The next time you hear nothing back after an interview you thought you nailed, it might not be you ― it might just be your conflicting interview style.
Anna Papalia has helped thousands of college students and executives prep for job interviews throughout her career in talent acquisition and as a former teacher at Temple University’s Fox School of Business. Through researching learning styles and testing her personality assessment with thousands of job seekers, Papalia discovered that each of us fits into four distinct interview archetypes: Charmers, Examiners, Harmonisers or Challengers.
Her interview profile assessment’s data has been scientifically tested and verified by the Assessment Standards Institute.
“A lot of interviewing advice out there tells you to just memorise these perfect answers and you’ll get jobs pretending to be something that a company wants,” Papalia said. “I want to shift this conversation and tell people, ‘Be yourself. But first, you have to know yourself.’”
In her upcoming book, “Interviewology: The New Science of Interviewing,” coming out Jan. 30, Papalia explains in depth how each type’s behavior and personality affect how that type is judged in interviews and how they might be judging candidates in turn when they get to hire, too.
“If you’re a Charmer, for example, you prioritise liking that person, you prioritise getting along with them, because you both want to make a connection,” Papalia said. “For me, honestly, it was such a huge moment of realisation in the research and writing my book that I was probably doing this pretty wrong for a lot of years because I was just prioritising what I wanted, because I was a Charmer.”
In general, we’re all susceptible to thinking our way of interviewing is best. Researchers have found that we are swayed by “looking-glass merit,” by which hiring managers judge a candidate’s future job success based on how closely the candidate mirrors their own life and job experiences.
Papalia said there is not one interview type that is best, and each type has an equal chance of succeeding in a job interview, according to her research. See which interview type might fit you best, and learn how other styles think, too:
1. The Charmer
Charmers are extroverted job seekers who see job interviews as an opportunity to sell themselves. Charmers often research their interviewers and the company extensively to know how to position themselves best for the role, and on the day of the interview, the best ones will draw interviewers in with their friendliness and attention.
In her book, Papalia recalled a Charmer job candidate who was excellent at this: “He was really interested in me. He wasn’t asking how I was just because he wanted to get to know me,” she wrote. “There was a warmth. For a moment, I forgot I was in a position of power and he was applying for a job, and we transcended that artificial interaction. Charmers do that.”
“They are going to use their force of their personality to get that person to like them. Even if they don’t get the job. They just want to know that that person liked them,” Papalia explained.
When you’re a Charmer, you prioritise building relationships with an interviewer and may think, “Even though I didn’t get the job, they still like me... We’ll do business together someday.”
Where Charmers Can Self-Sabotage
“They can be really lovely to get to know, and they are really masterful at telling stories and drawing you in and building an aura,” Papilan said. “But in a job interview, if that’s all you do, you’re going to look like an empty suit.”
That’s why if you’re a Charmer, Papilan advises you to remind yourself “to also talk about your qualifications and those projects that you worked on, and share some stats and some details and some metrics.”
2. The Challenger
Someone with a Challenger personality wants to be respected and heard, and they show their qualifications by their willingness to ask tough questions in an interview.
For them, the goal of an interview is to get any concerns or questions answered about the opportunity, and they are happy to take the lead in an job interview ––they’re not there to be liked. In fact, they may be skeptical of interviewers who are too charming.
Challengers highly value their own integrity, and they won’t change their job interview answers to appease interviewers.
“They don’t mind being the devil’s advocate,” Papalia said. “They look at an interview often as a cross-examination, and they are undaunted, are really strong in interviews.”
Where Challengers Self-Sabotage
The Challengers are great at preparing tough questions, but too many challenges can be off-putting to interviewers and have them thinking, ”‘OK, enough, you don’t have to poke holes in everything I’m saying. You don’t have to critique everything, we get it.’ ... It’s taking that strength and just doing it too much,” Papalia said.
In her book, Papalia wrote that challengers can have trouble prepping for interviews because they feel fake and inauthentic. Her advice? “Confidence comes from practice and self-awareness.”
3. The Examiner
Examiners come across as private, quiet and serious in job interviews, and that’s by design. Examiners are motivated by the desire to “get it right” in interviews, Papalia said.
