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January 22, 2024

The Science Behind Smiling During An Interview


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Your actions and body language play a crucial role in conveying confidence, positivity, and professionalism but smiling during an interview is important.

There are a few ways to make sure that the first impression you make lasts for all the right reasons.

  • Be on time. Late to an interview is the worst impression you can give a potential employer. A lack of punctuality for an interview will make your employer wonder whether you will turn up on time for work if hired.
  • Dress appropriately. A job interview may require a business suit and closed-toed shoes. If you are applying for a creative job you may have more leeway but always make sure you look smart and appropriate.
  • Smile. Even if you are nervous, smiling can help you stay calm and relaxed. It makes you appear confident and approachable. It also puts everyone at ease.
  • Maintain eye contact. Avoiding eye contact can make you appear unconfident, even if you are just shy. When you meet your interviewer, maintain eye contact and smile for the best possible first impression.
  • Avoid unnecessary distractions. Make sure you do not have food caught between your teeth. This is distracting for interviewers and may make it harder for them to focus on what you are saying.

Among the various non-verbal cues, a good smile is a powerful tool that can significantly impact the outcome of an interview. Understanding the science behind a good smile, particularly the concept of Duchenne smiles, can provide valuable insights into its effectiveness during an interview.

The Different Types of Smiles

Not all smiles are equal. Here are the different types:

  • Reward smile – This arises from a positive feeling, e.g. approval, contentment or happiness. It usually triggers dopamine (the feel-good chemical) in a person’s brain. This smile involves the muscles in the mouth and cheeks. The eye and brow areas are also activated. It shows that the person is actively engaged and is feeling good. 
This arises from a positive feeling, e.g. approval, contentment or happiness.
This arises from a positive feeling, e.g. approval, contentment or happiness.
  • Affiliative smile –  This is used to be polite, to reassure others, and to communicate good intentions and trustworthiness. It involves the upward pull of the lips and can include a lip pressor, where the lips remain closed, keeping the teeth hidden.
This is used to be polite, to reassure others, and to communicate good intentions and trustworthiness.
People use this to be polite, to reassure others, and to communicate good intentions and trustworthiness.
  • Dominance smile – Also called a sneer, this smile is more likely to be asymmetrical. One side of the mouth rises but the other stays down. People use this to show superiority, to communicate contempt, and to make others feel less powerful. Studies show that the receiving end of a dominant smile has higher levels of cortisol (stress hormone) for up to 30 minutes and raises the heart rate.
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People use this to show superiority, to communicate contempt, and to make others feel less powerful.
People use this to show superiority, to communicate contempt, and to make others feel less powerful.
  • Lying smile – This is hard to read. Even the most experienced law enforcement officers only spot liars about half the time. In this smile, the zygomaticus major muscle — the one that pulls your lips into a smile — repeatedly fired. 
This is hard to read. Even the most experienced law enforcement officers only spot liars about half the time.
This is hard to read. Even the most experienced law enforcement officers only spot liars about half the time.
  • Wistful smile – This is the smile in the midst of emotional and physical pain. Studies show that the ability to have a good smile during a grieving process helps you to recover. 
  • Polite smile – A polite smile helps us maintain a sense of discreet distance. Unlike a good smile, it does not draw us closer to the other person. This happens when you meet a stranger, when you are concealing bad news, etc. Your mouth smiles but your eyes do not. 
A polite smile helps us maintain a sense of discreet distance.
A polite smile helps us maintain a sense of discreet distance.
  • Embarrassed smile – An embarrassing moment provokes an embarrassed smile. It involves a downward tilt of the head and a shifting gaze to the left. He or she would likely touch the face more often. The smile tends to be short.
  • “Pan Am” smile – This is named after the airline Pan Am. Their flight attendants were forced to smile on the job. It’s a fake smile that requires extra effort to yank their zygomaticus major muscle. The corners of the mouth are extra high and more teeth are exposed. Studies show that people having to fake happiness for work, have a need to relieve stress after they clock out.
  • The Duchenne smile – This is a genuine good smile of enjoyment. It involves the mouth, the cheeks, and the eyes simultaneously. An authentic Duchenne smile makes you look trustworthy, authentic, and friendly. A Duchenne smile generates better customer service and better tips. It is even linked to a healthier relationship and longer life. 

