A person in an interview  (SelectStock | Getty Images)

You had perfect experience, all the qualifications, and gave a killer interview...so why exactly did you lose out on the dream job? If strong applicants met with the hiring manager before you on the day of your interview, you probably got a score lower than you deserved, according to a new study published in Psychological Science.

Researchers analyzed 9,000 MBA applicants over a 10-year period, and found that strong interviewees had a negative effect on same-day candidates that came after them. Similar to a gambler betting on black after the wheel hits red four times in a row, or a test-taker believing 'C' can't be the answer on a fifth straight question, the interviewer plays the odds and assumes a weak candidate will follow several strong ones.
As the average score for the applicants rose by 0.75 (on a 1 to 5 scale) during the day, the next score was predicted to be 0.075 lower. Sounds minuscule, but think about it this way: A candidate would need to score 30 points more on the Graduate Management Admissions Test or pull in 23 more months of experience to make up for that lost ground--and the effect magnifies as the day goes on.


Blame a phenomenon known as "narrow bracketing," which tricks the interviewer's judgment. "Instead of evaluating applicants in relation to all of the applicants who had been or would be interviewed, interviewers would only consider them in the frame of applicants interviewed on that day," says study coauthor Francesca Gino, an associate professor of business administration at Harvard Business School. "That is, if the interviewer expected that half of the whole pool would be recommended, she would avoid recommending more than half of the applicants she interviewed in a given day."



1. Straddle the Fine Line
Once you're in the interview, don't think of it as a battle royale between you and 10 other guys. "It's a mistake to try and measure yourself against imagined competition," says NYC-based executive coach Leslie Austin, Ph.D. "Be yourself, and be moderate. Interestingly, it's guys who aren't as pushy who stand out over time." Be confident, not arrogant. Be calm, but enthusiastic. Be assertive and friendly, but not presumptuous.

2. Dish Out the Details
A typical interviewer can assess integrity with high accuracy in 10 minutes, say researchers at the California State University. Still, as many as 75 percent of applicants lie, according to a 2007 Journal of Applied Psychology study. So tell the truth and resist "image-protecting behaviors," the study warns. Chances of success dropped by two-thirds when applicants omitted details, distanced themselves from failures, or hid embarrassing chapters. Omissions that surface later hurt double.

3. Interview the Interviewer
You should know some things going in, like basics about the company and the culture surrounding it, but remember: you get to (and should) ask your own questions during the interview. A lot of guys tend to forget that. "You don't know exactly what they're looking for, so it's always good to ask questions," says Austin. The best one: What do you want to know? "Without being cocky, you want the interview to take place on a peer-level. You're interviewing them, too," she says.