An actor was asked what he thought about acting.
“Acting,” he replied, “is a great thing, but don’t be caught at it.”
He wasn’t commenting on the profession as a whole, rather the reality that the best acting doesn’t appear like acting at all – it appears natural.
When preparing clients for job or college interviews, I often find myself telling them to ‘get off the stage’. Sometimes people feel the need to put on a performance. They become contrived. The problem is that the effort to ‘perform’ can end up throwing them off kilter, as they become distracted by this – generally unnecessary – need to ‘act’ or ‘perform’.
I urge them to be more natural, to be themselves. Most people communicate quite effectively. They may not talk for long enough when asked the question, but their basic communication style tends to be good: and, more to the point, because it is the style they have grown accustomed to over the years, it is the one they are likely to default to in a pressurised situation such as a job interview.
‘Get off the stage’ means to rely on your natural style. Don’t put on a telephone voice. Don’t attempt laboured constructions that you wouldn’t normally use.
Sometimes I can see people almost literally ‘getting on the stage’. When I ask the question in the training session, they sit up as if to address the matter: this movement often represents a journey into a new zone, ‘on the stage’, and it can be the very thing that makes them uncomfortable, unconvincing, and forced.
My advice is not to alter your natural communication, but to modify it. If you tend to be very terse in your answers, try to go longer. If you tend to talk around in circles, learn methods of ‘keeping it between the ditches’. If you struggle to give examples, work on having some on the tip of your tongue.
If you try to overhaul your communication style in the interview, you will put yourself under more pressure than is necessary. You will become too focused on how you are saying what you are saying, rather than what you are saying. The mode of communication should never be more important than the actual communication itself: and, with some tweaking here and there, you can improve on the quality of answers you have been giving heretofore.
On a related subject, how do you know that you’ve done well in a job interview? The ability to assess how you’ve done is a crucial asset, I feel.
Here’s one way of assessing yourself:
- Before: draw up a list of what the employer is looking for in the successful candidate – be it IT skills, empathy, interpersonal skills, and the like.
- Before: Beside each of the attributes, characteristics and skills in the list in Point 1 above, write the examples from your career to date that show you have what the employer is looking for.
- During: Do the interview.
- After: Refer back to the list in Points 1. Mark yourself out of ten for each component of the two lists, asking yourself the question each time: did I convince the employer that I have the IT skills she is looking for? Likewise with each of the items in Point 1. You should soon be able to draw up a profile of how you did in the interview. Lots of ten out of ten mean you’ve done well, a bundle of zeros tell their own story too. This is a worthwhile exercise because you need to build your self-confidence and self-awareness from interviews –even though you didn’t get the job, you might still have done a good interview, and vice-versa.
For Sli Nua Careers’ Free Job Searching eBook, email firstname.lastname@example.org with Free Job Searching eBook in the subject line. Contact Sli Nua Careers for CVs, Interview Preparation and Mock Interviews – tel. 094 95 42965 / 091 528 883.