unfortunately, the same isn't true for poorer-quality candidates who can actually damage their chances of being offered the job by being more authentic."

For the study, researchers looked at the concept of self-verification, which refers to individuals' drive to be known and understood by others according to their firmly held beliefs and feelings about themselves. [Going on a job interview? Here are 50 questions you should br ready to answer]

"We propose that among highly qualified candidates, interviewers are instinctively attracted to individuals whom they perceive as authentic," the study's authors wrote. "This means that in the interviewing context – a setting known to motivate inauthentic and fake behavior – candidates who are already considered highly qualified for the position will positively differentiate themselves from their competition if they also strive to self-verify."

Previously, self-verifying behavior in the workplace was known to have a positive effect in the long term, such as when employees try to integrate themselves in a new organization. This research found that self-verification can affect short-term interpersonal interactions, like those during the hiring process, as well.

"People like to associate with high self-verifying individuals, in part because self-verification facilitates harmonious, committed, and stable relationships," the study's authors wrote.

Researchers came to their conclusions after conducting two field studies and a third experimental study. In the field studies, researchers looked at the importance of self-verification for groups of professionals applying for different jobs. Prior to job interviews, candidates reported their self-verification drive, and their quality was evaluated in face-to-face interviews.

In the first field study, researchers looked at 1,240 teachers from around the globe who applied for placements in the U.S. They found that candidates who had been evaluated as high quality had a 51 percent likelihood of receiving a placement, but that increased to 73 percent for those who also had a strong drive to self-verify.

The second study conducted a similar assessment of 333 lawyers applying for positions in a branch of the U.S. military. High-quality candidates increased their chances of receiving a job offer by five times if they had a strong drive to self-verify. Conversely, low-quality candidates weakened their chances of getting a job offer when they displayed self-verification behaviors.

The third study surveyed 300 people on their striving for self-verification and selected those who were extremely high and extremely low in the distribution. The individuals participated in a mock job interview, which was then transcribed and submitted to text analysis.

The study's authors found that people with a strong self-verification drive communicated in a more fluid way about themselves, and were ultimately perceived as more authentic and less misrepresentative.

Celia Moore, one of the study's authors and an associate professor at Bocconi University in Italy, said the study shows that job candidates should avoid their instincts to present themselves as perfect during interviews.

"Interviewers perceive an overly polished self-representation as inauthentic and potentially misrepresentative," Moore said. "But ultimately, if you are a high-quality candidate, you can be yourself on the job market. You can be honest and authentic. And if you are, you will be more likely to get a job."

While the study shows that candidates who are not rated as highly don't get the same results from being authentic, the researchers argue that in the long run they are still better served by being their true selves.

The study's authors said if all one cares about is landing the job, then lower-quality candidates may want to be more cautious about presenting their true selves.

"Yet over the longer term, a poor-fitting applicant who presents himself inauthentically in order to acquire a job will likely perform poorly, be less satisfied, and more likely to leave," the study's authors wrote. "Thus, if the ultimate goal is to not only land a job but find a situation where one fits, it might be better for both higher- and lower-quality applicants to self-verify during the job search process."

The study was co-authored by Kawon Kim, an assistant professor at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, and Dan Cable, a professor at the London Business School.

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based writer and editor with nearly 20 years in media. A 1998 journalism graduate of Indiana University, Chad began his career with Business News Daily in 2011 as a freelance writer. In 2014, he joined the staff full time as a senior writer. Before Business News Daily, Chad spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Chad has also worked on the other side of the media industry, promoting small businesses throughout the United States for two years in a public relations role. His first book, How to Start a Home-Based App Development Business, was published in 2014. He lives with his wife and daughter in the Chicago suburbs.