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Mastering Interviews with the Rule of Four (Twice)

January 7th, 2011

Psychologist Nelson Cowan describes “The Magical Number of Four” in holding our attention. For more than two decades I have observed that interviewers, too, have limited attention spans. After all, interviewers are people and they will retain a limited impression of each candidate they consider. I have adapted Cowan’s theory to help candidates impress interviewers. I call it “The Rule of Four (Twice)”. Prepare for every interview in four steps and execute four steps during each interview. In today’s language that is 4B4 & 4Btween-2X.

Four Before: Interview Preparation
1. Write down three accomplishments that showcase your skills.
2. Prepare short, positive answers to difficult questions (like “Why is there a gap in your work history?”)
3. Research the company.
4. Dress for success. This is not a date.

Four Between: the Interview
1. Make a great first impression.
2. Stand out from other job seekers.
3. Be positive about prior employers.
4. Inject your three accomplishments into the conversation.

Cowan, N. (2001). The magical number 4 in short-term memory: A reconsideration of mental storage capacity. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 24, 87-185.

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