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Avoiding ‘The ‘7 Sins of Memory’ In Your Next Interview

By July 18, 2018August 5th, 2021No Comments

Your memory has the power to make or break landing the dream job.

We have all experienced some level of disappointment after an interview due to a lapse in memory.  By gaining an understanding of how our memory functions, these errors can be avoided.

My sister, a Psychometrist, recommended a book written by the former chair of Harvard University’s Psychology Department and a leading memory researcher, Daniel Schacter. I synthesized his framework titled ‘The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers’ through the lens of Recruitment for interviewees.

Recalling information and articulating past experiences is critical during a job interview. This article provides color on each memory failure and proven ways to navigate them during the interview process.


Example 1

You are an Analyst interviewing for a position at a top firm. The interviewer gives a technical question that trips you up because you forgot a simple formula. If that same question were thrown at you on a superday right out of undergrad, it would of been a no-brainer.

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This is TRANSCIENCE –  information acquired and forgotten quickly.


How to Avoid: With more interference and less consolidation, more forgetting occurs.

  • Sleep – process the meaning of information
    1. Better memory occurs when there is sleep between encoding and retrieval.
    2. Very little interference occurs while one is sleeping, and consolidation seems to work more effectively. Also, if you process the meaning of information as you encode it, retrieval will be easier.
  • Use tools – mnemonics and imagery
    1. An example would be “method of loci”, which is a technique that involves creating images in well known locations involving items one needs to remember. It relies on mechanisms of your long term memory to store information.


Example 2

After a long day of interviewing with many different people, you write thoughtful individual thank you notes that are tailored to each conversation. However, you forget the key talking points that were significant to each of the interviewers.
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This is ABSENTMINDEDNESS – lack of attention in encoding/retrieval that results in poor memory.

[/alert] How to Avoid: Pay attention! Not remembering your intentions to perform tasks also falls under this category. Jot down some notes during the interview, even if it is just a few words. By doing this at appropriate moments, you will have much better ability to access the strong points of long conversations with many different people.

Example 3

You cannot remember the name of something or someone. It is at the tip of your tongue and a detail you definitely know –  but you are unable to remember a letter it starts with or what it sounds like in this particular moment to communicate it correctly.
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This is BLOCKING – when you have stored information but cannot retrieve it.

[/alert] How to Avoid: Blocking seems to occur more frequently with proper names and unusual words because the terms are somewhat aimless in their assignment. Adding a meaningful connection to a word, such as the name “Matthew” with a person that you just met will help you to remember his name in the future.

Interviewers/Hiring Managers don’t have a relationship with you as a foundation to help them remember…or even an incentive. It is important to make yourself memorable by standing out in a positive way.

There are many mixed opinions on putting interests at the bottom of your resume. Personally, I find it valuable, if done well.  What someone chooses to include says a lot about them. It also opens the door to a rapport-building conversation, and this makes you stand out in that sea of “Matthews”.


Example 4

You think a concept is an original thought from your own mind, but it is actually an idea you read or heard about somewhere else first. When communicating this topic in an interview, the hiring manager says she recently saw something very similar in a Forbes article.

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This is SOURCE MISATTRIBUTION –  Your memory of information that is correct, but from the wrong source.

[/alert] How to Avoid:  Strong visual-verbal congruence can help minimize misattribution – Meeting someone face to face is worth your time. A voice on the phone or words on a screen do not create the strong memory bond that is crucial at the time of encoding. When given the choice, go with the in-person interview instead of phone or skype, and record important events and milestones daily.


Example 5

You disdain your current job, coworkers, and last 5 projects. Upon finally receiving that coveted offer from a competing firm, you go to resign. Your employer gives you a counteroffer that beats your pending offer with the competing firm with a higher raise and promotion. They tell you how valuable you are to the organization and underappreciated you have been, making a strong case for you to stay.  At this point, your memory goes back to the positive experiences, and you recall events to be not as negative as they actually were.
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This is SUGGESTIBILITY –  occurs both in altering actual memories and creating false memories for events that were never experienced.

[/alert] This is also an example of BIAS – current knowledge altering memory of past experiences.

Bias is a similar memory failure to suggestibility. In other words, our current experiences and knowledge affect or bias the way we remember past experiences. ​

How to Avoid Suggestibility: Use neutrally worded questions when soliciting information and obtain information quickly after an event, when it is fresh in minds.

Suggestions and statements can alter your memories for events in ways that you don’t even even realize. When you hear about or imagine an event multiple times, it can create a memory that seems to be real to you as something you experienced.

Ultimately – No matter what the company says when making its counteroffer, you will now always be considered a fidelity risk. Counteroffers are usually nothing more than stall devices to give your employer time to replace you. Your reasons for wanting to leave still exist. Conditions are just made a bit more tolerable in the short term because of the raise, promotion or promises made to keep you.

How to Avoid Bias:  Understand the basis or perspective of the person providing the information. When people make errors in a story, they tend to be consistent with their personal/cultural biases.

Make a point to research the people with whom you are interviewing prior to meeting, as it’s natural for us to rely on our own experiences and knowledge to fill in the details based on our general memory of the event, instead of remembering the details of these events. By preparing, you are able to be more of a chameleon and your ability to be remembered in a favorable light is much higher.


Example 6

You have an interview from hell, and then later in the day, it plays over and over again in your mind. It can not only be annoying, but also debilitating if the memory that is recurring is traumatic.

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This is PERSISTENCE –  experiencing unwanted memories over and over again. 

[/alert] How to Avoid: Knowledge and understanding of this post traumatic stress that occurs is key to combating it’s negative effects. Scripts provide a general structure for a familiar event. However, they are different in that they involve an ordered set of actions that one holds in memory for that event. When there is a sequence of events and actions that almost always take place in the scenario, you are able to hold that memory in place.

While these memory failures can be irritating to us and in some cases have devastating results, they are adaptive to us in our memory functioning. Having the ability to alter/block our memories (even if sometimes unintentionally) keeps us from getting overwhelmed by memories we don’t need and quickly allows us to retrieve memories we need through reconstruction.


But wait – It’s not all bad!



Memory is reconstructive, and the reconstructive nature of memory is an important property of memory-functioning that has implications for how we retrieve our memories. We rely on them for accuracy.

We do not record and store all aspects of our experiences.. Instead, we encode and store the pieces of an experience, and then we attempt to put the correct pieces back together when we retrieve our memory of the experience. This occurs automatically, without our awareness, which makes us feel as if the memories we retrieve are accurate.

Reviewing the core principles of how memory can work, or not, can dramatically affect your ability to have a successful interview, or recover from a bad interview. Just like your general memories, this brief checklist needs to be revisited, for accuracy and to be used effectively in interviewing and in the interview process.

Revisit these Seven  Sins of Memory, in the following context. First, what can you actively recall about all the items on your resume, what memory will come first when asked to recount a job, or college experience – this will help you prepare and be able to converse without concern for awkwardness. Secondly, during the interview, actively be notating the interviewer’s key points, remembering to focus your answers on their interests, subjects, or experiences, remember the question and build associations. And, finally, after every interview, revisit these steps to determine when you strayed from the guidelines, when did you not accurately recall a job experience, when did you answer the wrong question or not take the opportunity to stress the interviewer’s point, and finally, good or bad, how do you reconcile the memory of the interview and use it to improve for your next best interview.



Shelby Downs - Associate Director – Real Estate



Shelby Downs l Associate Director – Real Estate


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