How to be remembered

Stop Being a Wallflower and Standout from the Crowd – The von Restorff Effect

By: Lou McAlister, Senior Consultant

There they sit. Stacked in piles of high-quality paper, neatly printed and carefully crafted by professionals to look exactly alike. Or, perhaps, they’ve been fed through the company system and squashed into a format that makes all the data easy for the HR staff to access.

In either case, they’re resumes, and they look as identical as possible. All of the candidates have been reduced to a common denominator and made to blend together. Odorless. Colorless. Tasteless.

That means that you look just like everyone else. If you think that reduces your risk, in some sense, you may be right. In another sense though, it increases your risk by a large margin.

The problem is that you don’t stand out. You look just like dozens of other candidates. You can be easily forgotten. Because you look like the other candidates, getting the job becomes a random event. You may as well be playing a slot machine at a local casino.

To be remembered and to increase the odds that you get the job, you must stand out from the crowd.

In the 1930s, a German psychiatrist, Hedwig von Restorff made an important discovery: things that stand out are remembered more easily than typical things. The von Restorff effect, or the isolation effect, works because something “sticks out like a sore thumb.”

Standing out is risky business. When you’re different, you risk rejection. If you’re rejected, then you don’t get the job.

Okay, but if you’re just like everyone else and you don’t get the job, then you’re in exactly the same spot as if you had been rejected for being different. Which is worse? Oscar Wilde said that the only thing worse than being talked about was NOT being talked about. You want the hiring manager and the interviewers to remember you and talk about you. You want to be different.

Maybe, if you stand out and are rejected, you can know something about the process and why you were not selected. The randomness is eliminated.

On the other hand, if you look like everyone else and aren’t selected, then you can keep on doing what you’ve always done, keep your fingers crossed, and hope that next time the outcome is in your favor.

You get to continue doing what you’ve done in the past and expect a different result. You get to be insane. Lovely.

Now, if you make yourself stand out, you will be remembered. If you’re not selected, there may be a very good reason for it – a reason that can help you decide what to do differently the next time. You may have a chance to determine the outcome instead of being a victim of it.

Hiring managers are often looking for someone who will fit in. Being different doesn’t mean that you have to be an oddball that can’t play well in the sandbox with other team members. The key is to stand out without making everyone think you’re crazy.

Drop the deadpan look, the bland answer, the I-fit-into-the-corporate-groove routine. Don’t try to be who you think they’re looking for, be you. If you’re a little weird, (most of us are, you know?) so much the better. At least they’ll remember you.

Vincent Furnier is one of the most highly regarded and influential rock musicians around. Who the heck is Vincent Furnier?

Ever heard of Alice Cooper?