Conquering The Interview
By Ashley Kawakami
If you ask someone what their greatest fear is, you wouldn’t be surprised to learn that spiders or heights or confined spaces are their greatest phobias. Yet according to the Wall Street Journal, public speaking is the number one fear among Americans.
Fear of public speaking is the epitome of anxiety and stress for many people, but it’s harder to avoid public speaking in the way that you can avoid heights. As you enter the professional world, this means interviewing for jobs and internships, which are small-scale versions of public speaking. An interview, like speaking to larger crowds, is a stressor for many people. You can’t avoid interviews, and unless you prepare and practice, it isn’t a skill you can pick up overnight or from a book. This skill is learned by doing.
Here are 5 tactics you can start practicing in order to push yourself to be a better interviewee and, eventually a confident public speaker.
1. MAKE EYE CONTACT
Eye contact can feel intimidating, but it is one of the best ways to engage with people. Professor Brian Wansinkat Cornell University found that just by making characters on a cereal box look out at a person “inspires powerful feelings of connection,” which makes a person want to pick that cereal. If having the Trix rabbit looking at you inspires a meaningful connection, your eye contact with a potential employer will help create the same type of connection. According to inc.com making eye contact with a person makes you appear “more confident and assertive” and while it may be uncomfortable at first it is a powerful tool. However, if you are on a panel interview where you are addressing more than one person, make sure to make eye contact with each person so everyone feels like you are engaging with him or her.
2. SPEAK CLEARLY
It can be very frustrating trying to communicate with someone that you either can’t understand or can’t hear, which makes it imperative that you speak clearly. In an interview you are trying to sell yourself and your skills, so making sure to enunciate and speak in a voice that makes you easy to understand is essential. Speaking clearly can make you more confident in your delivery which makes you seem more credible and capable. Part of speaking clearly is knowing what kind of speaker you are. For instance, if you’re someone who knows they speak very quickly, make a conscious effort to slow down and take a breath every time you answer a question. Gathering yourself and having a general idea of how you want to answer a question before you start talking will help you from stumbling over words.
3. "UM" NO MORE
Um is a hard work to eliminate from your vocabulary, but doing so makes you a stronger speaker. Selena Rezvani from Forbes suggests that a few “ums” are okay, but the overuse can “kill your credibility.” In an interview setting, many questions are standard: “Why are you qualified?” “Tell me about yourself,” etc. Be prepared for these type of questions by repeatedly practicing your responses, which should eliminate any hesitation. Part of eliminating “um” from your vocabulary starts with being conscious of how often you rely on it. Have a friend note how many times you say um or playback a recording of yourself giving a speech. We usually say “um” when we are trying to collect our thoughts, however don’t be afraid to trade “um” for a moment of silence. Coming across as more thoughtful instead of unsure is worth the extra beat.
4. ENVISION YOURSELF KILLING IT
Thinking about yourself succeeding and doing well in an interview helps translate into actually doing a good job. Dr. Frank Niles from John Brown University found that when we can “visualize the outcome” we are “motivated and prepared to pursue our goal.” In interviewing the same principle applies, believing you will have a strong interview will translate into doing well in the interview. This works because when we visualize, the neurons in our brain interpret the situation similarly to real life and preps our bodies to react in the way we imagined when we are in the actual situation. Process visualization encourages a person to “focus on completing each of the steps you need to achieve your goal, but not on the overall goal itself.” However, even though Niles is a strong proponent of visualization he warns that it doesn’t replace hard work or practice; it just helps condition the body to deliver in the way that you want.
5. PUSH YOURSELF BUT DON'T BE TOO HARSH
To become better you need to practice and push yourself into what may be uncomfortable spaces. If your fear is speaking with strangers, start conversations in elevators or in line. Push yourself outside of what makes you comfortable. Obviously it doesn’t feel good to be pushed outside of your comfort zone but it’s a necessary evil. Steven Cohan at Harvard states that “you must push yourself to adjust,” but you can’t expect to be a brilliant public speaker on your first try. It takes time to change habits and to become comfortable in front of any kind of audience, so thinking positively and making positive changes is a great contributor to making you a better interviewer and eventually a public speaker.
Celebrate the little victories. Things won’t magically come together overnight, and it will take hard work, that at times is painful, but slowly making improvements is progress. Regardless of whether or not you get the job, the experience of the interview is priceless for moving forward and developing your interviewing skills. While you might never completely get rid of the anxiety that accompanies interviewing, continue to view them as great practice and feed off of that energy to enhance your interview and don’t let it hold you back.