Talk to your recruiter about RBF
Resting Bitch Face. It’s a real thing – a scourge upon the land that ruins people’s perception of each other. Google it sometime to see some examples. Male or female, all ethnicities and ages – this is a global epidemic that Wikipedia defines as follows:
“Resting bitch face, also known as RBF or bitchy resting face, is a term for a facial expression (or lack thereof) which unintentionally appears angry, annoyed, irritated, or contemptuous. The concept has been studied by psychologists and may have psychological implications related to facial biases, gender stereotypes, human judgment, and decision making. The concept has also been studied by computer experts, utilizing a type of facial recognition system; they found that the condition is as common in males as in females, despite the gendered word “bitch” that is used to name this concept.”
What has this got to do with staffing decisions and career planning? Plenty. All day long I hear things like “not a fit,” “bad chemistry,” “didn’t click with him/her,” “don’t think I’d fit well in their culture.” It’s certainly true that behavioral traits like work ethic, prior performance results, and the words people use to ask or answer interview questions do matter. But there is a reason why we insist on live interviews rather than simply matching job descriptions to resumes, sending emails, or holding phone calls or Skype conferences. We want to see people, shake their hand and – often unknowingly – evaluate body language. And nothing drives body language more than facial expressions, so we must get educated about RBF and it’s ramifications throughout the job market and global economy. Let’s look at this plague in two ways: why candidate’s often don’t get job offers, and why they often don’t want to accept them.
First, on the candidate side of the equation: interviewees know they only have somewhere between 30 minutes and 2 hours of “face time” to make a good impression, and they can’t blow it. Successful candidates understand that the most important thing they need to communicate, in whatever way possible, is trust. “Trust me, Ms. Hiring Manager, that I will get the job done and exceed your expectations. I will view the problems that need solving through your eyes and take accountability to solve them, freeing you up for other things.” It’s very hard for an interviewer to trust someone who, when they are not speaking, has a facial expression that communicates that they are “angry, annoyed, irritated, or contemptuous.” Live interviews typically begin with the interviewer providing some background about the company, the job or themselves, giving the candidate the opportunity to listen and communicate with non-verbal cues. If the message being sent back is coming from a RBF then there’s going to be a problem.
Regarding the interviewer who suffers from RBF – the problem is more insidious. The reality is that many hiring managers WANT to project resting bitch face because their interview style is to screen out “unworthy” candidates. They believe they hold all the cards and that the candidates have to do all the selling in order to prove they deserve the opportunity to take the job, forgetting that the best candidates have many, many great opportunities in front of them to consider. The interrogation-style interviewer rarely gets the A Player on their team, but they generally don’t care because the company culture is fine with that. But what about the sincere manager striving to build and lead a world-class team? The most important thing they need to communicate is that they care about people on a personal level. The old leadership adage is that “nobody cares what you know until they know that you care.” Since the majority of time in a live, face-to-face interview is spent with the candidate answering questions and the interviewer listening, there is ample opportunity for RBF to creep out and cause the candidate to lose the sense that the person sitting there could possibly care about their personal goals, dreams and ambitions.
So what can be done?
Like any good 12-step program the first and most important action is to recognize and accept that there is problem. The first phase after RBF diagnosis is always the toughest. It usually includes shock, anger, denial, introspection, research and grudging acceptance. Then comes the hard work of prescriptive action, including many hours logged in front of the mirror conditioning those facial muscles so they can unconsciously communicate Resting Happy Face. On the other hand, you can simply forget about allowing the face to rest at all in an interview. Experts agree that the easiest technique is eyebrow control – if you want to convey a sense of trust or caring you may want to furrow the brow when you hear a particularly sensitive comment. Of course, high eyebrows along with an easy smile will endear the other person to you, provided it is not overdone. The bottom line is that those who suffer from RBF must work during the interview to keep that face moving!
There are countless remedies and techniques for treating RBF available online. Given the huge market potential I can foresee the day where a new wonder-drug is approved for the condition – perhaps a next-gen Botox or something similar. My own prediction is that RBF will become much more apparent and recognized as the scourge that it is, particularly when our very own President suffers from it. Perhaps Patient Advocacy Groups will be formed. I’m optimistic that the higher profile of the disease will increase research and funding for treatment options, and those of us suffering quietly will no longer live in the shadows. As always I welcome your comments and questions.