Find Your Dream Job, Episode 16:
How to Be Unforgettable in an Interview, with CK Bray
Airdate: October 24, 2018
This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life. I’m your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the publisher of Mac’s List, an online community that connects talented professionals with meaningful work.
I believe everyone can find a job they love. But to do that, you need to learn the skills to build a successful career. From professional networking to personal branding, you’ve got to get good at job hunting.
This show helps you do this. Every week on Find Your Dream Job, I talk to a different career expert. We discuss the tools and tactics you need to find your dream job.
Before we get started, though, I want to ask a favor. I want to give you the most useful job search advice I can. To help do this, we’re doing a short listener survey. We want to know what you like and don’t like about the show. We want to hear your ideas for topics we should cover in future episodes. We also want to get to know you better.
It’s a quick poll with just a handful of questions. I’d be grateful if you filled it out. If you do so, you’ll be eligible to win a $50 Amazon gift card. Just go to macslist.org/findyourdreamjobsurvey. Please let us hear from you by November 20, 2018.
Thanks in advance. Now, let’s get back to the show!
Our guest this week is Dr. CK Bray. He’s an expert in career development who helps you deal with all aspects of corporate life, including job search, promotion, and layoffs.
CK says many people he works with dread job interviews and it’s not surprising why. The importance of an job interview could make anyone feel anxious or pressured. But CK says you can not only manage these feelings, you can also take steps to stand out from other applicants. You can even make the interviewer like you.
First, says CK, you need to address the fear you may feel. After you deal with your own concerns, you can create ways to make yourself likeable. Finally, he advises, you need to go into the interview with stories that show why you’re the right person for the job.
Want to learn more? Join me in the Mac’s List studio as I talk with Dr. CK Bray about how to make yourself unforgettable in a job interview.
Dr. CK Bray is CEO and founder of the Adaption Institute. It provides science-based solutions for organizations experiencing change. CK and his team help clients with organization, employee, and customer change initiatives.
CK is also a career development expert. His first book, “Best Job Ever”, was a USA Today bestseller. He hosts the podcast Career Revolution. Every week, CK shares advice on how to look for work, get promoted, and deal with being fired or laid off.
He joins us today from Gilbert, Arizona.
CK, thanks for being on the show.
Hey, Mac, thanks for having me today.
It’s a pleasure and our topic this week, as you know, is how to be unforgettable in a job interview. Obviously, we mean this in a positive way; we don’t want to be that disastrous job interview that people are still talking about years later. When you have written and spoken about this, CK, you recommend that to do this, people need to think about a few factors. How to manage stress and fear, how to make themselves likable, and also you talk about the importance of telling career stories that engage interviewers.
Let’s start with stress and fear because I think those are common reactions when people are thinking about an interview and even when they’re in the interview room, isn’t it?
Absolutely. We’ve come so far with understanding the science and psychology of what interviewing is for both sides of an interview process, for the interviewee and the interviewer. There’s cognitive science behind what’s happening in your brain, what’s being categorized, but also on the psychological side, as you brought up, it’s the fear and anxiety of, “Am I communicating correctly?” Science has just taken leaps and bounds in the past couple of years in what’s happening during an interview, which then gives us a lot of information about what things we can do to better create that environment where we’re presenting our best selves.
Why are interviews so stressful, CK? Why do people have that reaction that science is documenting?
That is such a good question. A lot of the stress and the level of the stress depends on, “Do I have a job currently and I’m just looking to switch to something new? That way I have funds coming in, I can pay for my house, rent, my car payment, or take a vacation.” That stress factor goes up when two things happen. One, “I don’t have a job and I need to get a job”, or number two, “I’m in trouble in my current job or position and I know I don’t have much longer left”. The anxiety goes up, and when the anxiety goes up, we know communication, the ability to really provide clear, concise, well-thought out answers, just plummets through the floor. We aren’t our best selves and we aren’t able to say what we’d like to say in the way that we’d like to say them.
