What separates us from the animals? How evolutionary psychology can increase your interview advantage

Robin Roberts
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Human Evolution
There's great evolutionary advantage in making fast and accurate snap decisions in the modern, complex, business world (Source: Getty)

Other than “is it food?” or “should I run away?”, animals have few decisions to make. As such, they’ve evolved to make them lightning fast.

Humans have taken this a step further, and make rapid decisions about each other. We have evolved as a highly social species. A single individual is very ill-equipped to survive on his or her own. Being a member of a successful team is life or death for humans. We have also evolved as a raiding species. We steal resources from each other that are critical to survival. We will kill to do it. And so paradoxically, despite being a social species, the single greatest danger to a human is another member of our own species. In this we are almost unique.

For these reasons, there was, and still is, great evolutionary advantage in making fast and accurate snap decisions about other people, even if in the modern, complex, business world, decisions about people would be far better made slowly. This is most apparent in a job interview.

Interviewers make decisions about candidates in just half a second, according to a study by the University of Glasgow. It showed that candidates barely had time to say “hello” before Evolutionary psychology can increase your interview advantage, says Robin Roberts Adapt to survive in job interviews Our brains are hardwired to make instant, unconscious decisions irrevocable judgement had been made about them. Rather than issues with what they said or wore, it was how the candidate connected with the interviewer through first impressions and body language that mattered.

For a candidate, the first few moments in a job interview are critical, because the interviewer can’t stop making snap judgements. Those snap judgements are against the primitive template in the interviewer’s head and not related to the complex job specification. But they will powerfully benefit or harm the candidate’s chances.

What can those of us who find interviews stressful do? The good news is that you don’t need to do too much for very long to influence your interviewer in your favour. Here are a few examples.

The name's bond

You can accelerate bonding. All social species have evolved ways of forming bonds with other individuals via chemical and behavioural signals. Humans employ similar methods of bonding. One highly efficient tool that we use is synchrony to accelerate bonding in groups.

Laughing together or dancing; theatre clapping or military marching – these are all examples of using synchrony to bond. Synchrony is mirroring. When two people are enjoying each other’s company they very often behave as mirror images of each other while in conversation. When meeting your interviewer, try to fit into their style, their manner. Don’t be angular.

Can you feel it?

We can read feelings in an instant. Many of us look stressed when feeling stressed, unsurprisingly. Men and women have slightly different ways of signalling nervousness or stress. All involve touching the face, looking away, stroking the cheek, fiddling with rings etc. These things calm us. But it signals stress immediately. Practice keeping your hands on the table, not fiddling with things – not touching your head or face.

Handy to know

Hands are our most important tools. Our opposable thumb makes us distinctly human. We instinctively make judgements based on our counterparties’ hands. Visible hands, and in particular thumbs, signal confidence. They act as amplifiers of the points you are making in conversation. Your hands should be in front of you. Your fingers and thumbs should be visible. Use your hands to add emphasis when talking. This will nudge judgement in your favour.

All of these things are motor mechanical skills. Without a muscle memory of them, you won’t remember to do them in a stressful situation. Driving a car is similar. Most people can drive home even when feeling stressed or thinking about something else. They can do it because of constant practice at the skill. Using the same principle as sportsmen rehearsing the same movement over and over again to create muscle memory, you can rehearse until these behaviours become second nature – even during the critical moments of an interview.

Robin Roberts is founder of Rehearse It.

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