This One Thing Could Increase Your Chances In A Job Interview, According To A New Study

Africa Studio/Shutterstock

Here’s some advice for your next job interview: drop the cool, calm, and collected persona at the door and embrace a little more enthusiasm.

This comes courtesy of researchers from Stanford University who, in a study published in the journal Emotion, found that US employers – in general – prefer candidates who come across excited to those who come across relaxed. But while this might sound like interesting career guidance, the authors point out this attitude may lead to a cultural hiring bias where just-as-capable candidates of a more relaxed or more reserved background are put at a disadvantage.


Previous research highlighted a phenomenon the researchers called “ideal affect”. That is, how a person wants to feel or how they want another person to see them. It often contrasts to “actual affect”, or how a person really feels and is seen by others. Interestingly, culture appears to exert greater influence over “ideal affect” than it does “actual affect”, with European Americans and Asian Americans preferring high-arousal states (i.e. excitement) and Hong Kong Chinese people preferring low-arousal states (i.e. calm).

But is this just an inconsequential cultural preference? Or could it sway a potentially life-important event like, say, a job interview?

“How we want to feel and what our culture tells us is the right way to influence how we present ourselves when we are applying for a job,” Jeanne Tsai, a psychology professor at Stanford University, said in a statement.

Tsai and former graduate student Lucy Zhang Bencharit conducted five studies, involving 1,041 participants and a variety of workplace scenarios. In all but one, the team compared the results of European Americans and Asian Americans working in the US to those of Chinese people working in Hong Kong.


One task involved 236 volunteers pretending to apply for a competitive internship where they had to record a video introducing themselves to the prospective employer. They then told the researchers what sort of impression they had attempted to make. Eighty-six percent of European Americans and 72 percent of Asian Americans mentioned excitement, but only 48 percent of Hong Kong Chinese people did too. This matched their video applications, with European Americans far more likely to come up with statements like “I’m really enthusiastic about this position” than the Hong Kong Chinese volunteers.

In a second experiment, this time from the employer’s point of view, participants were told to pretend to hire an intern. European Americans selected excitement as a valuable quality in a prospective employee, Hong Kong Chinese people preferred calm, and Asian Americans sat somewhere in the middle.

This result was backed up by a third study, where 300 American volunteers were shown video applications from three candidates, one excited, one calm, and one neutral. Forty-seven percent chose the excited candidate, 23.7 percent the calm, and 29.3 percent the neutral.

“People think that their gut feelings say something about the other person’s character, but our data suggest that people’s gut feelings also say something about the culture that they themselves come from,” Tsai explained, which she points out could lead to a cultural hiring bias.


“If we really want to benefit from diverse workplaces, then we have to broaden our views of what emotional qualities we look for in the ideal applicant.”


  • tag
  • employee,

  • job,

  • interview,

  • culture,

  • career,

  • employer,

  • cultural fit