Training Your Brain for Success in Your Job Search
Psychology Today, Michelle Gielan
January 2012

A friend of mine was recently interviewing at companies in Manhattan in hopes of landing a new job. Like many candidates out there, Ann is highly qualified and has a great track record.  But I’d place my bets on her over the others any day because of one specific aspect of her personality:  Ann is optimistic.

Optimism sets her apart in concrete, tangible ways, and you can hear it in how she describes her experiences and the world around her.  She views challenges not as stressful problems but as opportunities to learn, grow, and innovate.  She has historically helped out her coworkers even if it meant staying a little later than expected.  And she is easy to get along with thanks to her relaxed, upbeat attitude.

Based upon my work with Fortune 500 companies and my research at the Institute for Applied Positive Research, it is clear that optimism is one of the greatest predictors of employee success, both during the interview and beyond.  For instance, one study at MetLife found that optimistic sales people were outselling their pessimistic counterparts by 37%.

While the advice for jobseekers abounds, I have found is that there are simple strategies anyone can employ to boost optimism and positivity to wow hiring managers.  In other words, we all have the potential to become more like Ann (who just started her new job this week.)

If you’re planning to begin interviewing or already have launched into the process, get yourself on the following four-step plan to boost positivity and optimism.

Start Doing Your Reps Immediately – Just like your body, your braincould use a good workout.  Luckily this exercise only takes two minutes a day, and it won’t cause you to sweat through your interview suit.  Each day for the next 21 days, practice being consciously grateful.  In a journal or Word document, list three unique things you’re grateful and explain why.  This new habit helps you retrain your brain for greater positivity.  Research shows this can not only make us significantly happier, it also has a calming effect on our brain, which is exactly what we could use to counterbalance how we feel during the often nerve-racking interview process.

Prime Your Brain for Success – I know it may sound counterintuitive, but there is no better time to goof off than right before the interview. Listen to fun music in the car or watch a video you know will make you crack up.  Do whatever it takes to get yourself to smile.  Research shows when our brains are primed to be positive, dopamine (a feel good chemical) drops into our system, turning on the learning centers in our brain.  Studies find that a positive brain is 19% faster and more accurate at decision making and has 50% better spacial memory than a brain that is negative, neutral or stressed.  All that can help make us better prepared to answer the interviewer’s questions.

Start the Interview with a Power Lead – In broadcasting, the top story in the newscast is called the lead, and it sets the tone for the program.  It is in the first few moments of an interview that managers can “size up” candidates.  So make sure to offer a Power Lead: a positive fact or quick story about any appropriate topic, and steer clear of negativity (even if you just got soaked in the rainstorm outside or the receptionist was an ice queen.)  A positive lead story starts the interview off on a good note, and it could actually activate your interviewer’s brain.  Research shows that memory improves when we are positive, so a Power Lead can help the interviewer remember (and like) you long enough to pass on a good word to HR!

Say Thank You – My mother always taught me to say thank you, so when I interviewed for jobs over the years, I would make sure to head to the interviews with thank you notes in my bag.  I had prepared all the names and addresses in advance so I could write them up right after the interview and mail them off that same day.  I prefer hand written cards, but if you absolutely can’t do that or it is very time sensitive, then send an email.  Either way, take five minutes to write a heartfelt thank you note to the person who just spent time getting to know you.  Simple gratitude can go a long way in setting you apart, not to mention that your mom would be proud of your top-notch manners.