The Secret To My Job Interview Success: Angry Birds

What do you do when you’re waiting for a job interview? You’ve arrived a few minutes early in order to not be late. You’re properly dressed in unusually well-pressed pants or a pencil skirt you never wear. You exchange a friendly greeting with the receptionist, trying not to look nervous, and are invited to sit and wait until someone comes to get you.

Now what? Most job interview “do and don’t” articles will tell you: Sit calmly and quietly while waiting. Well, good luck with that if you don’t have a strategy.

You could:

  • Review your notes. Except at this point you’ve probably reread them about 500 times.
  • Stare at the walls looking for a conversational entry. Yes, do this, but it should only take you 5 minutes to assess the waiting room and decide if the wall art is a better starting point than the weather, news, or something relevant from the company website.
  • Read material scattered around the office. If there is any. If you can concentrate enough to read while you’re nervous.
  • Or you could pull up Angry Birds (or a similar game) on your phone and play a couple levels.

There are articles that will specifically warn you not to play with your phone or pull up Angry Birds while waiting on a job interview for fear of “looking indifferent” or “offending someone.”

I call nonsense.

First of all, these days if you’re at an in-person meeting you’ve already been screened and sold yourself by phone. You’re on the cusp of the negotiation stage, and acting not desperate for the job is a solid strategy. (Just don’t take it too far, obviously.)

Second, if the goal is to destress and calm your mind so you can hit the interview out of the park, Angry Birds (and other, highly visual games like it) is scientifically proven to be one of the fastest ways to accomplish it. I download and use it specifically because I am so convinced by its benefits.

Jane McGonigal (perhaps best known for her TED talk on gamificiation) compiles the studies that lead me to the conclusion that Angry Birds is good for career strategy in her book Super Better, where she writes that the effect of casual game play can mimic mindful meditation in controlled studies. In 2009 and 2010 a team of psychiatrists at Oxford University studied the connection between trauma victims and Tetris, concluding games which require extensive visual processing (Tetris, Angry Birds, Candy Crush) can calm emotional triggers. Games work by using cognitive absorption, or full engagement in an activity. Because games like Angry Birds are attention consuming but quick to learn and easy to dip in and out of, they are ideally suited to work as a reset for your brain. Playing does not cause the player to forget the event or information they experienced before playing. But they do prevent anxiety, lower heart rate, and quiet intrusive thoughts more immediately and often more effectively than even prescription drugs such as anti-anxiety meds, according to studies that McGonigal reports in her book.

According to the spotlight theory of attention, your brain can only process and absorb a limited amount of new information at a time. By the point of your interview, you are (or should be) at the point of saturation akin to the night before a big exam in school.

So play Angry Birds. Take what McGonigal calls a “flow” break. I find it allows me to come back to what I want to say in the interview feeling refreshed, much like spending a few minutes in yoga, prayer or meditation — a habit that would look much more odd in a waiting room than looking at my phone.

Plus, if someone in the interview actually calls you out for playing games in the waiting room, you have a great explanation that shows you have the thoughtful and innovation qualities of a great future employee.

Originally published on LinkedIn.