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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Break Room

The First Impression Mistake You Could Be Making at Interviews Without Realizing It

people waiting to interview

For months, I was convinced that a woman from the marketing department at my old job hated my guts. I couldn’t figure it out because we’d had a pleasant conversation at a company happy hour, and, I thought, really hit it off. And yet, I’d bump into her in the kitchen and women’s restroom and got the cold shoulder. One day, completely unsettled by it (what had I done to deserve the withering looks?), I said something about it to one of my team members. She laughed and put a reassuring hand on my shoulder, “No, no. It’s not you. That’s just how she looks. It’s called Resting Bitch Face.”

This was before RBF became a thing, but, nonetheless, I was so relieved to hear that it wasn’t me!

But, after I’d enjoyed a few moments of reflection on my newfound knowledge, I couldn’t help wondering, doesn’t she care that she looks like a total bitch? Wouldn’t you try to do something to change it if you could? In latest Resting Bitch Face news, The Washington Post’s Caitlin Gibson reports that scientists have discovered the cause of the (unfortunate) phenomenon.

Behavioral researchers employed a software program to analyze faces, specifically eight basic human emotions: happiness, sadness, anger, fear, surprise, disgust, contempt, and “neutral.” Contempt, you might have guessed, was the emotion linked to RBF, and it’s identifiable by squinty eyes and a part of the lip pulled up and away. The most important discovery lies in the revelation that the computer detected RBF in men and women equally. Society may have led us to believe it’s mostly women who possess this undesirable expression, but, in fact, that’s just a construct.

The RBF is problematic, even if the person expressing it has pure intentions. Imagine going into an interview. You greet the receptionist with a bright smile and then sit and wait for the hiring manager to retrieve you. You sit idly, anticipating the questions you’re about to be asked, occasionally noticing foot traffic of people who could end up being your co-workers, and you have zero idea that you’re giving off a look of sheer contempt. You’re making a horrible first impression, to say the least.

It’s gone by the time you stand to shake hands with your interviewer, but the damage has been done. Even if the meeting goes smoothly and you nail every hardball thrown your way, you can’t escape the chance that your first impression left a bad taste in the hiring manager’s mouth. Like me, the interviewer probably didn’t think, “Oh, hey, this person’s not unhappy about being here. He just has RBF.”

If this is a concern for you—and if you’re unsure, then err on the side of caution, and consider it a concern—you can find out. FaceReader, the analyzing program, will reveal if you have more in common with Kanye West or Kristin Stewart than you once realized.

And, if you can’t wait to get an answer, practice smiling more. You might feel silly at first, but it’s a far better option than getting booted out of a job opportunity because your first impression was, well, bitchy.