Updated: Mar 3, 2022
Someone once asked me at one of my seminars if “impression management” meant she had to somehow morph her personality into someone or something she wasn’t in order to get a job offer. I was careful to not use the word “personality” in that part of the program because impression management isn’t about personality transplants; it’s about adjusting the level of your likeability factor to continue forward in the hiring or promotion decision process. It’s turning the volume up – or down – on certain aspects of your persona to guide or shape a desired outcome, which may be a second interview, winning a contract, or getting someone’s vote.
While I use the informal term likeability factor in my seminars, books, blog, articles, and keynotes, it is nonetheless a strategy to enhance the prospects of receiving a job or promotion offer, or closing a sale. Who goes into a job interview unwilling to promote their accomplishments, expertise, and character? Only the perpetually unemployed. Behavioral approaches that indirectly influence hiring recommendations are called impression management.
If you’ve ever shown up for a job interview wearing your best business attire, you have engaged in impression management. If you’ve been conscious about your vocabulary during a job interview or first date, you too have applied impression management. If you’ve turned on the charm to avoid getting a speeding ticket, you’ve used impression management. Your attempt to influence a decision or individual in your favor through visual, verbal, and written communication can be thought of as building rapport. You’re trying to raise your likeability factor, and we’ve all done it. It's another Weapon of Mass Persuasion® for your arsenal.
There are many variables in play before, during, and after the interview, not the least of which are nonverbal and self-promotion behaviors of candidates. These behaviors, as well as the nature of the position to be filled, shape the direction of the interview and how decision makers perceive the candidates. Because the impressions people make influence how others perceive, evaluate, and treat them, individuals often adapt their behavior to create certain impressions in the minds of others. Conveying a favorable impression increases the chances that a candidate will achieve a preferred outcome, which may be a second interview, a job offer, a promotion, a sales contract, etc.
If the idea of impression management sounds like it smacks of behavioral manipulation, you’re right. In fact, psychologists claim that public self-presentation is almost always overtly persuasive because the intent is to maximize projected benefits and minimize expected penalties. But it’s nothing sinister at all--unless you are engaging in unethical manipulation. You are managing your impression by simply observing others and mirroring their communication style and demeanor in an attempt to connect with them on a relational level that makes you memorable.
It’s not difficult to embrace that different people have different approaches to processing information, developing ideas, and communicating them to others. Candidates fluent in the language of impression management have the ability to adapt to the communication style of the person they are trying to impress, rather than remain within rigid confines of their “comfort zone.” Communication may be taking place, but the message being sent must be received by others in the same context and the same frame of reference.
Given equal technical or professional expertise among remaining short-list candidates, decision makers often ask: “Which candidate would I and my team prefer to work with?” So long as many decision makers rely to varying degrees on gut instinct and personal chemistry when deciding to hire or promote someone (federal mandates aside), people will have to stretch (or contract!) themselves accordingly to remain viable candidates in the hiring process.
During interviews, someone who is typically sociable can appear to be reticent and withdrawn; another individual who normally is quiet and restrained can seem outgoing and present. Which candidate will have the advantage? In both situations, the candidates could be mirroring the decision maker’s demeanor (body language, energy, vocabulary, etc.) or reflecting the tone of the social setting. The key to enhancing your chances of receiving a job or promotion offer — or a second date — is to be fully engaged in the interview environment and with the participants present. That engagement may require dialing your impression management fluency up (stretching) or down (contracting) a couple of notches with each person you are interacting with.
The language of impression management isn’t all verbal; it’s also partly visual, and both work hand in hand to create that favorable impression that helps get that second interview—or avoid getting that speeding ticket.