Whether you’re a morning person or a bit of a vampire, your body works in rhythms. Yes, there are times of the day when you’ll be bang on form, and others when you’re essentially a vegetable looking at a job application. We spoke to occupational psychologist Kim Stephenson for advice on how to use your brain to give you the best chance of getting that interview.
There’s no such thing as a morning person or a night person
Well, sort of. “Your hormone levels are different in the morning – for example, clotting factors are higher – in order to gear you up for hunting,” explains Kim, “and we’re programmed to be hunter gatherers, so biologically we’re sharper. However, people condition themselves to be otherwise.” So while your 21st century brain is telling you to get up at one, go to Tesco, buy some Twiglets and eat said Twiglets in a blissful trance-like state, your subconscious wants you to get out and do some stuff. Like hunting. Or rather, job hunting. “Getting outside in the morning is essential if you want to reset your body’s cycle,” advises Kim. “When light hits the eye, your brain reprogrammes itself to recognise that time as ‘morning’, even if it’s 2pm.” So get outside and get some vitamin D; it can’t be ingested through food, only sunlight, so no cheating with multivitamin tablets.
Change your brain cycle slowly
If you’ve programmed yourself to be a night owl, don’t expect to one day wake up at 7am feeling euphoric. “If you’re the sort of person who gets up at 11am and goes to bed at 2am, you’ll be productive within these hours,” says Kim, “but it’s good to try and get into a more organic routine – especially if you’re applying for 9-5 jobs.”
There are certain points when your brain goes on autopilot
There is new research that shows people tend to subconsciously make gut decisions most of the time, regardless of how well we believe we’re weighing up a situation. “This is even more pronounced when you’re tired, hungry or your energy levels have dipped,” says Kim, “because your brain literally doesn’t have the energy to make more informed decisions.” So what goes into your job application could be brilliant or bilge depending on how your brain is doing. Snack, guys. Snack to your heart’s content.
Don’t work before eating
A recent and ongoing study into judges has shown that they’re more likely to give parole when sharp, i.e. just after breakfast or their mid-morning break. The average of paroles given plummets along with their glucose levels. Worrying, but telling: “If you’ve had a good breakfast and a coffee, you’re more likely to focus and concentrate, and your brain is less likely to just take the easy option,” says Kim. The easy option being racing through your job application/scrolling through the job vacancies at breakneck speed.
Exercise also makes you sharper
If you’re the sort of person who feels like napping after food, then a quick walk will get you back on the ball. “If you go for a jog in the afternoon, or even just a quick walk, you’re going to feel ready for action,” says Kim, “getting the blood pumping around your body, getting the oxygen circulating, is crucial when it comes to motivation and concentration.” Now, it sounds a bit intense but if you think about a quick walk to Tesco for a sandwich, and a quicker walk back, then it doesn’t seem too hard to achieve.
Trick your brain into nailing the application
“If you don’t want to apply for the job, you’re not going to do a good job of it,” says Kim, “and if you’ve been applying for everything and anything, you’re not going to feel enthusiastic about spending the next three hours on this particular one.” The solution is to set a timer and give yourself half an hour to find out as much about the company as possible. The aim is, of course, the name of the person who’ll be interviewing you – but really research all aspects; press coverage, email addresses, history, rivals. The more invested you are, the more enthusiastic you’ll be and so you’re more likely to focus on the job at hand.
Try the Pomodoro technique
Kim agrees that tackling things in stages is better than attempting to concentrate for a sustained period of time. “Three hour exams are a lot scarier than breaking things down,” he says, “so it’s easier to do things in chunks to keep your mind engaged.”
The Pomodoro technique aims to trick your mind into focussing a lot more than you would if you had hours of toil ahead of you, while making sure you get a hell of a lot done.
We’ve created a version of the Pomodoro technique that perfectly complements what’s on Comedy Central tonight. And most nights. Which we don’t have a problem with, because you can never watch too many episodes of Friends, South Park and Two and a Half Men. Oh hang on, scratch the last one.
HOW TO APPLY FOR A JOB AND SIMULTANEOUSLY BLOCK OUT TWO AND A HALF MEN FROM COMEDY CENTRAL’S PROGRAMMING
5.30pm: Watch Friends and have a great laugh. Seen it before? Of course you have, but be comforted by the familiarity of Ross and Rachel’s relationship while allowing yourself to appreciate the witticisms and weight fluctuations of Chandler. Ignore Phoebe.
6pm: Turn the TV off, set the timer for 25 minutes and research everything you can about the company you’re applying to. Everything. Make notes, use highlighters, go apeshit.
6.25pm: Take a five minute break
6.30pm: Two and a Half Men comes on. TV remains off. Set the timer for 25 minutes and focus on the application. If you need direction, work on three reasons you want to work for the company – bearing in mind you’ve just researched the crap out of them. Be specific.
7pm: Mike and Molly comes on! Oh that’s funny. Or is it? Well it’s better than Two and a Half Men.
7.30pm: Set the timer for 25 minutes and write your cover letter. Focus on three specific things you will bring to the company. Things you think they don’t do well, that you could help them with. You can focus for 25 minutes right? Easy.
7.25pm: Take a short break. Have a look out of the window. Reflect on the fact you only have to focus for another 25 minutes before watching that one where Joey gets the turkey stuck on his head. Which is actually a lot more horrific than depicted.
7.30pm: Set the timer for another 25 minutes and carry on with that cover letter. Really work it. Three intensely relevant pieces of experience you’ve had. GO.
8pm: Oh Joey no don’t put the… oh, he did. Oh Joey. You’re such a card.
8.30pm: Set the timer and now give your CV and letter a bit of flair. Make it flow, check the spelling, check the grammar, get out a dictionary, google the word “dictionary” and use an online one because nobody uses actual dictionaries anymore.
9pm: You have a choice. You either like Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow, or you’re a fan of Live At The Apollo. We like both, but are going to go with Live At The Apollo which means you’ve got two more 25 minute sets before a great walloping rest is coming your way. So do it. Use the next two sets to work on any question marks in your application and any additional information they need. Make sure you take the five minute break to get a coffee or a tea or any other beverage of your choice.
And if you’ve not finished, just keep on going. Or stop and try it again tomorrow, depending on the deadline.