Frist Impressions

I was watching a rerun of one of my favourite television shows recently (a satire about the television talk show
industry). In this particular segment, the talk show host is ill from food poisoning and they can’t get another celebrity to fill in at short notice. The producer finally asks the host’s sidekick to host the show but he has serious doubts about the sidekick’s ability to pull it off.

Hank (the sidekick) is also terrified. But he pulls himself together and gets himself onto the stage. He admits to his audience that he has never been so scared. The audience cheers wildly. They are on his side because they relate to his predicament and exposing his vulnerability has charmed them. He is self-deprecating and the audience loves him.

He is required to do it a second time because his boss is still sick. His success, however, has gone to his head and he is over-confident and obnoxious. He ruins the show and the audience practically boos him off the stage.

I have students whom I help with private school and university admission interviews: enormous pressure is placed on candidates to act with confidence and to be relaxed. Of course that makes sense, and it is nice if it is possible. But for most people interviews are stressful times. I think too much emphasis is placed on being polished and smooth and not enough on being authentic and naturally engaging (see above).

Studies show that interviewers form lasting judgments about you within the first four minutes (or less) of meeting you. There is nothing worse than encountering forced humour or someone oozing over-confidence. This doesn’t mean that interviewers enjoy sullen, glum or withdrawn people; but on the whole they see through artificial veneers.

I teach my students techniques to control nerves, project their voices, articulate well, and prepare answers to common questions. But I also tell them that if I had to choose between a candidate who talks too fast but is full of vitality and curiosity and a candidate who enunciates perfectly and smiles on cue (but is dull) I would choose the first.

Remember: personhood first, techniques second!