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The Neuroscience of the Job Interview

Apr 13, 2020

In this Friends of the Firm podcast, we discuss with Director in EisnerAmper’s Center for Family Business Excellence, Natalie McVeigh, how understanding neuroscience and human behavior can lead to a successful job interview. Natalie will share the validity of emotions, the meaning of enthalpy, how story telling lights up the brain, why we should smile, and more.


Isabella Brilliant: Hello and welcome to the Friends of the Firm Podcast. We hope to provide you with creative, effective solutions for finding the career opportunities or executive staffing solutions you're looking for. I will be your cohost. My name is Isabella Brilliant friends with the firm administrator and human resources specialist. My other half today is  our director who leads our Friends of the Firm Program and alumni program and our guest of honor is Natalie McVeigh, a director in EisnerAmper Center for Family Business Excellence. Today we'll discuss with Natalie how understanding neuroscience can lead to a successful job interview. Hi Natalie, thank you so much for being here.
Natalie McVeigh: Hi Isabella and NP it's great to be here with you today.

EisnerAmper team member: Isabella, thanks for having me back. Excited to be here. Natalie, look forward to hearing your insight and looking forward to kicking this off.

IB: So to get us started, Natalie, could you share a little bit about your background with us? How did you start your journey with coaching and why neuroscience as an approach?
NM: It's a great question. Originally I was a management consultant so I have a Master's in business and I started working with people and I had all these really brilliant ideas or so I thought, and it wasn't enough to just tell people what I knew, they weren't integrating it. And so, one of the things I learned is that coaches really help people get the knowledge from the other person, you get buy in and you're able to really move forward with that. And why neuroscience helped me is because neuroscience is really about how we interact with others. Neuro chemically and biochemically we change one another, it's just natural. And so, behaviors are really neuroscience, so when we talk about behavioral change we're talking about neuroscience.
NP: I'm definitely not a scientist. I don't think Isabella as a scientist either and the majority of our listeners are not scientists. So Natalie, as neuroscience relates to job interviews, what is the first thing we should understand?
NM:Interpersonal neurobiology. I'm a part of a group called the Global Association for Interpersonal Neurobiology. But emotions are catchy. So at the end of the day, what I'm feeling and what I'm experiencing, people are likely feeling and experiencing, especially when they're near me. There's something called entropy that says when we're within 10 feet of one another, even before a word has been spoken, I'm impacting you and you're impacting me energetically. So when you walk into a room and you're nervous, that anxiety is going to impact the interviewer as well. So one of the things to do, a lot of people say, be calm, be calm. Well, you might not be able to become because it's a new, unique situation. So one of the things we try to do with job interviewing is we take that anxiety and we turn it into excitement, because anxiety and excitement sit right next to each other, they're both energy. One just has a lot more positivity behind it. So if you can come to the job interview excited, you're going to get that interviewer excited about you too.
IB: So even before we say anything or get into our story, we're already influencing the encounter, right?
NM: Exactly. So before you say anything, you're engaging with the person chemically. Ideally, physically you're looking at them, but storytelling is really important. So if you can go into a job interview instead of listing facts, one, facts are boring and two, our brain wasn't really meant to remember them. You want to use storytelling or metaphor and visuals whenever possible. Our brains do work both sides together bilaterally. There's that brain myth that one side is creative and one side is linear, but our brain says different things. One side of the brain is a little more steady state and one is change agent. So we can use something like a story or a metaphor that people understand and is the same, it engages that steady state but you bring in that new information in a change agent. There's also a part of the brain called the temporal parietal juncture. This is a part of a brain that activates when we share with others and sharing trumps everything. Connecting in this way in storytelling allows us to meet the other person, allows them to see us, and it involves a listening that creates resonance between one another.
NP:So the phrase, it isn't just what you say, but how you say it is that relevant here?
NM: Absolutely. You've probably heard that 70% of communication has nothing to do with the words we say. And specifically here when you're talking about neuro chemistry, eye contact and pace are important. Neuro neurons activate when we make eye contact and we can lean in, which draws the person towards us. And anytime you feel nervous, just take your breath and take some time. It actually captivates the people in the room. It takes some of that control and when you pause, you're showing people that you have confidence and that you don't need to go at their pace. And the other piece is people who are silent are considered smarter than others. We just perceive them to be so, so you don't need to feel all that energy.
NP: But what we say does matter to a point, right?
NM:Absolutely. So I did mention metaphor before, but you don't want to use old tired metaphors. You really want to try to use a metaphor that's unique and applicable because it engages the motor cortex, it's more memorable. And you really want to answer the question being asked and use as many examples from your past that both acknowledge what you did well and how you've grown. At the end of the day, most employers are willing to look at a person who can develop themselves, has a growth mindset, so you don't want to come in with all these strengths or weaknesses that you're posing as strengths. Really be useful and clear about the ways you've done something and then be really grateful. I think you can always end an interview not just thanking someone for their time, but you can thank them for their sincerity, their insight, whatever it is that's true. When you're gracious in a way that is accurate and meaningful, it's going to stick.
IB: And NP recorded a previous episode about the art of following up and being gracious. So if our listeners need help with that, they can go to our website at and click on the podcast icon to listen.
NP: With regard to Friends of the Firm just some quick updates. Friends of the Firm is still active and moving forward. We have about 60 job openings right now and we've made a handful of placements in 2020. What I'd like to tell the members and also our clients and prospective clients who are posting with us, we are still moving forward with interviews. A lot of the interviews are going virtual, so if you can't have that face to face interview due to the uncertainty, absolutely have either a video call or a phone call. That's actually a really good point with regard to how interviews have shifted, so I'd like to ask the question to Natalie with regard to those who are no longer having the face to face interviews, what types of tips do you have for the candidates and also the interviewer who are doing everything virtual right now?
NM: That's a great question and NP and one of the things to consider is trying to get video conferences whenever possible. A lot of the interpersonal neurobiology really centers around faces and our eyes and so, you want to have a safe space, a quiet space whenever possible where you've prepared, you're dressed just as you would any other time, really look into the camera, get as close as you can to the camera without it being problematic so that the ability for those mirror neurons to interact is there. Bring some of that same energy you would and lean into the camera. Really try to show who you are and showcase yourself as though you were in the room and it will feel as though you were. And smile when you can either way it's going to help. You're going to sound better and you're going to feel better.
IB: So Natalie, thank you so much for these fantastic tips and all of this amazing information on neuroscience. We appreciate all of your insight here.
NM: Thank you Isabella and NP for having me today. It's wonderful to share.
NP: Isabella and Natalie, thank you so much. Natalie great job. Isabella, thanks for co-hosting
IB: And thank you for listening to the Friends of the Firm Podcast, part of the EisnerAmper podcast series. Visit for more information on this and a host of other topics and join us for our next EisnerAmper podcast when we get down to business.

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Natalie M. McVeigh

Natalie McVeigh is a Managing Director in the Center for Individual and Organizational Performance and the Center for Family Business Excellence Group within the Private Client Services Group and has more than 10 years of experience as a consultant and coach.

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