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Psychology a key component of employment interviews

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Saturday, June 2, 2012, 4:22 p.m.

If anyone thinks that psychology is not a key component of sports, take a look at Tiger Woods' abysmal scores since his fall from grace.

During his 749-day winless streak, he tried to change things up by changing swing coaches, firing his longtime caddy and growing facial hair. But the path he needed to take was in his brain, and finally, late last year, he had the mental breakthrough he needed to win a championship.

Psychology plays a key role not just in a pro golfer's career, but in the average day of employees and executives of every organization. Who's perceived as having the confidence to pull off a new initiative? How can a supervisor influence the staff not to slack off when the workload is light? Who can hit goals without succumbing to stress?

Psychology is a key player in job interviews, too -- on both sides of the table. Interviewers are often accused of playing psychological games, asking peculiar hypothetical questions such as, "If you could speak any foreign language, which one would it be and why?" Sometimes they treat a job candidate rudely to gauge the applicant's reaction.

I remember one human-resources executive of a large hotel chain who was fond of dressing informally on days when dozens of candidates had been scheduled for interviews. He'd enter the reception room and shake hands with every candidate. He instructed candidates who smiled warmly and made good eye contact to go to Conference Room A. Candidates who were nervous, shy, or did not connect well with him were sent off to Conference Room B. Those in Conference Room B were given a quick group interview and sent home. Those in Conference Room A were perceived as friendlier and therefore the kind of employee he wanted to employ. They were given individual interviews and, often, job offers.

Keep psychology in mind if you are looking for a new job. Someone who behaves as if he lacks confidence or self-assurance is not likely to make a favorable impression. If you don't believe you can do the job, why would anyone else?

In the interview, some potential employers purposefully allow brief times of silence to see how the candidate reacts. Rather than be intimidated, just sit quietly and wait until the interviewer is ready to move on with the discussion. It's tempting to fill that void with chatter, but purposeless chatter will not help your candidacy. Sitting with good posture and a confident demeanor, as you remain quiet and wait for a cue from the interviewer, is what will impress the interviewer.

Some interviewers have their minds made up about you before you even walk down the hall for the interview. They rely on receptionists for feedback on how you behaved in the reception room: Did you appear nervous? Were you pacing the lobby? Did you balk at completing an application or taking an employment test? These behaviors are often reported in detail to the interviewer.

If you have been on a few interviews and still have not received a job offer, analyze your mental state and accompanying behavior to see if you need to put on a better performance.

Then, once you've mastered the art of psychology in the workplace, maybe you can give a few tips to Tiger. He could still use them.

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