How to leave great impression on job interview, first date: Share your struggles, study finds

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LONDON — Looking to make a good first impression on that job interview, or even a blind date? Try highlighting the hours you’ve put in to become successful, a new study finds. Few stress the effort that’s led to their triumphs, despite it being a good way to get in someone’s good graces.

Researchers from the Cass Business School at the University of London recently conducted three studies with American and Dutch adults, all designed to approximate job interview or first date settings. Participants were randomly assigned to groups, and then split into pairs facing one another. Each pair was comprised of an “impression manager” (asked to share personal successes), and a “receiver” (who listened and offered feedback).

Across all three studies, receivers indicated a strong desire to learn how their interviewee overcame adversity. Impression managers, however, homed in on their natural talent and achievements — glossing over their struggles along the way.

“A success story isn’t complete without the hard work and explanation of why we were successful,” says Dr. Janina Steinmetz, the study’s lead author, in a statement. “Did the success come easy, thanks to one’s talents, or was it attained through hard work?”

Steinmetz, to be sure, isn’t saying you shouldn’t boast; it simply can’t take the place of a compelling backstory. “My research shows that emphasizing effort is more likely to garner a positive impression and people really want to know the story behind your success,” she explains.

The main takeaway then is this: flaunting your “success,” and nothing else, will only get you so far. You must also offer a slice of your humanity. This may mean sharing details, big or small, that cause you to shudder. Or, if you’re lucky, a few dry odds and ends may do.

“For example, if you’re on a date and talking about a marathon that you recently ran, perhaps talk about all the training that helped you to cross the finish line,” Steinmetz suggests. “Or, if you’re in a job interview and are talking about a successful project that you led to completion, include a few details about the challenges along the way, and how you overcame them.”

Steinmetz and her fellow researchers published their findings in September in the journal Basic and Applied Social Psychology.