There are these external factors that create stress before you walk into the interview room. Do you find, CK, that interviewers, hiring managers also deliberately create stress?
Absolutely. It’s such a good question, Mac, so let’s talk about when an interview first begins. What happens is when the interviewee walks in and the interviewers are sitting there… Now they’ve talked before obviously, and they’ve discussed the type of person they’re looking for, and they’ve looked at your resume most likely before you walked in to see what are some of the strengths, and what are maybe weak areas. But what happens on the cognitive side is when a person walks into an interview is, the individual, the interviewer, automatically in their brains are categorizing that person who’s coming in for the interview. They are categorizing them as a friend or a foe.
What we’ve found that’s fascinating about this is that depending on whether they categorize them as a friend or a foe will mean what parts of their brain they’re using during the interview when they’re asking the interviewee those questions. There can have a strong determinate during that first forty-five seconds when you’re being categorized if you’re coming in for that interview, where you can make a big difference in how that interview goes based upon how the brain of the interviewer has categorized you.
Let’s break this into two parts. Let’s talk first, CK, about what someone can do before they walk into that interview in order to manage their own internal stress, and cope with their fear and anxiety, and let’s also talk about how people can put their best foot forward so when they meet the interviewer, they are sending signals that are going to trigger a positive reaction. Why don’t we start with the first part?
Okay, so the first part is, what can you do before you actually walk into an interview? It’s going to sound funny when I say this, but obviously you want to calm down, take deep breaths, it’s a very stressful situation, you’re in a fight or flight mode, the amygdala is going crazy, there’s a lot of things happening that are causing you to go to that fight or flight state.
It’s really just calming down. That’s a very easy thing to say and a very difficult thing to do. One thing we’ve found that really helps individuals calm down is, as you’re entering and meeting the interviewers, we do something called middle of the road. You want to be very middle of the road. Now, that doesn’t sound like something you want to be, but we’re talking about your facial expressions, how happy you are, how outgoing you are. You want to be very polite, you want to be smiling, but you don’t want to be too much of that because then it comes across as fake and you seem like you’re not being authentic. Also, you don’t want to be too nervous, you want to be quiet long enough, you want to look them in the eye.
It’s just being very middle of the road with your behaviors because what you’re going to do when you come in is you’re then going to realize, and talk, and scan the environment and the individuals, and decide, “Oh they are a very peppy group. They are a very happy outgoing group, I need to up it and mirror their behavior.” On the other hand, the interviewers may be very quiet and somber and that means we need to tone back a little bit. We don’t need to mirror that exactly or they might think we’re boring or we’re not enthused about the job but we need to mirror oftentimes the behavior of the interviewer. That in turn, as we begin the process, it seems that within the first two minutes, our brains and the psychological aspects of our bodies then begin to calm down. Then we can get really into the interview.
That’s what I would do during the first part.
Okay, so take steps before you walk into the room to relax and deal with any anxiety or fear you may be experiencing. Then, when you walk in the room, read the group and try to mirror their temperament and behavior. You want to do that in an authentic way, don’t you, CK?
Let me throw one other thing in there. One of the best ways that you can remain calm before an interview is your preparation. Make sure you know a lot about the company, you’ve looked up and done research on the person who’s interviewing you. Oftentimes you don’t have everybody’s name and position but you may have the person who’s interviewing you. But then also, and we’ll talk about this later, but what are your stories that you have prepared? Examples of your past work experience? We call them your narratives and we’ll talk more about them in a second.
But the more that you’re prepared, the more calm you’re going to be because you’re going to feel like, “I’m set, I’m calm, I’m ready to go. I don’t know what the questions are going to be but I’ve prepared enough about this company, my experiences, what matches the job description that they gave me to really go in and have a firm grasp and handle on some of the questions.”
Not only will you be more effective in the discussions and displaying your knowledge and interest, but there’s a behavioral benefit as well in you and the signals that you’re sending to the interview panel, isn’t there?
