There are things that we naturally do without giving a second thought to them. Tapping a pen on the table, bouncing a knee up and down, rubbing hands together, fidgeting in a seat. While these things (on their own) are relatively harmless, we must remember that we are not only being evaluated on the content of our statements, but also the way in which we physically, verbally, and emotionally present ourselves. Being aware of your habits and understanding how they may be perceived will go a long way in putting your best foot forward.
This includes the language that we use. While it may be totally fine to use more casual language when in less formal settings, it’s important to use more formal language when circumstances call for it. Consider finding alternatives for colloquialisms like “fixing to,” “gonna,” “honey,” “sweetheart,” “y’all,” “spilling the tea,” etc. Instead, consider terms like “working toward” (in place of gonna or fixing to), “your/our team” (when referring to a group), “looking forward to” (when excited about an opportunity), and “in further detail” (when elaboration is needed).
In addition, verbal fillers such as “like” and “um” are sometimes perceived negatively and are often a result of speaking faster than our thoughts allow. A good practice is to slow down, collect our thoughts, then begin to speak at a pace that allows us to smoothly and confidently deliver a coherent and well-formed response. Using the phrase, “That’s a great question; do you mind if I take a moment to think about it?” is one option to buy a bit of time as we formulate a well-rounded response.
We’ve all heard it before: it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. The delivery of our message is sometimes the deciding factor between telling a memorable story and flopping. Intonation expresses interest, passion, or commitment to the job, role, or industry – most interviewers want to see some of level of interest in how you speak about past experiences and future opportunities. Show excitement, contemplativeness, humility, and other emotions through intonation when the moment calls for it. And, while making sure the tone of speech matches our levels of excitement, it’s also important to avoid conversational flaws such as “up-talk” (a speech pattern in which phrases and sentences habitually end with a rising sound, as if the statement were a question), which can sometimes take away from our credibility as a speaker.
It might seem obvious, but actually answering the stated question is important. How many times have you started to respond to a question, gone off on a tangent, and ended your statement talking about something that had little (or nothing) to do with the originally-phrased question? Employing models like S.T.A.R. (highlighting the SITUATION, describing the TASK, sharing your ACTION, and explaining the final RESULT) can help organize thoughts and keep responses on track.
We know that perceptions around appropriate levels of eye contact are based in cultural norms, but for many employers in the United States, maintaining eye contact can demonstrate a strong level of trustworthiness, confidence, attentiveness, and job-readiness. In this age of virtual interviews, this is even more important than ever to monitor. Be sure to keep your eyes up and focused on the person with whom you’re conversing. When conducting virtual interviews, be sure to know where your camera is located and try to maintain “eye contact” with it as it will appear as though you’re looking the interviewer in the eyes when speaking with them.
Determining just how much of yourself you’re willing to show off in an interview is important. Employers want to see some of your personality on display because they’re often trying to determine how you might fit in with the culture they have (or the culture they’re trying to build). Swagger is like salt: too little and your end product is bland, too much and your end product becomes overpowering. Finding a balance will elevate your game to the next level.
In addition, consider blurring out your background in a zoom call if your behind-the-scenes environment might be distracting. Your background can be a really personal look into your life, but try to keep it simple when meeting someone for the first time in a more formal setting.
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