Understanding the different types of smiles can help individuals gauge the authenticity of their own smiles and those of others.

Understanding Duchenne Smiles

This is named after the French neurologist Guillaume Duchenne. Duchenne smiles activate both the zygomatic major muscle, which raises the corners of the mouth, and the orbicularis oculi muscle, which creates crow’s feet around the eyes. These are involuntary muscle movements. They indicate genuine happiness. They are difficult to fake, making them a reliable indicator of true emotional expression.

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An authentic Duchenne smile makes you look trustworthy, authentic, and friendly.
An authentic Duchenne smile makes you look trustworthy, authentic, and friendly.

The Impact of Smiling During an Interview

Now that we understand the science behind smiling, it’s essential to explore its impact on a job interview. When utilised effectively, smiling can profoundly affect the perception of the hiring manager of the candidate.

Building Rapport with the Interviewer

A smiling face can help build rapport with the interviewer or hiring manager, creating a sense of connection and mutual understanding. It can convey warmth and approachability, setting the stage for a positive interaction. When done at the correct time with appropriate eye contact, it also shows that you are actively listening to the hiring manager. 

Conveying Confidence and Positivity

Smiling during an interview can convey confidence and positivity, signalling to the hiring manager or interviewer that the candidate is enthusiastic about the opportunity and capable of handling the responsibilities of the role. Continuously maintain eye contact towards the hiring manager with a smiling face. 

Creating a Memorable Impression

A warm, genuine and good smile can leave a lasting impression on the hiring manager, distinguishing the candidate from other applicants. This contributes to a positive overall evaluation and increases the likelihood of being remembered favourably.

When to Smile and When Not to

While smiling during an interview is important, it’s essential to discern when it’s beneficial to flash a genuine smile and when it’s best to refrain.

At the Start and End of an Interview

At the start of a job interview, you want to be warm and genuine to the interviewer or hiring manager. You want to extend a handshake, smile, or even make a joke. The goal would be to make everyone feel comfortable for a discussion. Most interviewees don’t realise that the hiring managers are also nervous about meeting you for the first time. 

At the end of an interview, you want to express the same warmth and genuineness. Again, extend a handshake, smile, and express your gratitude.

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But in the thick of the interview discussion, you should not be smiling while answering serious questions. It feels fake to be smiling when you are asked questions like “Name a challenge you faced or a time that you failed”. 

Reading the Interviewer’s Cues

It’s important to actively listen and observe the interviewer’s body language and cues. Always maintain eye contact. If the interviewer initiates a light-hearted or positive conversation, it may be appropriate to reciprocate with a genuine smile. However, a more restrained expression may be more suitable if the discussion is serious or focused on specific challenges.

Avoiding Overly Persistent Smiling During An Interview

Persistent or constant smiling throughout the interview, that is a Pan Am smile, can appear insincere or nervous. It’s important to maintain a natural and genuine smile, aligning its frequency with the flow of the conversation.

Balancing Professionalism with Warmth

While smiling during an interview can convey warmth and approachability, it’s crucial to balance it with professionalism. A genuine smile should complement the candidate’s overall demeanour and communication style, contributing to a positive impression without overshadowing their qualifications and expertise.

Adopt a ‘Smiling Mind’ Mindset

If a wistful smile can help a grieving person recover, then a smiling mind can also help you stay positive and reduce stress. A smiling mind can be achieved by practising mindfulness. This is the maintaining of a moment-by-moment awareness of your thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environments. Do this in a non-judgmental (without believing there is a “right” or “wrong”) nurturing perspective. 

A smiling mind not only reduces stress, it will also improve your mood, focus, and emotional intelligence and increase your self-awareness. 

Try this before the interview. Sit comfortably and focus on your breath for two minutes, noticing the sensation of the breath moving in and out of your body. 

Conclusion

In conclusion, the science behind smiling during an interview, particularly the concept of Duchenne smiles, sheds light on the impact of genuine smiles during an interview. By understanding when to leverage the power of a smile and when to exercise restraint, candidates can effectively utilise this non-verbal cue to their advantage, creating a positive and memorable impression on the interviewer.

Reach out to us if you need clarification on this matter.