Examiners are all business. They believe they just need to show a hiring manager how well they can do the job to get hired, and they’ll provide many examples from their résumé to do this. If they had a choice in the matter, they would prefer to just take a test instead of doing a job interview.
“They have a tendency to really focus on facts, figures, details, their qualifications, unlike their polar opposite Charmer, who focuses a lot on building a connection and telling a story,” she said.
Where Examiners Can Self-Sabotage
Examiners want to be seen as professional and capable, and they generally will speak less during interviews as a result ― which will work to their disadvantage.
“The overused strength there is they look cold, disinterested, when in their mind, they’re like, ‘I’m just being really professional. And I’m giving short answers to the point.’ But the other person’s, like, ‘I’m just trying to pull teeth here, like I need a little bit more than a 15-second interview answer,’” Papalia said.
To make a warmer impression, it can help to think like a Charmer in these situations and tell more stories. “That’s what examiner’s really need to do more: Open up, invite them in,” Papalia said. “It’s not just about your qualifications. It’s also about how are you going to get along culturally.”
4. The Harmoniser
While Charmers believe they are the stars of the show, Harmonisers shine as team players. They focus on how they can contribute to a team’s overall goals, and are great at reading other people’s moods and intentions, and can adapt the conversation accordingly.
Don’t expect a Harmoniser to automatically start talking away ― they typically will defer to the interviewer on who leads the conversation.
“They seldom use terms like ‘I’ and ‘me,’ and it’s a lot of ‘we’ and ‘us,’” Papalia explained. “They do a lot of listening. And they’re very interested in how they would fit into the group. That’s much different than their polar opposite, a Challenger, who’s over here wanting to be respected and heard.”
Where Harmonisers Can Self-Sabotage
Harmonisers are great collaborators, but in interviews they can place too much emphasis on the collective group over themselves, so much so that interviewers are left wondering, “Well, what did you do?” Papalia said.
Instead of sharing what they can offer the company, Harmonisers make the mistake of stating that they’ll be whatever the employer needs: “I’ve heard that so many times in interviews: ‘Whatever you need.’ That’s a Harmoniser,” Papalia said.
“Harmonisers struggle mightily in job interviews to find their voice, to say who they are, to put a stake in the ground, because they’re so worried about putting someone off,” she continued.
Lawrese Brown, the founder of C-Track Training, a workplace education company, said she coaches Harmonisers the most for job interviews. She noted that while Challengers have a “clear sense of self that is less amenable to how somebody is going respond,” the Harmonisers she’s worked with lack a clear sense of their own value.
“Harmonisers are very poor promoters of themselves,” Brown said. Their default is to think “I’m going to solve this or get rid of this tension by removing my needs.”
How To Win Over A Job Interviewer, No Matter Your Type
Your interview type can tell you a lot about yourself, but it’s not the whole story.
“Your interview style is just what you prioritise,” Papalia said. “I’m a Charmer. But I also have the capability to tap deep into myself and be an Examiner when I need to be.”
Once you identify your personal interview styles, it can also help to think about who in your life is an opposite to you and embody what they might do in a job interview so that you can have a healthy balance of different strengths, Papalia said. For example, if you’re an Examiner who is worried about coming off too cold in interviews, try warming it up a bit with a personal anecdote.
And if you suspect that your interviewer is one particular interview type, lean into the parts of yourself they might want to hear more of.
If you want to win a Challenger over, ask them tough questions, Papalia recommended: “They don’t like pushovers. They love to be challenged.” Meanwhile, you can win a Charmer over with compliments and laughing at their jokes, or a Harmoniser by selling your great teamwork, or an Examiner by complimenting their professionalism and technical proficiency, Papalia said.
Ultimately, to be a good interviewee or interviewer, it helps to understand your own strengths while still being open-minded about your approach.
“In our mind, we all have this idea of what the perfect interview is. And what I realised in my research is that bias comes from our own personal interview style. If you’re a challenger ... you see someone challenging as nailing it in the interview. Just because you don’t ‘like’ the way they interview doesn’t mean that they’re not going to be fantastic at the job.”