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Eye on Psi Chi: Winter 2014
Everything I Needed to Know About Interviewing, I Learned From Watching The Bachelor
Merry Sleigh, PhD, and Darren Ritzer, PhD, Winthrop University (SC)

If you are like most of the 117 young adults we recently surveyed, then a third of the time you spend watching television is watching reality programming (Sleigh & Ritzer, 2012). Even if you are part of the percentage that avoid watching directly, it is almost impossible to avoid the blaring headlines in the tabloids, the late night jokes at the expense of the partici­pants, and advertisements for the seemingly never-ending reunion and update shows. After many years of laughing and cringing at these shows, we realized that there are many life lessons to be learned. The Bachelor (Fleiss, Levenson, & Gale, 2002), a show in which a bevy of women compete for the love, or at least the temporary attention, of one man, is a prime example. We would like to suggest that almost everything you need to know about interviewing, either for a job or graduate school admission, can be learned by examining this show. Here are some of our best tips:

1. Prepare.
Just as the bachelorettes spend their time in the lim­ousine checking their lipstick and fluffing their hair in anticipation of meeting the Bachelor, you should take the time to prepare for your interview. The Internet is an easy way to gather data about a company or school. If you are applying for jobs, explore informa­tion about a company’s mission statement, public perception, past performance, and hierarchical struc­ture. Pay particular attention to how you might fit into the company’s long-range plans so that you can convince them of your value. If you are applying to graduate programs, read about the faculty and their research programs, particularly those with whom you are likely to interview and/or work. Be aware of the priorities of the program, for example, whether they are training researchers or practitioners. In both situations, job or graduate school, knowing about the geographic context is another way to demonstrate that you are not a naïve applicant but one who has intentionally selected this opportunity. Be prepared to explain to the interviewer why you are seeking this particular organization at this specific time.

Insider’s Tip: Prepare an elevator speech. Be able to articulate who you are, your qualifications, and your goals. Be able to sell yourself in the time it would take to make a short elevator trip. Once you have done so, you are prepared for the inevitable "tell me a little bit about yourself” question.
Insider’s Tip: Search the Internet for common questions asked during the interview process. Plan ahead about how you might respond. An interviewer may ask you questions related to a time you failed, a situation you left, or a personal weakness. You will want to honestly answer these questions but to frame them in a positive light that shows your willingness to learn and improve.Insider's Tip: If possible, scope out the situation ahead of time, noting how people are dressed and considering logistics like travel time, traffic, and parking options.

2. Dress appropriately for the context.
You might recall the bachelorette that showed up in a wedding dress, alarming the Bachelor and infuriating her competitors. She definitely caught everyone’s attention, but attention is not always positive. As you prepare for your inter­view, gather information about how the people at the interview site typically dress so that you have a model to follow. You may be able to accomplish this by looking for posted pictures on the Internet, asking people who have experi­ence with the site, or visiting and observing directly. If no information is available, model after employees at organizations that are likely to be similar to the one at which you will interview. You want to be appropriate for the context. When the environment is very profes­sional, make sure that you too are professionally dressed. If people tend to wear conservative clothing, choose a conservative outfit. If you are applying to a situation that is more casual, do not assume that you should be casual as well. Demonstrate respect for the seriousness of the situation by dressing as an applicant, not as someone who already has the position. As a rule of thumb, it is better to be overdressed than underdressed when interviewing. We are not suggesting that you mask your personality, but rather that you do not let your clothing unintentionally suggest a personality that is not a good fit for the company or school.

Insider’s Tip: If you are going to be touring a business or campus, wear comfortable shoes. You do not want to keep a group waiting while you attempt to keep up in high heels or nurse a blister from brand new shoes.
Insider’s Tip: Be thoughtful about wearing perfume or cologne. Some interviewers might find it distracting or even unpleasant. In the same way, be cautious about accessories that are noisy. You do not want an interviewer to be thinking about your clanking bracelets instead of your accomplishments.

