The ability to create pictures in the minds of other people is one the most amazing skills we humans possess, and understanding how it works can help you win at a job interview.
Many people who win at a job interview don’t win because they were the best person for the job but because they were best liked.
Not fair, perhaps, but true.
It is the person who builds the strongest rapport with the job interviewer who wins. In Sweaty Palms: The Neglected Art of Being Interviewed, Anthony Medley tells the story of a candidate who turned up for a job interview for a secretarial position. She had a typing speed of 90 words per minute and a shorthand speed of 120 words. She was well presentable, had good references and was well suited for the job but aside from turning up 10 minutes late, she kept calling him Mr Melody instead of Mr Medley.
He didn’t like that.
“The two main things I remembered is that she kept me waiting and constantly mispronounced my name,” he said. “I finally offered the job to someone whose typing speed and shorthand were not nearly as good.”
We’re odd creatures, us humans, but our brains are wired to make us recoil from stuff we don’t like. I have often said, interviews are won by the accumulation of such little things, not big ones.
To win at a job interview, bond
So how can we make the interviewer like us? Well, we need to create a bond. We do this by creating strong connections in the mind and it happens through the skill of empathy. Empathy is the skill that enables us to bond with another human being. It helps us see a situation from another person’s point of view, to feel their pain, sadness, joy or other emotion. It’s like standing in their shoes.
It’s different from sympathy, which says, ‘I feel sorry for you but we need to move on.’ Empathy says, ‘I feel your pain, how can I help?’ Emphatic people are good at connecting with others because they understand people well. We feel drawn to people who understand us, so to win at a job interview you need to look for ways to show you understand the interviewer.
Your brain, his brain and the mirror effect
When you speak to another person, say during an interview, their brain makes a connection by mirroring what is taking place in your brain. So, when you retell that story of how you miraculously rescued a failing sales pitch from impending disaster, just five minutes before the end, and in front of a roomful of hostile clients, your interviewer will get you.
Say the interviewer wants to know that you’re resilient, this will pretty much convince him by helping him to experience the same sense of urgency and panic you felt. He will feel the piercing eyes of those hard-faced clients, and he will feel your relief of victory; and all because when you retell the experience the same centres in your brain light up in his. Not only does it enable you to relive the experience but it also helps the interviewer to share in the experience you had. He will feel it as though it happened to him, and because of this he will remember the actual feeling long after he has forgotten the words you said.
This is why body language registers 90 per cent more powerfully than words. It is visual and so more effective at imprinting on the mind.
Of course, none of this is rocket science and when we think about it, it seems like commonsense but being aware of it can help a great deal when it comes to creating that connection you want with the interviewer.
If while you are speaking in your job interview you are creating pictures in the interviewer’s mind, then it makes sense to ‘mind’ what you say.
Next week I’ll share some practical tips on how to use this natural ability to create the bond you need to win at a job interview.