This is the second post in a series from the speaker, teacher, and consultant Joel Schwartzberg, who is covering methods to improve presentation skills at all stages of your career. A slightly different version of this post appeared earlier in the Huffington Post.
A job interview isn’t all that different from a public speech, except that in interviews you get to sit down, listen more than speak, and be the world’s expert on the topic (hint: it’s you). But one thing is true for both interviewing and speech-making: How you say something is just as important as what you say.
The “what” can be coached only so much, but the “how” is completely coachable. Here are some unique, real-world tips I’ve picked up over nearly two decades as a media industry executive, a national champion public speaker, a public speaking instructor, a collegiate speech and debate coach… and a failed Wheel of Fortune contestant. But don’t hold the Wheel thing against me — I just didn’t buy enough vowels.
Count on It. Practice your interviewee skills at home, but not with words. Practice by counting numbers instead. It’s what I call “surrogate content.” Counting instead of speaking allows you to forget about what you’re saying and focus on presentation skills like eye contact (give it), volume (modulate it), pacing (steady it), and breathing (do it). A steady, confident, and comfortable delivery will be remembered as much as great content, because …
You Are More Than Your Resume. Thanks to your clean resume and brilliant cover letter, your prospective boss already knows if you have the necessary skills and experience to handle the job, so approach your job interview as if it were a date, only cheaper and less fun. (Conversely, if a date seems like a job interview, run.) Your employer wants someone who will get her jokes — someone she can comfortably swap weekend stories and (inevitably) vent about idiot colleagues with. So just be yourself. Well…be your polite, friendly, decisive, genial, charming self. You can be your other self on your own time. Like any initial date, don’t talk poorly of past relationships and don’t set your hopes on a quick consummation. All you want is a second date.
Assume the Position. Steal a page from strong presidential candidates: talk as if you already have the job. Say “I will,” not “I would.” “I can,” not “I could.” This will remove doubt instead of inject it. Bosses like someone confident and proactive. I know I do, because it typically results in less work for me. Like a presidential candidate, you’ll lose points for flip-flopping and going negative, but there’s no short-term penalty for making promises you can’t keep.
Make It a Period Piece. Each of my public speaking classes starts with a “power period” exercise. Power periods are basically the punctuation with which you ideally want to end your sentences. The alternative is a wimpy question mark. Listen to yourself or someone else and judge if his or her sentences are ending in periods or question marks. Or say the following lines as punctuated:
“I want this job?
Because I have great ideas?
And will find ways to get our message and mission out to a wider audience?”
Now say it with periods instead of question marks. Hear the difference? So can the boss. The periods convey conviction and confidence. The questions convey hesitation and uncertainty. Now listen to yourself and practice ending your sentences — and your numbers — with hard periods.
Pause for Concern. When the interviewer starts a question, wait for it to end, take time to answer it, and don’t be afraid to pause. Pauses can actually project confidence if they result in a strong answer. I always tell my public speaking students that it’s fine, even good, to let someone see you think; it just proves that you can. (Note: If your interviewer looks at his watch, then your pause time’s up.)
For Example…. Your boss wants to visualize you in the job, so paint that picture for her with a real moment. In advance of the interview, identify a few impressive things about your work style, and come up with a workplace illustration of each. Give examples of when you saved a company energy or money (not including the time you shook a free Twix bar from the candy machine). End the stories with what you learned from the experience — unless it was at that point that you learned you wanted to quit.
Water You Waiting For? If you’re offered water, accept it. It’s not a test of your camel-like endurance. Accepting an offer of hydration shows that you’re both comfortable and human. Water is a better idea than soda, but if you must caffeinate, don’t be picky about, say, Pepsi versus Coke. This is your next job, not an Olive Garden.
Any Questions? When a prospective boss asks if you have any questions, he’s not just being polite, but still measuring your interest in the company. Prepare four to five questions in advance: “Where do you see the company in five years?” “Can you describe the workplace environment?” “How would you describe your managerial style?” It’s fine to turn the tables and interview the interviewer. After all, the job has to be right for you, not just you for it. When you ask good questions, the interviewer will appreciate your efforts to find a good fit. And every boss likes to wax on about the company, when he knows you can’t do a damn thing to stop him.
Hopefully these tips will serve you as well as that Banana Republic suit you just picked up, but if there’s one thing to keep in your head, it’s that the job you want is not just within your reach, but yours to lose. Be strong, be likable, and don’t lose it.