Simple tricks to remember a candidate’s name (and how to stay cool when you can’t)

by Elizabeth Barnard22 Jun 2012

The nightmare scenario arises when HR goes to introduce the line manager to the star candidate. It’s the person you really want to come on board, and their name has completely evaporated from your mind. Awkwardness ensues.

Popular blog The Art of Manliness assembled the following tips and tricks to getting it right next time, and every time.

Commit to listening and remembering.

Many people simply aren’t good listeners. The key here is going into the initial interview committed to being as attentive as possible. Just having that extra mental focus can go a long way in helping you remember names.

Repeat early, repeat often. When you first meet someone, repeat their name as soon as you learn it. That will help sear the person’s name into your memory. Say something like, “Hi Darren, nice to meet you!” or “Pleasure to meet you, Darren.”

After that initial repeat, use the person’s name as much as you can throughout the interview without invoking a used car salesman vibe. “Tell me a bit about yourself, Darren?” “How’s the weather on the coast this time of year, Darren?” “How did you first hear about our company, Darren?” But most importantly, act natural and don’t over do it.

To really sear names into your memory, make sure to end your conversation by repeating the person’s name one final time. “Great meeting you, Darren. I’ll be in touch.”

Have them spell it out. Hearing a person spell their name can help you remember it, especially if it’s an unusual name. If it’s a common name, but has different spelling variations, ask the person which variation he or she uses. For example, if a person’s name is Bryan, you can ask, “So is that Bryan with a y or Brian with an i? He answers, “It’s Bryan with a y.” Now whenever you see that person, you can think, “That’s Bryan with a y.”

Use a mnemonic device. If someone has an especially unusual or a foreign name, even having them spell it out may not help you remember it. In these cases, breaking their name up into syllables may do the trick. Renowned journalist Katie Couric famously revealed that she remembered how to pronounce the name of the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, by thinking, “I’m a dinner jacket.”

Associate the person’s name with an easy to remember picture. After hearing a person’s name, make it as tangible as possible to you by associating their name with a picture. Be as creative as you want with this. There’s no wrong or right way to do it. The association just needs to be meaningful to you. For example, if a person’s name is Leif Bernstein you might imagine Papa Bernstein Bear holding a big leaf.

Practice, practice, practice. Remembering names is a skill that takes practice to develop, so put yourself in situations where you’ll have to learn new names. Use these techniques as much as you can.

What to do when you forget a name

No matter how hard you try, you’re bound to forget a person’s name every now and then. If you do, just politely and apologetically say, “I’m terribly sorry, but I’ve forgotten your name”. Simple. Ask them as soon as you realise you’ve forgotten their name. The more time you spend together, the more offended they’ll be when they realise you don’t know their name.

When it’s happened more than once…

The first is this little trick:

You simply ask the person, “Excuse me, what was your name again?” The person will likely respond with their first name. You then respond with a charming laugh and a smile, and say, “Oh no, I met your last name.”

People seem to be more forgiving of someone forgetting their last name – not so much with first names. With this technique you’ll get the person’s first name without them knowing you had forgotten it. And if you forgot their last name, now you have that too.

Warning: Of course this little trick can backfire if they respond by asking, “My first or last name?”


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  • by DanS 22/06/2012 2:56:09 PM

    I made a boo boo this week calling a candidate "Bruce" - his name was "Wayne". I must have had Batman on my mind!

  • by Sonia 22/06/2012 3:01:46 PM

    I like this article, it is helpful and humorous. Now for an article that can help me type and comment without needing a spell and gramma checker!