3. Be in the moment.
The bachelorette who spends her limited alone time with the Bachelor complaining about the other women will soon find her journey toward love coming to a screech­ing halt. She has wasted her moment to connect with the Bachelor. Don’t waste your moments during the interview. Even though you should arrive prepared, there is a real-time element to the interview process. You do not want to be so rehearsed or so focused on sharing your elevator speech that you miss the opportunity to genuinely con­nect with people. Social psychology clearly demonstrates that we tend to like others who are similar to ourselves. Actively seek common ground by being an astute observer. Interviews often take place in the interviewer’s office, and you can discover a lot about people by the pictures on their desk, the awards on their walls, and the books on their shelves. Use this information to cultivate relationships. Carefully attending and listening to the interviewer may also give you insight into the characteristics the interviewer desires in a candidate. Knowing what the organization wants gives you an advantage as you work to sell yourself.
Insider’s Tip: Showing an interest in another person is good. Feigning interest or pretending to have common ground where there is none can be very dangerous. Follow-up questions may reveal your ignorance or deception, neither of which leads to a favorable impression.
Insider’s Tip: Let your nonverbal behaviors indicate your interest and professionalism. Shake hands. Make eye contact. Smile at appropriate times. Assess your interviewing posture, making sure to lean forward toward the interviewer rather than backwards. Don’t cross your arms. Avoid fidgeting, touching your hair, or fiddling with a piece of clothing or accessory.
Insider’s Tip: Do not bring your cell phone to an interview. If you are expecting a call that is so important that it cannot be missed, reschedule the interview. If you have your phone with you, you will be tempted to check it, and there is no time during an interview when that is appropriate, even when you are alone in the restroom.

4. Nobody wants to know your opinion on everything.
One way to increase your face time on reality television in to have an opinion about everyone and everything. This is not a good strategy to take into a professional interview. The interviewer is trying to get to know you. Thus you need to be open and willing to reveal aspects of yourself. Ideally, you and the organizational representatives are trying to assess the goodness of fit which can only happen with information exchange. However, be thoughtful of what you share. You do not know everything about your audience. Avoid topics that are known to be controversial. Even when it seems that the group shares consensus on a topic, there may be people present with differing opinions who are simply not voicing them. You want to be perceived as knowedgable, intelligent, and sophisticated. Sometimes the best way to do this is by listening rather than speaking.
Insider’s Tip: Decades of research on the employment interview process reveals that the more the interviewer talks, the more positively he or she will rate the interview (Dipboye & Johnson, 2013). Asking relevant questions and finding common ground are two strategies to get the interviewer talking. If you find yourself using a phrase such as, "But enough about me…,” it has probably been more than enough about you!

5. Don’t assume people can read your mind.
Picture yet another weeping bachelorette wondering on her way out the door if she should have mentioned to the Bachelor that she liked him. The viewers have the advantage of seeing not only her reticence but also contrasting it against the effusive emotions of the remaining women. Sometimes you need to say the words, not assume that people can read your mind. When interviewing, express your interest in tangible ways. Be engaged and excited. You have taken the time to interview at this location for a reason. Share your motivation with the interviewers. Do not assume that your enthusiasm and motivation is obvious to everyone. At the same time, do not be falsely flattering, disingenuous, or desperate.
Insider’s Tip: A good rule of thumb is to stay engaged and enthusiastic until the interview ends. Even if you start wondering whether this is the right situation for you, withhold your final judgment until the interview ends, and you can reflect from a distance.
Insider’s Tip: Prepare exit strategies. Instead of leaving someone’s office in an awkward manner, think about what you might say to the interviewer as your time together draws to a close. Make sure to thank the interviewer and once again express your interest in the organization. If possible, connect your parting words to some aspect of the interview conversation.

6. The cameras are always on.
Watching reality TV is a salient reminder of how people habituate to the presence of cameras and start behaving in ways that might be best left private. But, that is part of the appeal of reality TV. The cameras are always on! Consider interviews to be the same. From the time the interview begins until the time you leave the interview situation, remember that the evaluation is ongoing. How you behave as you sit in a waiting room, speak with the receptionist, interact with a waitress during a meal, and groom yourself in the restroom can all be observed and used to make judgments about the type of person you are. Be on your best behavior at all times. This advice might be particularly helpful for graduate applicants who spend the night with or find themselves being escorted around town by current graduate students. These unstructured situations are usually relaxed, and candidates are encouraged to be candid about their opinions. However, the agenda includes more than entertaining you. In the midst of an interview, everyone you come in contact with is potentially gathering information, forming an impression, and reporting their thoughts to the selection committee. From start to finish, behave as though you are on camera and everything you do is being evaluated.

Insider’s Tip: The opinion of your future coworkers, staff members, and fellow graduate students can carry a great deal of weight during the interview situation. Treat every person as if they are making the selection decision.
Insider’s Tip: Arrive at and depart from the interview site alone. Do not have others transport you to or wait for you during the interview. You do not want to give the interviewer any reason to question your independence, maturity, or self-efficacy. In addition, anything you bring with you, including other people, influences how you are evaluated. It is unwise to take the time to present yourself carefully only to have someone else’s appearance or behavior diminish your own.

