The most-hired candidates exploit this psychological soft spot – having nothing to lose
Skills and talent aside, why do some people naturally connect with their interviewers while others – no matter how much they prepare – flounder through awkward silences and cringe-inducing generic conversation?
If you’ve ever watched the cult-classic Office Space, you might already know the answer. Fed up with his bureaucratic, meaningless work life, the lead character decides to finally tell his superiors “how it really is.” He rips apart the idiocy of their workplace and points out the many flaws in their systems. And instead of getting fired, he’s promoted. Again and again. He is transformed from low-level nobody to the everyman hero.
His secret to success? He no longer concerned himself with pleasing others simply for the sake of it.
Now, letting loose all your unfiltered, rage-induced thoughts likely won’t result in you getting hired or promoted. Yet there is some truth to the Office Space scenario; having nothing to lose does often allow us to identify with others honestly and confidently. In fact, if handled correctly, the “nothing to lose” mindset can shock managers from the haze of traditional interviews into genuine connection.
But what if I actually have a lot to lose?
Good. That means you’ve done something right.
Most of us can’t afford to just throw away a great opportunity, especially if we’re currently unemployed. We have bills to pay and families to support and lives to live – we can’t just swagger into every interview as if we have no one counting on us.
First off, if you are in dire straits, don’t toy with your livelihood. The anxiety of being long term unemployed isn’t worth the benefit of securing your dream job right away. Whether you’re newly unemployed or you simply aren’t happy with your current job, consider taking an interim position that’ll keep you afloat while you pursue other options. Contract jobs are an excellent way to fill resume gaps, keep your skills up to date, and secure your finances without the pressure of a permanent gig. And that way, when you do interview for that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, you can embrace the “nothing to lose” mindset without fear of being left empty handed.
Getting in the right mindset
As part of your interview preparation, you’ll want to reflect on the benefits of your current situation. While your job likely isn’t perfect – that’s why you’re interviewing – most workplaces have their fair share of positives. Maybe you really connect well with your boss, or you’ve found a second family in your peers, or you have the creative independence you’ve always craved. Whatever it is, considering the good along with the bad can help you feel less indebted to your interviewer; after all, they need to find the perfect candidate just as much as you need to find the perfect job.
One thing to avoid – asking yourself “what’s the worst that could happen?” While a “nothing to lose” mindset can make you more relaxed and assertive, a “what’s the worst that could happen?” line of thinking often results in increased stress as you consider numerous negative outcomes (HBR). Michelle Poler, author of “Hello, Fears,” suggests a different tact: she encourages us to ask, “what’s the best that could happen?”
What does “having nothing to lose” look like in practice?
It looks like offering candid feedback. Negotiating with confidence for your worth. Providing constructive criticism on the interview process, or even on how things are run at the company. Holding your ground on a point that’s important to you. Allowing the conversation to develop naturally. Avoiding scripts. Asking follow-up questions. Not shying away from things that don’t make sense to you. Being honest when you don’t have an answer, while explaining your thought process. Setting clear expectations.
It looks like genuine respectful interest, rather than blanket deference.
At the end of the day, we all want our interactions to be easy-going, inoffensive, non-stressful – perfectly reasonable desires, really. We want to please authority figures. Yet to do so at the expense of our ideas, renders us unfortunately…unmemorable.
And being forgotten is the worst possible post-interview outcome.
What’s the psychological magic behind the trick?
Shedding the need to please not only disarms your interviewer, but it further engenders trust. Interviewers expect us to perform; for better or worse, most people put on an act when meeting their future boss or peers. Of course, every social situation is in some ways performative, yet interviews in particular draw us into carefully crafted scripts and roles.
To be engaging – to be memorable – you’ll want to sidestep those scripts and veer into new territory. The kind of space where you can be (more) candid, where you can ask important questions and show (elements of) your true self. It’s a balance, to be sure. There’s no getting away from performance, but you can do your best to dial up your authenticity and break down those barriers. Getting in the “nothing to lose” mindset is just one way to accomplish this.
We have a bunch of articles about making yourself memorable, from bold ways to circumvent the usual application process to distinguishing yourself with a carefully considered thank you note. And we’re always happy to weigh in on your individual situation; feel free to send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org!