When you’re in the midst of a job hunt, you never really know what will make the difference between being hired and coming in second place. When there are many qualified candidates, employers often rely on subtle, nuanced reasons to choose one candidate over another. Maybe one applicant seemed to have strong observational skills or one candidate seemed a better fit for the team than another.
One way to help you stand out from a crowd? Demonstrating the ability to learn people’s names. “Name recall will boost your image, earn you respect and differentiate you,” explains Nicholas Aretakis, author of No More Ramen: The 20-Something’s Real World Survival Guide. Dale Carnegie focuses on this important principle in his book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. In it, he says, “Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”
In his blog, Lee Silverstein, organizational development and training specialist, highlights how important it is to make an effort to remember names in a story about his first day of a new job. A member of his new team couldn’t believe he already knew her name. He reminded readers, “How often have you heard the excuse ‘I’m not good with names?’…What the person is really saying is, ‘I don’t have the listening skills, or the patience, to remember people’s names.’ Remembering someone’s name shows you care.”
When you’re searching for a job, there are so many opportunities to impress people by remembering and using their names: in networking situations, in new internships or volunteer opportunities, during interviews, and when starting a new job. You have a chance to stand out from the crowd just by remembering a new contact’s name.
If you have trouble remembering names, make an extra effort and use these tips to help you focus and pay attention:
Make it a priority to learn names. In his blog post, Lee notes he made a conscious effort to learn the names of everyone on his new team. He spent extra time studying his notes and reviewing resources at his disposal (including HR records) to help him remember. You may not have a database to help you, but if you decide before you attend an event to make name learning a goal, you are halfway there.
Be sure to repeat the person’s name when you first meet. “Nice to meet you, Sarah.” Try to say the name several times during your first introduction. This avoids the embarrassing situation many experience: being introduced to someone, engaging in a long conversation, and parting ways without knowing the person’s name. Don’t pass the point of no return without knowing your new contact’s name. You may even ask him or her to repeat it if you didn’t hear it the first time. Incorporate the name into the conversation at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end (“I’ll look forward to connecting on LinkedIn, Tamara.”)
Try to engage in a unique conversation with a new acquaintance, and make some notes. If you meet a room full of people and have the same conversation with everyone, it will be difficult to remember who was who. Ask people about their hobbies, their summer plans, comment on their tie–incorporate some element into the conversation to help you identify that person later. Write the name down on the person’s business card if possible and keep notes about their physical description, including clothing or jewelry. You may note, “Patricia–black, curly hair, red scarf, discussed her large, unusual watch.”
Perhaps a couple or business partners? Link their names to try to remember them. For example, if the couple had the names Debra and Brett, the “b” sound in Debra may trigger you to remember Brett’s name.
Use a mnemonic device. BuildYourMemory.com suggests: “In order to remember that the name of a tall, thin man that you have just been introduced to is Mr. Adamson, you might try visualizing the biblical first man ‘Adam’ (complete with fig leaf), holding a little boy in his arms. Adam's son–Adamson.”
Make an association. Chris Witt suggests creating an exaggerated image, thinking of a rhyme, or connecting a feeling based on the person’s name. For example, “Short Shelly, Muscular Mike, or Dapper Dave.” Other examples from Witt Communications:
• Imagine a ham that weighs a ton spinning on the end of Mrs. Hamilton’s nose.
• Picture an old-fashioned car jack under Jack’s prominent jaw.
• See margarine melting through Margaret’s curly, blond hair.
• Dave needs a shave.
• Latrice is Patty’s niece.
• Michelle, ma belle. (The Beatle’s tune.)
• Martin Peck is a pain in the neck.
• Suzanne Patterson has sweaty palms.
• Paul is pushy.
Don’t let any name slip by you. Adam Greenfield, Inner Sunset community organizer, suggested additional ideas to ensure you learn names, even if you missed a first opportunity:
If you slipped up and forgot to focus on the person’s name, be sure to ask the next time. It’s awkward to work with someone whose name you should know, but don’t.
Introduce someone else. If it’s really awkward to re-ask someone’s name, try to introduce the person to someone else. Hopefully, they’ll take the introductions up themselves and each say their names. You may never know the deciding factor that allows you to land a new opportunity. No matter what your career goals, making an effort to learn names along your way can only help achieve your goals.
Miriam Salpeter is a job search and social media consultant, career coach, author, speaker, resume writer and owner of Keppie Careers. She is author of Social Networking for Career Success. Miriam teaches job seekers and entrepreneurs how to incorporate social media tools along with traditional strategies to empower their success. Connect with her via Twitter @Keppie_Careers.