7. How you treat your competition matters.
Some of the best moments on The Bachelor center on bach­elorettes’ back-stabbing, gossiping about, and fighting with one another. Again, what makes for good television does not make for good interviewing. Group interviews are com­mon for graduate schools and some job situations, resulting in competing candidates being evaluated together. You are being evaluated as an individual but part of what faculty members and employers want to see is that you can work well with others, be a good listener, show appreciation for diversity, and represent the company in a professional man­ner. How you treat other people, especially when you know they are your competition, reveals a great deal about how you will treat those around you if selected. No supervisor wants to deal with interpersonal conflict. Your future peers are not going to advocate for someone who seems likely to compete with them and create an unpleasant work environ­ment. Many tasks in today’s society require cooperation and collaboration to complete. Even leaders need to know how to work with and for others. Use every opportunity to demon­strate that you will be a team player and that the organization will be glad to have selected you.

Insider’s Tip: The interview situation might not be the last time you see some of your competitors. It is possible that they will be selected alongside you. Treat people as if they are already your professional peers, because they may very well be.

8. Be positive about the past.
Another common downfall for bachelorettes is spending the limited time they have with the Bachelor bemoaning their previous failed relationships. Even if the point is to demonstrate how much better the Bachelor is than their past boyfriends, nobody wants to think that you are fixated on the past when they are looking toward the future. Similarly, nobody wants to wonder if you will one day be complaining about them to the next romantic partner. Organizations are the same way. You may be asked why you left a previous employer, your experiences with a previous organization, or your relationship with a past mentor. Be positive and brief. Even if your past experience was horrendous, find ways to discuss it in factual, positive terms. Unpleasant situations can be honestly portrayed as opportunities for growth and welcomed chal­lenges. Mentors should always be appreciated for the efforts they made. Bad experiences often strengthen character. Show the interviewer that you are a candidate who can rise above circum­stances and will be grateful for any mentorship they may be willing to provide.

Insider’s Tip: You may find yourself in a situation where your future peers are speaking poorly of your previous organization, their boss, the company, or other applicants. Do not let yourself be drawn into a negative conversation. Your response may be repeated to the evaluators without the messengers admitting their own role in the conversation.
Insider’s Tip: Sometimes your ability to maintain your composure is more important than an answer you give. You may be asked questions for which there is not an obviously positive answer or on which your mind goes blank. It is even possible that the interviewer is intentionally asking a question so challenging that any candidate would have difficulty providing an answer. The best strategy is to have prepared in advance. However, if you find yourself stumbling through an answer to a question, stay calm and composed. Do not betray the fact that you are flustered. Take a moment to ask the interviewer to repeat or clarify the question. Allow yourself a thoughtful pause. Avoid the temptation to think out loud, rambling your way to a final answer. Do your best. Stay brief and focused. Remember that it might be better to admit that you do not have a clear answer at that time than to blurt our words that cannot be taken back. When you hit a stumbling block in the interview, move past it and put it out of your mind.

9. Monitor your alcohol.
Bachelorettes who overindulge make for great television ratings, particularly when alcohol fuels drunken brawls and excessive weeping. However, you do not want your interview to be characterized by the elements of great television ratings. In most interview situations, it is in your best interest not to drink alcohol even if invited to do so. You do not know the preferences and life experiences of the people with whom you are interviewing. Consuming alcohol may accidentally offend someone, put someone in an uncomfortable situation, or lead them to form a perception of you that may not be accurate. You also want to function at your best during an interview situation, thinking and communicating clearly. Not getting a good night’s sleep, being too nervous to eat, and feeling anxious are all factors that can precede interviews and influence the way that alcohol affects you. In general, you want to avoid any behavior tha
t might compromise your ability.

That being said, lengthy interview processes sometimes include social events at which most people are drinking. For example, during graduate school interviews, candidates often spend time with current graduate students in a less structured environment and job candidates can sometimes be treated to meals at which other employees are drinking. Drinking may seem like the sociable choice. However, there are many ways to demonstrate your interpersonal skills that do not carry the same risk as drinking alcohol. One drink is not likely to be the deciding factor in your interview outcome, but since it is unnecessary, it seems wiser to avoid alcohol when interviewing.

Insider’s Tip: If you are made to feel pressured or uncomfortable in an interview situation, consider that valuable information about the organization. You may not want to self-select into such an environment.
Insider’s Tip: In social situations that require eating, select foods that are easy to consume while carrying on a conversation, will not cause bad breath, and are unlikely to end up stuck in your teeth.