Absolutely. Sometimes we send great signals and sometimes we send very mixed signals, and that’s why it’s good to be very middle of the road at the beginning of the interview so you can assess the situation and the individuals. You can then take steps as we said before to not just mirror, but keep the tone, and the beat, and the speed of the interview, right along with the interviewers.
We’ve talked about fear, stress, and anxiety. Let’s talk about likability, CK. Tell me more about this, it’s not about being a “Hail fellow, well-met”, backslapper, but what do you mean by likability and how can people both display it and create it?
Okay, this is one of my favorite topics so if I go on too long, you just stop me, Mac.
A lot of research has been done around this and we’ve even videotaped interviews to see what happens during different parts of the interview when conversations occur. We know there’s a lot of unconscious bias or implicit bias that plays a role in how we communicate, make decisions, and the behaviors that we have when we’re working with other individuals or humans.
What we’ve found is that when an interview begins, like I said, you are judged as a friend or a foe cognitively by the interviewer, but as those conversations begin and the interviewer gets to know you or individuals get to know you better, then what happens is a similarity bias can occur. Sometimes it’s referred to as affinity bias. People like people who are similar to them. Now a lot of individuals, when we asked interviewers before they went in and did interviews, “Are you at all subject to this unconscious bias of similarity bias? Do you think you are somewhat on a scale that you can tipped if you like the person?” Most people would say, “No, not at all. I’m looking for competency, skill sets and strengths, and a good match for our organization.”
What’s been found is that in videotapes when we’re actually videotaping the interview, that the moment there’s a connection… The connection could be, people went to the same school, they have the same hobbies, they both like golf, or tennis, or cooking, or gardening, or triathlons or whatever it is, or maybe they grew up in the same state. When there’s some type of similarity, what we notice happening is that the interviewer then begins to change their behavior, how they ask their questions to the interviewee, and then how they let them get away with some of their responses. There’s a strong affinity there for that similarity bias.
What we do is, oftentimes companies will have us come in and ask us, “How do we stop this from occurring?” On the other hand, individuals will say, “Teach us how to create this similarity bias”, because once there’s a similarity between the interviewer and the interviewee, you’re in good. We’ve all experienced that, the moment you start talking to someone and things go well, you’re like, “Oh, I’m killing the interview.” Even if your answers are not the best, in fact, one more little bit of research for you, Mac.
During an interview, after an interview is over, some of the researchers had the interviewers rate, how did an interviewee do according to the content, their skill set, and ask different questions. What was found was that if the interviewer had an affinity bias rated them close to twenty to twenty-five percent higher on that scale, versus those who didn’t have an affinity or similarity bias. It does play a strong role.
People hate to hear that because you want to feel like you go into an interview and, “Hey, I’m being judged for what I’ve done in the past, for who I am, and for what I bring to the organization”. Mac, there’s so much more than that that goes into it, how decisions are made.
Okay, well let’s pause here, CK, because I do want to dig into this. I can imagine listeners thinking “Well, how can I both find those similarities and share them?” But I can also imagine people are thinking to themselves, “Oh my gosh, I’m doomed. I’m nothing like the people who are sitting across from me in the interview panel. I don’t have a chance in the world.” I know from your work that that’s not the case, there are ways to address that. I want to talk more about that. How does that sound?
Okay, we’re going to take a pause and we’ll be back in just a moment.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before in a job interview… “Tell me about a time when you had to pick between two bad options?” Or how about this one, “Discuss a time when your integrity was challenged? How did you handle it?”
Even if you haven’t had a hiring manager ask you these questions, they probably sound familiar.
That’s because employers want you to share examples of your experience. So they ask behavioral interview questions.
These questions often start with phrases like:
Tell me about a time when . . .
Give me an example of . . .
Describe a situation . . .
Do you recognize the format now?
Here’s the problem for you as a candidate. You can’t script answers to every possible behavioral interview question. You need a repeatable strategy that you can use in any situation.
That’s why I created my new guide, 100 Behavioral Interview Questions You Need to Know. Now, I give you a list of the most common questions and that’ll be helpful to you, but I also share a four-step process for answering any behavioral question.
