How To Design Your Interview Based on Behavioral Science

Make a positive, lasting impression on your interviewer with the peak-and-end effect. GETTY

As the blind dates of business, job interviews are a dance between organizations that hope to hire the best person for the job and applicants hoping to find the best job for themselves. For business leaders searching for the right candidates, they have full control of the interview environment and can (read: should) design their hiring processes to be inclusive and eliminate bias. But for applicants hoping to shine within systems they have little control over, it may seem like there are few strategies they can use to get ahead. Fortunately, the behavioral sciences have some advice for your next job interview (and it’s not to work on your power pose). Instead, use what cognitive psychologists know about how memory works to design your interview.

Design Your Interview Peak and End

By designing your interview based on behavioral science, you can fill the nanometer of space reserved for you in your interviewer’s brain with the unforgettable moments you need to stand out. The way to instill this vivid memory is by designing your peak and your end.

You can bet that your interviewer won’t remember everything about your interview. But which parts will she remember? Turns out, this is actually far more predictable than you might think. In the field of psychology, there’s something called the peak-and-end rule, which describes the parts of an experience that people tend to remember. Remembered experiences, such as past interviews, are primarily formed by two points during the experience: the height of the experience, and the end.

The Interview Peak

The peak of an experience can come anytime, but because of another psychological phenomenon called the primacy effect, you might want to choose the beginning to make your mark. This is because the interviewer’s first impression colors everything that follows. If your interview gets off to a smooth start, it will likely continue that way. But don’t forget to design your interview’s end.

The Interview End

The most famous research studies showing the “end” effect involved the discomfort of colonoscopies and submerging hands in very, very cold water (..not at the same time..). Whatever the source of pain, researchers found that if the pain decreases at the end, that entire experience is remembered as less unpleasant — and this holds even when the duration of pain is greater.

The same trend is found with the intensity of exercise. In a recent study by Zachary Zenko, Panteleimon Ekkekakis and Dan Ariely (full disclosure: I work with Dan at the Center for Advanced Hindsight at Duke, and Zack used to be a post-doc there), the researchers invited participants to exercise on a stationary bicycle, either increasing or decreasing the intensity of their workout over time. When the intensity decreased over time, people enjoyed their exercise more, remembered it more positively, and predicted greater future biking enjoyment. As if you needed another reason for a post-workout cool-down and stretch!

What Does This Mean For Your Interview?

The relative importance of the beginning and end of an experience means you should be intentional about designing these two points of your interview experience. If you can create a positive, memorable beginning and end, you can relax and be freed of your interview anxiety. It’s basically all your interviewer will remember, anyway.

Keep in mind: no one remembers the candidate who claims, “I’m a really hard worker.” Gather a few key anecdotes that demonstrate your passion for your work and competence in areas relevant to the position. They should be flexible enough to apply to a broad range of questions that are all geared to answer the one thing that the interviewer wants to know most: Why you?

A memorable anecdote is sticky — specific, emotive, funny, and even a bit odd. People remember vivid stories with characters and rising action; they don’t remember bland statements. If you are applying to an event coordinator position, tell your interviewer about the time you put together a conference and everything went wrong (the venue double booked you, the catering was delayed and your keynote speaker got the flu), so you convinced your magician friend to put on a show in your backyard while you devised a new plan, ultimately ending with the most successful conference your organization has hosted. And don’t bury your incredible story; make sure to start or end with it.

If you design a memorable peak and end to your interview, you can increase the odds that you will come to mind favorably when your interviewer is later flipping through her notes and comparing you to others. Perhaps your name will bring a smile to her face, and maybe even a chuckle.

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Originally published at

Aline Holzwarth is an applied behavioral scientist, primarily focusing on digital health research and scientifically informed product design.

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