This is the second in a series of posts (read the first here) that look at some key cognitive biases and examine how they impact us as we consider switching jobs, interviewing for a job, and choosing a new job. Cognitive biases are a huge (and growing) topic, and they’re a ubiquitous facet of human behavior. In case you’re not familiar, a cognitive bias is a “systematic pattern of deviation from rationality” in human judgment, where inferences we make aren’t well-formed.

TL;DR— There are several interconnected cognitive biases you can take advantage of during a job interview that have almost nothing to do with your qualifications, yet they’ll make you more likely to get the job. In fact, it’s arguable that these sorts of mechanisms do more than your qualifications toward getting you an offer (assuming you’re minimally qualified). Definitely worth knowing about! These are the mere exposure effect, the in-group bias, the halo effect, and the social comparison bias.


Mere Exposure Effect

The mere exposure effect describes the phenomenon in which “merely” seeing a thing over and over makes a person prefer or grow more fond of it. The effect has been demonstrated with many different sorts of objects, sounds, words, and even people! Like we talked about in the first post in this series, people tend to be biased toward known quantities, and avoid those that are unknown (and thus potentially negative).


Ingroup Bias

The ingroup bias simply states that people tend to like members of their perceived ingroup more than those in the outgroup. Here “ingroup” just means an exclusive group of people with a shared interest or identity (e.g. political party, ethnicity, hobby), and “outgroup” simply means everyone not in the ingroup. This makes evolutionary sense: as we saw with the mere exposure effect, people prefer things they’re familiar with, and people who are like you are easier to understand and more predictable, so they seem less risky and more trustworthy.


Halo Effect

Because of the halo effect, if a person likes one aspect of something, they’ll tend to have a positive predisposition toward everything else about it. For example, attractive people are more likely to be thought of as intelligent—even though they’re no more likely to be intelligent—because humans (irrationally) use heuristic reasoning that associates traits together (aka stereotyping).


Social Comparison Bias

Social comparison bias describes the feelings of dislike and competitiveness you may have with someone whom you consider better than yourself—whether physically, intellectually, or something else. While hierarchies must exist in virtually all companies, it generally doesn’t feel good to find yourself less skilled than someone you consider a peer.


What You Should Do

  1. To take advantage of the mere exposure effect, try to get as much exposure to the people as possible before interviewing. If they’ve heard from you several times before you finally meet, or if you’ve met several times before the interview, they’ll like you more from the get-go.
  2. To take advantage of ingroup bias, find and make explicit as many points of commonality with your interviewer as possible. Use “we” language. Refer to experiences or intuitions she’s likely to have had or shared as a member of that group.
  3. Lesson of the halo effect: first impressions matter, as do your looks. Look good, start strong, and you’ll have a halo over your head for the rest of the interview. Also, this effect interacts positively with the mere exposure effect: if you can associate yourself with something they’re familiar with (and fond of), you’ll get extra halo points.
  4. Beware social comparison bias, especially when interviewing with peers or superiors. Don’t compete directly (at least at first); instead, frame your strengths as complementary to or lesser than theirs. If you try to beat them at their own game before establishing significant rapport, they’ll feel threatened.

There’s a lot going on in a job interview besides a routine check of qualifications and general intelligence. Whether you are liked or disliked is a huge factor in whether you get a job or not. These days your likability usually lives under the “culture fit” moniker, but don’t be fooled; this is code for “do we want to work with this person?” If you want help practicing any of these techniques, or more coaching on the best way to implement them, we’ve got you covered.