You might think you are the perfect candidate for the job, and, chances are, if you have reached the interview stage, your future employer thinks you are too. On paper at any rate. But, there’s a big difference between selling yourself on paper, and selling yourself to a roomful of executives.
As an elocution coach, I often work with professionals and students who want me to help them improve their interview performance. Here are some of the tips I give out:
This is my number one tip for anyone going into any situation in which they will be required to speak publically, whether in front of an interview panel or before an industry peer group. If you are well-prepared, you are far more likely to be relaxed, comfortable and able to speak with feeling and authority, than if you spend the entire interview worrying that you are about to be tripped up because you haven’t done your homework.
Not only should you research the company thoroughly, and get to know as much as you can about the job you’ve applied for, but you should also write down a list of likely interview questions and think about how you would answer them. Never be tempted to write yourself a script though, as this will only make you seem wooden and stilted, and will prevent you from reacting spontaneously and naturally to your interview panel. Employment giants Monster have a useful list of the most common interview questions here.
2. Analyse your body language
During my lessons, I almost always record my students presenting or speaking into a camera phone. This is so that they can see themselves ‘in action’. There is no better way to improve the quality of your voice and the sincerity of your body language than by being able to self-analyse the speed, volume and expression of your delivery and see first-hand how you use hand gestures, eye contact and a myriad of other body language tics and traits (some of which you may need to tone down) to convey your answers.
So, before a big interview, record yourself answering a few mock questions and see how you think you come across. What could you work on in your performance, and how could you improve your vocal delivery and body language to convey a more confident, professional and natural ‘you’?
3. Eye contact
There is no better way to show interest and enthusiasm in what someone is saying that by looking directly at them as they are speaking. That said, when you are feeling self-conscious in an interview situation and the ‘I must maintain eye contact’ mantra is spinning in your head, looking straight at someone can suddenly start to feel forced and uncomfortable.
I tell my students that, while it is great to maintain eye contact with an interviewer when they are speaking to you, don’t feel that you must maintain eye contact with them 100 per cent of the time when you are replying (but equally, don’t ever mumble down at your feet!). Instead, try to maintain a natural balance of looking in turn at each member of the interview panel while you are speaking, but also, looking away from them (ideally looking up and to the side, rather than down at the floor), when you are searching for a word, or thinking about how to answer a question. Indeed, recent research published in the science journal Cognition, suggests that it’s better to look away from our conversational partners when we’re considering a response or word choice, as it can be too stimulating and distracting to stare straight at someone at this point. So, be relaxed about eye contact, and remember, contrary to what some people may tell you, there can actually be too much of a good thing!
4. Speak expressively
How we speak is as important as what we say. Yes, really! And it’s important to speak with authority and expression in an interview, in order to avoid sounding monotonous, bored and uninterested. In order to sound confident when you speak, I give my students the following tips:
· Take slow deep breaths as you speak so that you don’t appear rushed and frenetic.
· Breathe deeply into your stomach, rather than taking short light breaths into your chest (imagine your tummy is a balloon that you’re trying to fill with each intake of breath).
· Try to avoid filler words such as ‘umm’, ‘eer’ and ‘like’ where possible as this can make you sounds as if you are uncertain about your subject.
· Wait until the interviewer has completely finished their question before beginning to answer; talking over an interviewer will make you seem rude, nervous and hurried.
· Be expressive in how you speak and slow down or speed up your delivery depending on what you are communicating. For new or important concepts, a slow, steady cadence is key, but if you are summarising or going over background, you can speed up a little.
5. Listen attentively to questions
This relates back to the last point, and may seem obvious, but if you really pay attention to what the interviewer is asking you, and listen hard to what she/he is saying, you are much more likely to give
a considered and natural response. The interview will also start to feel more like a friendly, two-way conversation if you are absorbed in what you are being asked, rather than if you are constantly (and nervously) rushing in with new information about yourself, without paying full attention to what you are being asked.
6. Think about your hands
Many people like to ‘talk with their hands’, and it’s absolutely fine if you are someone who likes to express yourself in this way. Body language expert Dr. Carol Kinsey Goman, says: “Gesturing while you talk can really power up your thinking. Gesturing can help people form clearer thoughts, speak in tighter sentences and use more declarative language."
That said, there are certain static hand gestures which psychologists believe can create a negative perception of your character. Showing palms, or pressing fingertips into a steeple are thought to convey confidence and sincerity, while hiding our hands beneath the table, showing backs of hands, tapping fingers and folding arms are thought to be defensive, controlling and impatient gestures.
If my students are unsure what to do with their hands, I always suggest that they either hold them on the table (or on their lap if there is no table) with fists un-clenched and fingertips touched loosely together as this makes you look more relaxed. Alternatively, if appropriate, take a pen and notepad into the interview so that you can take notes as you go (don’t start clicking the pen though – that’s as bad as drumming fingers!) and this way your hands will be occupied and you won’t be at risk of creating a negative impression.
7. Manage your nerves
My previous blog ‘Why do we get nervous?’ includes some useful advice on managing and channelling nerves in high-pressure situations. If you are prone to nerves, then it’s really important that you learn to recognise how they are likely to affect your performance, and take measures to minimise their impact. Don’t just hope they won’t happen, instead take positive steps (as detailed in the blog above) to make sure your nerves work for you.
8. Tell stories
I always coach my students of the importance of storytelling when they speak, particularly when they are performing in front of an audience, such as at a corporate presentation or trade show. The same is true for job interviews. It is much easier to build a connection with your interview panel if you show glimpses of your personality through a few select stories, rather than paring back all your answers to the bare bones. The stories you tell should obviously be concise and relevant, but don’t be afraid to inject a little fun and colour into your answers (without being flippant of facetious). Be animated. Be enthusiastic. Be authentic.
9. Build rapport
You want people to like you, and never more so than when you’re at a job interview. You can expect all candidates who have made it to the interview stage to have a fairly similar skill set, which means that securing a job offer is likely to come down to who the panel ‘liked’ the most and who came across best. Building rapport doesn’t mean back slapping and inane grinning though, but rather relates to subtle cues such as quietly mirroring your interviewer’s body language, listening attentively to everything the panel says, empathising with any views expressed, finding common ground / shared past experiences, and remembering that you will be judged just as much on your small-talk when you first enter the room as you will on your interview performance itself. Be sincere, friendly and sympathetic.
10. Be yourself
Last but certainly not least – don’t feel that you need to cover up the real ‘you’ in an interview by putting on false bravado and swagger. If you are a naturally quiet and conservative character, it is absolutely fine to let these traits shine through. Being reserved doesn’t mean you will be overlooked by the panel, and many employees actually value quiet confidence and modesty over outspoken assertiveness. Trying to be someone you’re not will only trip you up and make you seem insincere and artificial. Remember, you have got this far on your own merits, and if you believe in yourself and are true to yourself, it’s your merits that will carry you over the line. Good luck!
About Cambridgeshire Elocution
Cambridgeshire Elocution is run by vocal coach and presenter Charlotte Grundy. Charlotte works with individuals who have lost confidence in their voice or who want to improve their public speaking and presenting skills. She aims to help people communicate clearly, effectively and with personality. Charlotte believes that the key to changing the way we sound is through having a clear understanding of how the voice works. For more information, visit www.cambridgeshireelocution.com