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How to win jobs and influence interviewers

September 1, 2019

In 1936 Dale Carnegie wrote How to win friends and influence people. The book is a classic, read by entrepreneurs, investors, teachers, students, marketers, managers, and CEOs. The book, undoubtedly, is a gem to job applicants. Here, we’ll discuss three pieces of advice from the book, and explain why they are useful to job applicants:

  1. ‘Smile’
  2. ‘Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.’
  3. ‘Talk in terms of other peoples’ interest.’

1.1 ‘Smile.’

There are two reasons this is good advice during interviews.

First, others rate us higher if we smile. McGinley et al (1978), for example, showed slides of women to respondents. In one set of slides, women smiled. In the other, they didn’t. The researchers then asked what respondents thought of the women. Respondents rated smiling women more intelligent, competent, and likable. Respondents were also more willing to work with smiling women.

Second, we prefer to look at smiles (Kuchuk et al, 1986). And we smile at those who smile at us. In a series of experiments, for example, Hinsz and Tomhave (1991) asked confederates to smile, frown, or look neutrally at respondents. When confederates smiled, respondents’ most likely reaction was to smile back. Smiling begets liking, and liking begets hiring.

1.2 Amount of smiling

There is, unfortunately, no robust data on how much we should smile. It depends on several job variables, e.g. are you expected to socialize with clients? A rule of thumb: smile 5–20% of the time in an interview.

But here is a caveat. Jobs can be serious or not. In serious jobs, the consequences of mistakes are severe. The more serious the job, the less you should smile.

Applicants for a receptionist job can smile a lot. Applicants who want to be financial traders, on the other hand, should smile less. If a receptionist forgets an appointment, that does not matter. But if a trader loses 50% of his capital because he invested in an obscure ETF, then it does matter.

In a set of experiments, Ruben and Mast (2015) found that the more applicants smiled, the less respondents thought them hirable. Ruben and Mast recommend (2015)that if you apply for a serious job, you should smile at the start and end of the interview.

1.3 Real and fake smiles

In a genuine smile, the corners of your mouth point upwards. Your cheeks rise. Your eyes narrow. In a fake smile, only your mouth moves. If the fake smile is especially bad, the lips become a thin horizontal line. In interviews, people sometimes show fake smiles because they want to hide nervousness or because they do not know the answer to a question.

The average person can detect fake and real smiles with moderate reliability. For example, in one experiment four-year-olds could tell real smiles 75% of the time correctly (Song et al, 2016). There is no conclusive data on whether it is useful or not to fake smiles, but job applicants may be safer sticking to real smiles.

2.1 “Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”

Science does not show (yet) that a person’s name is the sweetest sound. But Carnegie’s hyperbole is still good advice.

People pay attention to their own names. Researchers, for example, used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans to study the brain (Carmody and Lewis, 2006). They read out the names of respondents. They also read out the names of strangers. When respondents heard their own names, several brain regions activated, e.g. the left superior temporal cortex. The same regions did not activate when respondents heard someone else’s name.

Moreover, names influence people. Howard et al (1995), for example, conducted a series of experiments, where they invited respondents to buy cookies. They randomly allocated respondents into two groups. In one group, the researchers used respondents’ names. In the other, they didn’t. Howard et al (1995) found that when they used names, 90% of respondents bought cookies. When they didn’t, only half bought.

2.2. During interviews

Job applicants can repeat interviewers’ names during introductions, e.g. ‘Hello, Stephen. It is nice to meet you.’ They can repeat names one to three times later, e.g. ‘That’s a good question, Stephen. Let me tell you what I did then.’

3.1 “Talk in terms of other peoples’ interest.”

The advice is impeccable, and Carnegie even illustrates the point with an anecdote. The anecdote is about Edward Harriman and how he succeeded in a job interview.

3.2 Harriman’s anecdote

Harriman lived in Maryland in the United States. Few jobs were available, and Raymond Funkhouser owned most businesses in the area. So Harriman wrote to Funkhouser telling him he knew a way to make money for him. Funkhouser agreed to an interview.

On the day of the interview, Harriman entered Funkhouser’s office. The latter greeted him. Harriman then immediately said, ‘Mr. Funkhouser, I believe I can make money for you’ (Carnegie, 2006: 102). Funkhouser rose from his chair, invited Harriman to sit, and listened to him. Afterwards, he hired him.

3.3. What job applicants can do

We are a self-seeking species. Employers are no different. Tamir and Mitchell (2012), for example, studied fMRI scans of the brain. They found that the mesolimbic dopamine system — a reward centre in the brain — lights up when people speak about themselves, but not when they speak about others. In another set of experiments, they even found that people are willing to forego money so they can talk about themselves (Tamir and Mitchell, 2012).

In interviews, job applicants will do well when they talk about how they can solve employers’ problems. For example, an applicant can talk about how he could improve the annual customer satisfaction survey, how he knows about cheaper suppliers, or how he can code a better website in JavaScript.


Many job applicants go through dozens and dozens of interviews. Sometimes success means going back to basics such as those you can find in How to win friends and influence people.


Carmody, D. and Lewis, M. (2006), ‘Brain activation when hearing one’s own and others’ names.’ Brain Research. 1116(1), 153–8.

Carnegie, D. (2006), How to win friends and influence people. Random House Group: London.

Hinsz, V. and Tomhave, J. (1991), ‘Smile and (half) the world smiles with you, frown and you frown alone.’ Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 17(5), 586–92.

Howard, D., Gengler, C., and Jain, A. (1995), ‘What’s in a name? a complimentary means of persuasion.’ Journal of Consumer Research. 22, 200–11.

Kuchuk, A., Vibbert, M., and Bornstein, M. (1986), ‘The perception of smiling and its experiential correlates in three-month-old infants.’ Child Development. 57(4), 1054–61.

McGinley, H., McGinley, P., and Nicholas, K. (1978), ‘Smiling, body position, and interpersonal attraction.’ Bulletin of the Psychonomic Society. 12(1), 21–4.

Ruben, M. and Mast, M. (2015), ‘Smiling in a job interview: when less is more.’ The Journal of Psychology. 155(2), 107–26.

Song, R., Over, H., and Carpenter, M. (2016), ‘Young children discriminate genuine from fake smiles and expect people displaying genuine smiles to be more prosocial.’ Evolution and Human Behavior. 37, 490–501.

Tamir, D. and Mitchell, J. (2012), ‘Disclosing information about the self is intrinsically rewarding.’ PNAS. 109(21), 8038–43.

About this blog

Poor Alexander is a website that helps job applicants do well in interviews. Here we write about interviews, CVs, employment, money, and psychology. Our articles are based on the primary research we do, the literature we review, and our own experience.

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