The Costanza Effect — Rock your next interview with this insider-tip from the audition for George Costanza

Did you know the role of George Costanza (from the iconic sitcom Seinfeld) wasn’t supposed to be filled by Jason Alexander? Not only was Alexander not supposed to get the part, but he may have gotten the role because he thought he didn’t have a chance. What he did teaches any interviewee how to show well when it comes to interviews.

Alexander made his audition a joke. He knew he wasn’t going to get the part — he was up against Jerry Seinfeld’s best friend. Alexander was there so casting could say they looked at someone else.

Yet that attitude is what landed him the role.

After entering his audition (which he knew wouldn’t land him the part) and noting only 30 people in the room, he quipped that he didn’t perform for less than 50 people and left the room to recruit others from the hall. Ad-libbing and not taking it too seriously ended up being what made his audition so great.

“I was as loose as a goose, because I know I’m not getting this.”

And he got the job.

Being relaxed is key to elite performance. That’s why Olympians have relaxation routines.

(Read, watch, or listen to Alexander talk more about his story)

Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously

The irony is when you really want something, and figuratively tighten your grip, you’re less likely to get what you want. The key is not to rush or panic. Don’t make it too intense. Loosen up. Relax. Just roll with it. Smile. Do all you can not to make it a must-win situation.

Since you know the outcome (you won’t get the job), why not have some fun? You have a higher chance of getting into flow. You aren’t worried.

Being relaxed in an interview has helped me in a few job interviews. I didn’t go get more people to come in the room, or get up on a table to read lines, but I was more relaxed.

I was a sophomore at Brigham Young University and I landed an interview at ARUP Laboratories for a summer internship spot as a bioinformatics consultant. Now, I didn’t know squat. I was barely through my intro programming classes, mostly just taking generals. But I was majoring in bioinformatics and had been very excited to get the interview.

I checked in at the front desk and sat down in a room with the head of their genetics department. “Ok,” I told myself. “You can do this!” My initial excitement left when, one-by-one, three other interviewers entered the room (another medical director, the head of bioinformatics, and the head of the R&D department). My positive self-talk was gone. I was just waiting for the moment they found out I was a student who didn’t know anything.

We started talking, and the questions weren’t too bad. They asked me what my definition of bioinformatics was (for those still wondering it’s when you smush biology and computer science together). I gave some basic answer. They asked about what jobs I’d had before. They asked me about the new bioinformatics program at BYU.

This isn’t going too bad, I thought. I could answer all these questions. But I was still waiting for the hard questions. Then, after a few more minutes of conversation, someone said “Well, if you would be willing to come work for us this summer, here’s what we think would be great about having bioinformatics students in our department.”

“Are they selling me on coming?” Ends up, they were. I’ve since learned how awesome internships are for companies and students. I loved working with university recruiting at LinkedIn and at Sprintwell we wanted to have a summer intern working with us from the start. With my sudden realization, I relaxed. I was just talking, getting excited, asking questions.

I’m convinced that had they put pressure on me from the very start of the interview, I wouldn’t have gotten the job. Thankfully, they helped me feel at ease, and I settled in, landed the job, and ended up having a fantastic summer and continued working with their team through the rest of my undergrad.

While most interviews won’t go exactly like that, getting in a relaxed mindset is something you can control. Taking off the pressure allows for flow.

How this can help in all pursuits (and how I got my daughter to beg me to get her on Khan academy and teach her how to write a book report).

A personal example where taking a relaxed approached worked for me.

My wife and I homeschool our 5 kids. And as we’ve talked about how and what we should teach, we’ve settled on a more relaxed approach. Our main goals are that our kids 1. love learning and 2. learn how to learn. Pretty simple. But this immediately rules out any sort of command and control approach. We can’t force our kids into loving to learn. We have to set up the right environment. We create opportunities.

When my daughter was entering first grade, we had a decision to make: how do we teach her math? We decided not to push it at all. I want all my kids to learn math and grow in analytical skill. But so many people hate math because it was forced on them. So I simply pulled up Khan academy and said “Hey, let me show this to you.” She watched for a bit, mumbled something, and walked off. I mentioned it a couple more times, but she didn’t really have much interest. So we didn’t make her do match at all that year or the next.

Fast forward a year and a half. Mid-way through her second grade year she comes into my office and says, “Hey dad. You remember that Khan Academy thing you talked about?”

“Yeah”

“Could I do that sometime?”

(trying not to show too much excitement) “Sure, I’ll get back into your account and we can try it out tomorrow.”

She ended up spending HOURS watching videos and doing exercises. Over the next few weeks, she easily passed the knowledge she ‘should’ have for her grade level. And she LOVED doing it. She was having fun.

And it just keeps coming. When my daughter was in 3rd grade, she comes to me again, ‘Dad, I want to write a book report.’

‘A book report?’

‘Yeah. I’ve been reading books and haven’t written about them. And my friend says she wrote a book report. So I want to write one.’

‘Ok. Let’s find an outline and you can write a book report.’ (as I do a happy dance)

Why this works

Relaxing when it comes to achievement works because you aren’t hand-cuffing mental performance. Without the pressure, you can breathe. You can think. You aren’t feeling that fight or flight stress, which naturally lets you put more energy into the performance instead of fighting against your own physiology.

Trying to have a date under pressure. Trying to learn under pressure. Trying to interview under pressure. None of those goes as well under pressure as when you’re calmly testing things out.

You need to be patient. Wait. Relax. Listen. Then move.

Chris Voss describes multiple examples of this in his book Never Split the Difference (which I highly recommend).

Voss tells a story of coaching a man in the Philippines through a negotiation with a kidnapper, to save his brother’s life — a high-stress situation if ever there were one. He says, this man “knew his brother might not come out alive and it could well be beyond his control. He simply recognized that was a possibility — and he performed like a star. He saved his brother’s life. Not knowing at the time how he had been able to perform so well under pressure, I asked him about it later. He told me, ‘I just said to myself, That’s a possibility, when I got scared that my brother might not come back to us. It calmed me down.’ ”

Another reason this works is by enabling better OODA Loops (Observe — Orient — Decide — Act). OODA Loops are a concept originating from the military and fighter jets. It’s the model for how jet fighters win dog fights. Not by being bigger or faster, but by being able to be more agile than their opponent. Do that faster than your competition (or your kids, or your date) and you’ll get what you want.

Relaxing allows you to more fully engage in OODA loops. Observation is key. Too often we get wrapped up in deciding and acting over and over again. This is what happens when you formulate your answer as the other person is talking. That isn’t listening. It’s deciding and and then impatiently waiting to share your ‘brilliant’ insight.


So next time you have an interview, realize you might not get it and that’s ok. Take a breath, smile, and enjoy. You’re far more likely to actually land the job (or part).