Get your copy today. Go to maclist.org/questions.
There’s an infinite number of behavioral interview questions. My strategy will give you the tool you need to answer any of them. Go to maclist.org/questions.
Don’t walk into your next interview unprepared. Go to maclist.org/questions.
Now, let’s get back to the show.
Now, CK, our topic this week, of course, is how to be unforgettable in an interview. We were talking about the research that you’ve done and examined on what you call similarity bias. What happens when you’re a job candidate, you’re sitting across the room from one or more interviewers, and the reaction that happens when people see that there are things you have in common. That can be both a plus and a minus, can’t it, CK?
Absolutely. It’s a plus if you get into the interview, and let’s talk about what interviewees can do. The moment you walk in, as you begin to make connections with individuals, as you have this small talk of, “How’s the weather? How was your drive in? Thanks for waiting so much.” As you begin to have that conversation, obviously for those interviewers, the brain is deciphering, “Is this person a friend or a foe? Is this someone who’s possible?” You can create similarity bias by just agreeing. If someone says, “It’s a nice beautiful day”, saying, “Absolutely, it’s a beautiful day”. Now it doesn’t seem like it would make a difference but people like to be assured. People like for people to agree with what they’re saying. Even in those first few minutes, you can set and begin that similarity bias.
Once an interview begins, one thing the interviewee can do is… They are asked questions, if the interviewer or the person asking the questions asks any questions that they can jump on and there’s some type of similarity there, “Oh, I had that experience, or I worked at that organization. I know that individual.” They need to highlight that in their response, their answer, because then what happens is it begins to build that bond between the two individuals.
Let’s talk about the kinds of similarities that candidates should look for. I’m assuming that part of this, and you mentioned this in the first half of the show, is doing the homework, knowing who’s going to be in the room if you can, find out if you went to similar schools, or share common hobbies, or perhaps you lived in the same part of the country at one time. In addition to doing the homework before you walk into the room, what kind of questions or things can you do to find those similarities before you begin the formal interview? Or perhaps during the course of it?
Okay, let’s unpack that step by step. What are some of the most influential affinity bias that’s there? The number one thing you can use is people. If you know similar people, individuals, as the interviewer, then you bring those individuals up. Hopefully, they like you and hopefully they’re going to say something nice about you, because you know the moment you walk out of the interview, someone is going to text or call and say, “Hey what did you think of Dr. Bray? Do you know a little bit about what he’s done for work or his experience?” People are one of the strongest links to similarity bias.
Another one is jobs, that would be in the top five. Do we have similar experiences in the same marketplace?
The third is experience. Experience being, is it a hobby that you enjoy? Do you do something that is very similar? One of the best things is sports teams. If you like the same sporting team and you see it up on the wall or something and you can talk to that clearly, then it’s a great similarity bias. You want to bring those out.
What that does, let me share with you, is not only does it create a similarity bias, but it makes the individual very comfortable with you. Because what they’re thinking is, “If you like that, and I like that, then you must be like me.” The more you can do “Like me”, the better oftentimes the interview is going to go.
Okay, what about the people who are listening right now and thinking, “Well, I’m in the candidate’s chair, I’m looking across the table and those people don’t look anything like me. They are a different gender and I’m struggling to find something in common.” What advice would you give?
That is one of the hardest things because as the person who is being interviewed, most of the time you don’t know the background or the history, the job experience, the education, of the people who are in the room interviewing you. I often tell people, looks can be deceiving, meaning some people are really kind, they’re really nice, or they’re really outgoing, but they feel like in an interview they have to be stern or somber. Especially if there are managers in the room or counterparts. They may be playing a part. Just because they look serious and they don’t look like they’re involved in what you’re saying, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the interview isn’t going well.
