By JoAnn Greco
As political candidates answer endless variations of the same questions in pursuit of elected office, we can't help but be reminded of our own often-torturous experiences on job interviews.
If, like the candidates, we could review our performances on tape, what might we see?
Watch and Listen to Yourself
"Verbal fillers are the No. 1 problem," says Randy Bitting, cofounder of InterviewStream, a Web-based service that gives job seekers the chance to tape and watch themselves in mock interviews.
"People are so used to texting and emailing in short phrases that they can get stuck putting together a few complete sentences," he observes. "It's better to opt for silence while you gather your thoughts, especially if you're nervous."
Of course, nervousness can also generate overtalking. "We have a bar running along the bottom of the screen as you're being recorded to mark the passage of time," Bitting says. "We strongly suggest that respondents limit their answers to two minutes, at most."
Watching yourself on tape is also a good way to monitor things like dress -- too much cleavage, too-short cuffs -- and gestures, Bitting adds. "People don't realize how many times they scratch their heads or flip their ties."
Maintain a Conversation
Mastering the art of presentation goes hand in hand with carefully packaging the content of what you want to get across. "The key idea is to remember that an interview is a two-way conversation designed to determine if there's a mutual fit," says Rob Sullivan, a Chicago-based career coach and author of Getting Your Foot in the Door When You Haven't a Leg to Stand On.
A good formula, Sullivan continues, has you doing most of the talking for the first two-thirds of that conversation, and then ceding the floor to the interviewer. "That's your chance to ask lots of questions, which people tend to forget to do," he says.
Assemble a list of talking points and make sure you get through them, adds Sullivan. "If you realize that this person's asked you one standard question after the next -- what's your greatest weakness? where do you see yourself in the next five years? -- look at your watch and say, 'I notice we're running out of time. There are a few things that I'd like to share with you. Is that OK?' Make their job easier for them."
Have Your Story Ready
It's at this point that you dazzle with your "story," as Sullivan calls it. That's different from the "elevator pitch," the 30-second encapsulation of who you are. "Your story is not about your sales records or your business-generating prowess," Sullivan says.
Instead, ask yourself what's excited you in your career, what you've done on your own initiative and what's energized you. What stories can you relay that show your passion, initiative and resourcefulness?
"If you think about what's better because you were there, like in the movie It's A Wonderful Life, you'll come up with some compelling anecdotes and you'll stand out," Sullivan says.
Skip the Scents
Just make sure the impression you leave is a good one. "It can't be said enough, but skip the perfume," Sullivan adds. "This is not a date, and a lot of people are extremely sensitive to smell. If you give me a migraine headache, I'm not going to remember a word you said, and I'm not going to like you."