We make sense of the world by using mental shortcuts every day. When you visit your usual supermarket, you don’t stop and make lengthy decisions about each product: you’ve done the majority of your thinking homework before you get there. You know the layout of the store, the food that your household likes, signs of good quality and the brands you prefer. It would be utterly exhausting to start from scratch and rethink everything you know about how to grocery shop.

Mental shortcut, rule of thumb, educated guess, common sense and intuition: all mental aids that come into play when you navigate the supermarket and make your buying choices – and indeed most of your daily decisions.  These terms can also be grouped together under one title: heuristics.

Heuristics can be incredibly helpful because they reduce time, headache and the risk of an outcome you don’t want. As you can imagine, using a rule of thumb, intuition or educated guesswork isn’t a perfect approach, but it will give you a quick, satisfactory result the majority of the time and allow you to live your life with confidence.

An imperfect approach brings some problems though. Let’s go back to the supermarket for a moment and think about how the marketing and retail gods are influencing you to select, walk, and even focus your attention in certain ways. Those forces aside, not all your grocery choices will be ideal – even when you’re doing your best, thinking for yourself and using excellent judgement. Is there such thing as a flawless, optimal trolley-ful of groceries that you can order on repeat indefinitely? Of course not.

So how does all this relate to job interviews? I think understanding heuristics is absolutely essential to performing well in these milestone conversations. You need to know what is influencing your interviewer’s mind as well as how your own can be influenced, and what you can do to shape their thinking.

Sarah Keen is a writer, photographer, coach and story curator. 2021 marks her 20th year of interviewing people: in 2001 she completed a degree in Journalism and has been consulting and writing in Human Resources, Employability Teaching, Outplacement and Recruitment for the last sixteen years, including counselling individuals with socioeconomic barriers and psychological injuries.

Sarah is passionate about looking beyond procedures and practice when it comes to job interviews: her approach combines multi-sensory training, proprioception (awareness of the position and movement of the body), mindset and self-talk, the physiology of nerves and anxiety, cognitive biases and techniques to confidently describe oneself through word and voice, find the right people to connect with, share authentic stories and build rapport. Her clients never feel the same way about job interviews once they have completed her training.