Why You’ll Never Get the Job You Want

Every day, we make thousands of crucial decisions in a matter of seconds. What loaf of bread looks the most healthy? Which neighborhood seems safest? We make choices based on past experiences and assumptions; interviewers do too.

Ask anyone you know what process they use to make a big decision. I can almost guarantee that they’ll tell you they make a list, and then throw it out to go with their gut. Why do people do this? Why would they spend hours researching and rationalizing, then go on a whim?

The simple answer is that it’s programmed into our DNA. You might have heard of the “lizard brain” or the amygdala, the prehistoric part of your brain in charge of emotions like “fear and rage and reproductive drive (2).” When faced with an unknown, it tells us whether to stick it out and fight or run like hell. It’s a safety mechanism designed to keep you alive and unfortunately it goes off when faced with less life-threatening dangers like risking a secure 9-5 to live your dream (DO IT!).

For thousands of years, human beings (and animals) have been making split-second decisions on what they see and it’d be foolish not to at least acknowledge that this antiquated system still plays a major role in decision-making today. I’m not saying that we are a bunch of irrational nitwits who never use their brains to make choices. I’m saying (and Dr. Robert Cialdini agrees) that we are inherently lazy and in this fast-paced world that’s accelerating faster and faster every day, gut feelings are getting more and more regular use. “Where we are rushed, stressed, uncertain, indifferent, distracted, or fatigued, we tend to focus on less of the information available to us. When making decisions under these circumstances, we often revert to the rather primitive but necessary single-piece-of-good-evidence approach (3).”

I Want It Because I Want It
Hiring managers will tell you that they have a “picture” of their ideal candidate in mind. This mental image consists not just of work experience and skill set- those qualities are a given- but also quirks, likes/dislikes, and an unconscious bias based on what such a person should look like (e.g. IT dudes know their way around a hoodie and an ironic tee).

Yes, hiring managers make logical checklists for what they’re looking for; but when the candidates walk in the door, instincts set in, and reasoning walks out. The pulse races (on both sides of the table). Rational thought loses its footing on emotional stimuli. The ticking clock invokes beads of sweat like a first-time buyer cornered by a seasoned car salesman.

Off balance, the hiring manager is likely to base her decisions on what she knows. “Contrary to the rules of philosophers of science… people (and scientists, quite often) seek data that are likely to be compatible with the beliefs they currently hold (4).” The hiring manager has only visual cues to go off of, along with your responses to a list of canned company questions and your well-worked resume. My point is: if you didn’t fit the picture walking in, then you better be one hell of a talker.

When faced with incalculable unknowns and one or two surface level interviews to go off of (can you really trust someone you’ve known for a couple hours?), chances are the gut will win out. There will always be exceptions to the rule (this is the error-ridden real world of course, not Utopia ), but if you’re making a wager, you’d be a fool not to trust your gut and bet on human nature.

Zaltman, Gerald. How Customers Think. Boston Harvard Business School Press, 2003
Godin, Seth. Quieting the Lizard Brain. Blog
Cialdini, Robert. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. William Morrow & Company. 2009
Kahneman, Daniel.Thinking, Fast and Slow. Collins, 2011

Belly-Warming Scandinavian Cuisine

Lefse Special, Cafe Broder

Surviving a Portland winter requires a transformation of body and mind from mere mortal to Pacific Northwest god. The beards donned by natives [now often seen in metropolitan areas abroad] surfaced here not as a fashion statement but as a survival tactic. Until you have felt the assaulting left hand of rain and right hand of wind tackle your face in a fatal one-two blow, you won’t understand what it takes to be initiated by the Rose City.

A winter morning arrives not by approach of dawn’s light but by the creeping, never-ending darkness of eternal night. There will be no natural indicator of time now, no; only measured moments between downpours of baptizing rain and the empty promise of a forgotten sun’s rays teasing behind a cluster of clouds.

Until late spring you must lie to yourself daily that there will be flowers blossoming one day; that your socks won’t soak through within seconds of stepping outside. You’ll need to stoke a fire in your belly with the hope that comes with warm nourishment and Scandinavian food is sure to do the trick.

Often the smallest factors bear the largest impact, a constant reminder to never judge a book by its cover. Cafe Broder is such a place, unimposing in size and almost unnoticeable if it weren’t for the queue that forms outside on the regular. The generated warmth of body heat and lively banter welcome you into the quaint oblong cafe. Vintage baubles, stainless steel cabinets and a slack-jawed bass mounted on the wall muddle Danish

Half-eaten lefse, Cafe Broder

modern with rustic industrial.

Perched at the bar, I couldn’t help but notice muscles (bulging under a stranglehold a of faded black fabric) sling what looked like a muffin tray of gooey batter into the oven. The muscles belonged to the head cook who expertly manned multiple orders destined for either the frying pan or the oven;

I ordered the daily lefse special, consisting of potato pancakes with ham, farmer’s cheese and lingonberry jam topped with two eggs and greens. I tried not to notice when I saw “Muscles” pour half & half into the mini square skillet that held the eggs. I needed sustenance to guide me through the assault of rain pellets that waited for me beyond the cafe doors.

The first bite launched an ephemeral twitch of my taste buds, a gentle nod of agreement in response to the artfully combined sweetness of ham and lingonberry with the savory bite of cheese and pancake. I could feel my belly warming with each slice and swallow and I almost missed the sound of wind scraping natural elements against the window outside.

As I took my last bite, I let the flavors linger in my mouth and prepared for the journey home. I layered my waterproof jacket on top of my sweatshirt and folded my scarf under as I zipped up. I was unaware of the assortment of weather that would soon greet me, but for the first time since the sun last shone I was smiling.