10. As you attempt to win, don’t forget to assess the prize.
Despite the popularity of the shows, most romantic relationships emerging from The Bachelor do not last. A likely reason is that the situation creates heightened feelings that are hard to maintain in the real world. It might be a bit easier to feel in love while dining under your own private fireworks display than it is over reheated leftovers. The thrill of the chase and of being chosen over others can cloud judgment. The bachelorettes can be so focused on winning that they don’t carefully evaluate what they have won. This mistake can happen in interviewing too. Interviews should be both an information sharing and gathering process. As interviewees put their best foot forward, they should simultaneously be learning as much as possible about the school or company. Be prepared to answer questions but also come prepared with questions. Questions reveal that you are taking the process seriously. Also, don’t underestimate the power of observation. Many factors determine how enjoyable a job will be. Use the interview time to gather as much data as you can about interpersonal interactions, the emotional atmosphere, the rigidity of the hierarchical structure, opportunities for advancement, availability of mentors, and other factors that might impact your ability to succeed.

Insider’s Tip: Make sure to ask at least one or two thoughtful, relevant questions. You are making a decision about the organization just as they are making a decision about you.

11. What you do afterward matters.
If you have watched The Bachelor, then you also have probably cringed as a rejected bachelorette moans to the camera with a mascara-stained face about how she will never find someone to truly love her. Those scenes are definitely cringe-worthy, and they remind us that what you do after the interview ends matters. Make sure that you punctuate your interview positively by send­ing thank-you notes to the people who were part of the interview process. Personalize them, perhaps by reminding people of a connection that you shared. Indicate your interest once again. Following-up with the organization allows you to extend your interview beyond your physical presence and refreshes people’s memory as the selec­tion decision draws near.

Insider’s Tip: Send notes to all people who had a meaningful role in the process, not just the main interviewer. Employees, graduate students, or staff members will also appreciate your thanks.
Insider’s Tip: Think ahead of time about how you will handle the conversation or respond to a message letting you know that you were selected. Decide whether it is best to accept immediately or ask for time to consider the offer. Be aware that you may be offered a particular salary or a financial aid packet, and you need to know whether you are prepared to accept or need to negotiate. Prepare a response regardless of whether you plan to accept, ask for time to consider, negotiate, or decline.

12. Be a gracious loser.
One of the few long-term success stories from The Bachelor involves the season of Jason, Melissa, and Molly. Jason ended the season by declaring his eternal love to Melissa, while Molly left shocked and in tears. Fast forward to the reunion show where Molly discovered that Jason had changed his mind and now wanted to dump Melissa and reunite with her, making her happy and him one of the most hated Bachelors of all time. The moral of the story is that a rejection might not necessarily be the end of the road. Some organizations will allow candidates to follow up, asking for information about how they might be more competitive in the future. Students may be turned down from a graduate school to which they will gladly be accepted the following year, especially if the students heed the advice given during the follow-up conversation. Job applicants may be turned down for one par­ticular job, but remembered when another position opens in the organization. Not every opportunity knocks twice, but you never know when a closed door may open. Gather any constructive feedback available and use it to your advantage on your next interview.

Insider’s Tip: Think ahead of time about how you will handle the conversation or respond to a message letting you know that you were not selected. Express appreciation for the opportunity and thank the person for the time that was given to you.
As we have seen, crying, disappointment, and rejection are common occurrences on The Bachelor. However, this type of high drama belongs on television only, not in the interview room. Instead of giving the impression of a desperate woman, your interview should be like a finely edited script, full of memorable moments that display the profes­sionalism and potential. Hopefully, the lessons we have learned from so many weeping women with unhappy endings will help you sail through your interview process tear-free and emerge with the final rose in the end.

References
Dipboye, R. L. & Johnson, S. K. (2013). Understanding and improving employee selection interviews. In K. F. Geisinger, B. A. Bracken, J. F. Carlson, J. C. Hansen, N. R. Kuncel, S. P. Reise, & M. C. Rodriguez (Eds). APA handbook of testing and assessment in psychology, Volume I: Test theory and testing and assessment in industrial and organizational psychology. Washington DC: American Psychological Association.

Fleiss M., Levenson, L., & Gale, E. (2002) The Bachelor [Television series]. Malibu, CA: Next Entertainment
Sleigh, M. J. & Ritzer, D. R. (2012, February). Predictors of reality TV viewing, perceptions and reactions. Presented at the Southeastern Psychological Association Conference, New Orleans, LA.



Merry Sleigh, PhD, is an associate professor at Winthrop University (WU) and director of undergraduate research for the College of Arts and Sciences. She will soon begin her second term as the Psi Chi Southeastern Regional Vice-President. Dr. Sleigh has won numerous awards for her mentoring, teaching, and advising. She is particularly passionate about helping students develop skills for future success through participation in undergraduate research.

Darren Ritzer, PhD, is currently an associate professor of psychology at Winthrop University. He earned his undergrad degree in psychology from Lafayette College in Eason, PA and he earned his PhD in industrial/organizational psychology from Virginia Tech. Before arriving at Winthrop University, Dr. Ritzer was a major in the U.S. Army.

Copyright 2014 (Volume 18, Issue 2) by Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology


 

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