Five tips to make a job interview more ‘real’

Q: I often find interviews stilted or impersonal. I struggle to bring the real me into the room. It’s like listening to a recording of myself. Any tips on how to make interviews more real? (CG, email ).

A: A good interview panel should relax you to the point that the ‘real’ you emerges – but we can’t presume the interview panel will be good, so you’ve got to make it happen yourself – which is, essentially, the thrust of your question. Here are five tips:

Resolve to use the ‘I’ and ‘my’ words more. This simple act will ground your answers, make them about you, ensure that you take credit for what you have done and help to dispel that sense of the interview being a third-party, almost academic, exercise. Will you go over the top? No. How do I know? People who use ‘I’ and ‘my’ too much tend not to write to columnists like me looking for advice. For the interview to reflect the ‘real’ you, the answers should include large elements of you.

Use the names of the interview panellists. This will bring the interview down to the right level too – it will move it away from an interrogation and in the direction of a conversation. Don’t over-do it, but a few “as you said there, John” comments will go a long way. Disclaimer: if you are not sure of their names, don’t chance them. More and more, companies are providing the names beforehand. That will increase your chance of a positive identification.

Ask questions of the panel. To ask questions is to engage in proper conversation, to show respect to the other person and to display your genuine interest in what is unfolding. Critically, however, the questions must not be ones you should already know the answer to – they should be insightful questions that come to mind during your preparation for the interview, or during the over-and-back of the interview itself.

Stay off the stage. Don’t put on your posh voice or seek to articulate in a lofty way. When working with clients, I regularly tell them that “the answer is much closer to than you think.” When you fall back to a more natural form of communication, you’re not going to descend into a barrage of expletives – please tell me you’re not…

Don’t aim for perfection – you won’t achieve it anyway. Yes, your train of thought will drift. Yes, you will use the wrong word. Yes, you will forget something crucial – and, yes, you will remember that ‘something’ on the journey home. Yes, you will get some detail wrong about the company. These things happen. When something goes wrong, correct it, if it’s feasible to do so – or ignore it. In both cases, move on.

Make eye contact with everyone – not just the person who has asked the question. Presume they’re all interested throughout. A tip for maintaining eye contact for those who find it difficult is to look at someone’s forehead – even up close, they won’t realise you are not looking into their eyes. Remember to break the eye contact too. If you see their eyes watering up, and they start to gulp on their Adam’s apple, it might be time to look elsewhere…

 

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