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You've done your homework to perfect your résumé and cover letter — and kudos, that got you through the door — but now it's time to show the interviewer you've got the in-person communication skills to match.
The Association of American Colleges and Universities found that when hiring recent college graduates, 85 percent of employers rank oral communication, communicating eloquently and confidently, as a very important skill.
If public speaking's not your forte — and even if it utterly terrifies you — there are some tried-and-true techniques you can borrow from those smooth-talking TEDx-type speakers to make you feel and sound more confident during your moment in the interview spotlight.
Little vocal tics and crutches like "um," "ah," and "you know" make you sound unconfident — or worse, unprofessional. Don't sweat it. We all have them, even if we don't know it.
The best way to get rid of those is to first recognize them. And the best way to do that is to rehearse in front of a video camera — and then ruthlessly assess your own performance.
"I can't say enough about the importance of practice," says New York City-based career management coach Pamela Weinberg. "Never go into an interview without practicing some of the questions that are sure to come your way."
Start by finding the questions interviewers are most likely to ask. Then, make a video of your answers and look out for nervous habits like twirling your hair, tapping your foot, speaking quickly and using filler words. Are you doing it at certain moments, like between sentences or when you can't find a word? Train yourself to do nothing in those moments rather than filling in.
Have talking points
Go back to that list of interview questions to create a set of rehearsed talking points you can fall back on if your nerves start to get the best of you. "When I worked on presidential campaigns, I used to coach candidates to have key bullet points memorized," says Dorie Clark, a professional speaker and author who teaches at Duke University. "If they were faced with a question they weren't expecting, they could often 'pivot' to answering the question they had prepared for."
You might not be running for president, but if you've mastered answers to questions like "What's your greatest strength?" and "Why do you want to work at this company?" as well as doing solid research on the company you're interviewing with, you'll have some solid know-how to fall back on — and that prep work will add to your overall feeling of confidence.
Practice deep breathing
If nerves continue to creep in during the interview, focus on your breath. Danielle Harlan, founder and CEO of a San Jose-based leadership coaching firm, who helps high-level executives prepare for grueling interviews, explains that when we are stressed or anxious, we tense up and forget to breathe or breathe shallowly. That exacerbates the feeling of being overwhelmed — and hello, panic mode!
"Luckily," Harlan says, "simply pausing to take a breath and holding it for a moment can help our body to calm down and feel less anxious." To get in the habit of better breathing, try using a guided meditation app like Head Space before your interview.
If you get tongue-tied and are tempted to ramble, stop. You can (and should) think before you speak. Most hiring managers will appreciate that you're taking the time to answer thoughtfully, and they won't hold a momentary pause against you.
"Some questions are designed to see how you respond under pressure," says Jim Kokocki, former president of Toastmasters International. "Don't worry about taking time to think. Relax, think and give the best answer or example you can."
Sure, a few seconds may not sound like a long time, but ask Michael Phelps how much can be won or lost in a second or less. Taking that extra second or two could give you time to formulate a winning answer.
Strike a power pose
No matter how nervous you may feel, you can still give your confidence a boost with a little help from your body. Body language doesn't just affect the way people see you — it can also change the way you feel about yourself.
So before your interview, duck into the restroom, and strike a pose. Try this "Wonder Woman" confidence stance: stand with your legs apart, hands on your hips and chest out.
Hold that pose for two minutes, and you might just walk into your next interview feeling like a job-searching superhero.
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