Calm Job Applicants May Be at a Disadvantage When It Comes to Getting Hired, Study Finds

A job search can stir plenty of anxious emotions, and how those emotions surface during a job interview could make or break your chances of getting hired.

Psychology researchers at Stanford University found that job applicants who wanted to appear calm and collected might be at a disadvantage, since American employers were more likely to favor excited candidates over relaxed ones.

This could mean that people who try to come off as more relaxed could be turned down during the search process, according to a new study published in the journal Emotion.

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Recruiters talk to a job applicant. Psychology researchers at Stanford University found that job applicants who wanted to appear calm and collected might be at a disadvantage, since American employers were more likely to favor excited candidates over relaxed ones. MediaForMedical/UIG via Getty Images

"Given how diverse our workforce is and how global our markets are, it's important to understand how culture might influence emotional preferences in employment settings," Jeanne Tsai, a co-author of the study and a Stanford professor, said in a statement.

Our behavior can be influenced by the emotional states we value and want to feel. But the emotions people value, and in turn display, vary across culture, Tsai has found in prior research studies.

That might cause employers to hire people with backgrounds similar to their own.

The researchers conducted five studies that included a total of 1,041 participants in five different workplace scenarios. In four of the studies, the scholars compared Americans of European descent and Asian Americans living in the United States with Chinese people living in Hong Kong.

In one experiment, the researchers told participants to imagine they were hiring an intern. They then were asked to rate qualities the ideal candidate should have. The researchers found that the Americans of European descent preferred applicants to show excitement, while Hong Kong Chinese preferred calm behavior. Asian Americans fell between the two groups.

In another experiment, the researchers presented employees at a U.S. company with a similar situation. They were shown video applications from three candidates who shared the same level of qualification. One candidate was animated and excited, another calm, and a third neutral.

The findings showed that 47 percent of employers favored the excited applicant, whereas only 23.7 percent leaned toward hiring the calm candidate. 29.3 percent picked the neutral one.

During another experiment, participants were told to pretend they were applying for a competitive internship. They were each instructed to make a video introducing themselves.

The researchers found that Caucasian Americans were more likely than Hong Kong Chinese to show their enthusiasm, using phrases like "I'm really enthusiastic about this position" and "I am passionate about the work."

At the end of the process, all the participants were asked which emotions they were trying to convey.

The study revealed that what was interpreted as the "best impression" varied, depending on one's background.

European Americans were more likely to convey excitement and enthusiasm than Hong Kong Chinese, who tried to appear relaxed.

In the first study, with 236 participants, 86 percent of Caucasian Americans and 72 percent of Asian Americans wanted to convey excitement rather than calm. In comparison, only 48 percent of Hong Kong Chinese wanted to show excitement.

"How we want to feel, and what our culture tells us is the right way to be, influences how we present ourselves when we are applying for a job," said Tsai.

"In the U.S., career counselors and job advisers often tell applicants to be excited and enthusiastic when applying for jobs," Lucy Zhang Bencharit, co-author of the study, said in a statement. "It is important to recognize that this message is shaped by our culture, and it may not be right or feel natural for everyone."

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Calm Job Applicants May Be at a Disadvantage When It Comes to Getting Hired, Study Finds | Tech & Science