Career Connection

Can you speak the language of 'impression management'?

Before, during and after job interviews many variables are in play, including candidates' nonverbal and self-promotion behaviors. These behaviors — as well as the nature of the positions to be filled — shape the direction of interviews and how hiring managers perceive candidates. Of course, interviewees often adapt their behaviors to create certain impressions in the minds of interviewers because those will influence how others perceive, evaluate and treat them. Conveying a favorable impression — what I informally call the "likeability factor" — increases the chances that candidates will achieve their preferred outcomes, which could be second interviews or job offers. Who goes into a job interview unwilling to promote their accomplishments, expertise and character? Only the perpetually unemployed.

Occupational psychologists define jobseekers' behavioral approaches that indirectly influence hiring recommendations as impression management. If you've ever shown up for a job interview wearing your best business attire, you've engaged in impression management. If you've been conscious about your vocabulary during a job interview or first date, you've applied impression management. If you've turned on the charm to avoid getting a speeding ticket, you've used impression management. Your attempt to influence a decision or individual in your favor through visual, verbal and written communication can be thought of as building rapport. You're trying to raise your likeability factor, and we've all done it.

Candidates are more motivated to manage their impression for hiring managers who are powerful, of high status or likeable themselves. When the likeability factor runs in both directions, thereby creating rapport, people connect at levels that often make it easier for candidates to manage particular impressions. It helps "grease the skids" toward getting on the hiring manager's short list and improves the chances of receiving a job offer.

If the idea of impression management sounds like behavioral manipulation, you're right. In fact, psychologists claim that public self-presentation is almost always overtly manipulative because the intent is to maximize projected benefits and minimize expected penalties. But it's not sinister at all. You're managing your impression by simply observing others and mirroring their communication style and demeanor in an attempt to connect with them on a relational level that makes you memorable.

(Of course, you shouldn't communicate something that you're not. If the organization hires you, it should know that you'll still be the same person with the same personality a year down the road.)

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