One of the best ways that research has shown to bring and draw people out… And if there’s anything that listeners remember from this podcast, this is the one thing to remember, I spent about twenty years studying this. It’s the narrative, it’s the stories that they bring. Oftentimes in interviews, one of the biggest mistakes that people who want the job make is that they tell about experiences but they don’t tell a story. They don’t link it to a story. Now, we know that stories and narratives go back to just hundreds and hundreds of years, that’s how oftentimes history was passed down, through stories.
There’s something in the human brain that loves stories. That’s why we read books. That’s why we love going to movies because we love the story. As people prep and prepare for their interviews, one thing that I heed you to really practice is to make sure you have a story around it. A lot of people use this before, like the star format, the situation, the task, the action, and result, but what I often say is create a story around it. One that is brief, concise, doesn’t go on too long, that’s the death of people who tell too much of a story that goes on too long. But a brief, well-informed story, then what it does is it draws people in. They want to know what happened, what work did you do? How did it end up? As you create that story, and that’s something people really have to practice. It is so impactful and people remember you.
It’s just like this, let’s say my spouse says, “Chris, I need you to run to the grocery store and I need you to get eggs, milk, and butter.” Obviously, when we get to number four the whole family screams out, “You better text dad because he’s never going to remember.” Here’s the difference, if my wife then says, “Oh Chris, we’re making cookies. We’re going to make delicious chocolate chip cookies. We’re going to take some to the neighbor, we’re going to have some for dessert tonight. So make sure that you get the eggs, milk, and butter for the cookies.” Think about this, my memory, even my short-term memory is going to remember those three things because it’s a story. We’re doing something. It’s cookies, there’s a reward at the end. There is a much different experience for the brain, for the emotions of the interviewer when it comes through those stories. It moves people and helps people remember you.
What I like about the example you just shared, CK, is the story has a structure. There’s a beginning, a middle, and an end. You’re going to go out, you’re going to do the shopping, you’re going to come back, you and your family are going to make the cookies, and then finally the result is you’ll share them with neighbors. What structure do you think people, particularly job candidates, should follow when they’re sitting in that interview room and they have to tell a career story?
Well, let’s put a time frame around it, it shouldn’t last anything more than a minute to two minutes. It needs to be very short. Now, if they’re being asked questions, it will go on a bit longer, but what needs to happen, and I love how you said that you need to have a beginning, middle, and end. You need to explain the situation, what is the situation? So that you can give them the background of the story. Then some of the things you did, what were some of the actions that you took? Some of the barriers or some of the action items that you had to take to make this project or the work successful? Then what you need to do is really talk about the results and how it affected you. You’re giving information, you’re letting people know in the interview, and you know they’re jotting down notes, you’re giving them information, but then what you’re doing is attaching the human element on to it with, “Here’s the result and here’s how it affected me. Here’s what I learned and it was difficult. I learned things about myself.” The more human you can make it and the more authentic the story, then the better the story is going to be.
Now we want to be careful, we want to be in the middle again. We don’t want to be where we are winning the lottery and we are so excited that we’re thrilled and we’re on the edge of our chairs, but we don’t want to make it too somber of a story. You don’t want people to leave with tears in their eyes and needing a Kleenex. You want a story with ups and downs, here are some of the great points that happened, here were some of the hard times, and here’s what it meant to me. Those stories, people remember them for the two to three weeks that you need them to remember them so that they remember you.
Agreed. Just a tactical suggestion and I love the structure that you shared, when people want to talk about their result, one thing I’ve seen candidates do effectively is say, when they want to sum up their result, “I tell you this story because…”
That is great.
It also helps the speaker manage their time, too because they realize they’ve got to wrap it up.
That’s a cue. Because that is one thing I warn people about over and over. Make sure the story is concise and to the point because you’ll lose people if it goes on too long. Just like a bad movie, even a bad trailer. Trailers are what? Two minutes long? If it’s a bad trailer, you pick up your phone, you talk to the person you went to the movie with, so it has to be short, concise, to the point, and impactful.
