Their resumes may be perfect and their credentials impeccable, but job candidates still face a crucial test: the interview.
Many job-seekers, wise to the ways of the working world, work as hard to appear competent, expert, interested and well-groomed as they once did to get A's in school. These self-presentation tactics do earn high marks from employers, but only up to a point.
Purdue University psychologist Robert A. Baron recruited 73 undergraduate students to participate in mock job interviews. Both men and women acted as interviewers; the job candidates were two women selected in advance by Baron.
Candidates varied their behavior and demeanor by using or omitting positive nonverbal cues--smiling frequently, maintaining eye contact and leaning forward in an attitude of polite interest. Sometimes they also wore a modest but detectable amount of perfume.
After the interview, the students rated the job candidates' competence, potential and intelligence. The students also answered questions designed to test how well they remembered specific information about the candidates.
Baron found that it was possible to have "too much of a good thing." Each tactic--the perfume and the positive cues--helped candidates when they used them alone. But when used together, the tactics actually reduced ratings given by men, although not those given by women.
Men also remembered less information about the candidates than women did.
One possible explanation is that men reacted more negatively to these tactics because they found themselves distracted, which threatened their effectiveness as interviewers.
Women, in contrast, were able to concentrate on less superficial qualities.
"Such efforts by applicants to enhance their 'image' can readily go too far," Baron said. "From a practical point of view . . . the best strategy for job applicants to follow appears to be one of careful moderation."