Okay, so there’s one more question I want to ask you, but again, I think you’ve done a great job laying this out. Pay attention to your fears and anxieties, manage them before you walk into the room in part by doing your homework, but also by paying attention to your behavior when you enter that interview room. Then pay attention to what you can use to form similarity bias, those common connections that will lead to likeability, and have that story ready.
I also know, CK, that you think it’s important for the candidate to walk into the room with some questions, too. Tell me more about why that is important.
The questions at the end. It’s really the bow to the end of the interview. A lot of people, a lot of interviewers and organizations will look, not so much at the answers, when the interviewee begins to ask those questions, but they want to see the content of the questions. Did they research us? Do they know the business we’re doing? Do they know a lot about the position? They’re judging you on those questions. You have to have some really well thought out, well-researched questions. Oftentimes the number I give people is five, you probably will be allowed to ask two or three questions. Some really good questions that show you’ve done your homework, but that you really want to know the answer to.
Because the authenticity of asking questions that you want to know more about the position… I tell people to be very careful about playing the questions such as, “What do you do for individuals who are top performers?” That might be a question you ask further down the line in the interview process, not something you want to ask initially. You want to know more about the position, about the organization, the culture, where is the organization going? What’s the market like? Really think about those questions.
Remember too, that there are more high-level questions. The longer you go, and the more interviews you have, then those questions begin to come down and you get in the grassroots of it. You get into the weeds of what you really need to know about the job, what does it pay? What vacations does it offer? When people ask those questions in the very first interview, I always shake my head and say, “No, let’s start high. Let me inform you about the organization and our team that you’d be working with before we get into the you part of it.”
Okay, excellent advice. Now tell us, CK, what’s next for you?
We’re always trying to expand. That’s what we’re here for, right, Mac? Lot’s of new stuff on the horizon. We have the current podcast which is, Career Revolution with Dr. CK Bray. we are starting a new… And I’m going to say January 2019, a new podcast called Spark of Genius. The difference between the two is, in the podcast we have now we don’t interview, I just provide information about careers and life, and put some science in there as well. What the Spark of Genius is, we’re bringing in individuals from all walks of life and we’re asking them questions.
Not only about what all they’ve accomplished, what they do, but how they got there. Mac, I want to bring you on for sure. We want to know how you’ve reached where you’re at, how you’re successful, the difference you’re making and some purpose behind it, but we want to know how you got there. It seems that we don’t get a lot of information out there on, “What’s the path you took to end up where you are now?” Because oftentimes we look at all these individuals throughout our country and the world and we see the end result of their success but we don’t see the journey. It probably wasn’t as much smooth sailing as we think it was. Lots of fun stuff ahead.
Well, I’m looking forward to hearing the new show. I do encourage listeners to check out your current show which I know you’re still producing. I found it to be very valuable. There’s a lot of good stuff there and I know Spark of Genius will be just as good.
People can learn more about your podcast, your book, and your work by visiting your websites. There are two; the first one is drckbray.com, and then the second one is adaptioninstitute.com. CK, thanks for being on the show today.
Thanks for having me; it’s been great to catch up and talk with you.
It’s been a pleasure and I look forward to staying in touch. Take care.
That was a terrific discussion with Dr. CK Bray. One message that came through loud and clear for me was the importance of preparation. In other words, don’t walk into the interview room winging it. Have a plan, know who you’re going to meet if possible, and look for ways to both deal with your own anxiety and to connect with the people you’re going to talk with. Above all, have stories that illustrate what you can do for the employer.
I love the way CK took a shopping list for a cookie and turned it into a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. It’s very powerful and I hope that you’ll consider doing that as well.
Also, before your next interview, make sure you do the preparation. Our new guide, 100 Behavioral Interview Questions You Need to Know will help you get ready. You can’t prepare for every behavioral interview question but there is a formula you can use to craft a great response and connect with the interviewers. Get your guide today at macslist.org/questions.
Thanks again for listening to this episode of Find Your Dream Job.
Join us next Wednesday when our special guest will be Merryn Roberts-Huntley. She’ll explain how to nail your first impression.
Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job!