Seven Ways to Stop "Um-ing" and "Ah-ing" Through Your Job Interview
Lizandra Vega, author of 'The Image of Success: Make a Great Impression and Land The Job You Want'
After months of seeking out jobs, hundreds of revisions to your resume, and going to every networking event you can, you've finally landed an interview. After brief small talk about how bad the traffic was or how slow the elevators are, the interviewer switches gears and begins her formal line of questioning.
"I see you currently work for our main competitor. What makes our company a more appealing choice for you?"
It's not a difficult question to answer. But suddenly you're tongue-tied and your answer comes out as: "Well, actually, it's like, um, you know."
What happened? This scenario is all too familiar to many job seekers. In stressful situations such as speaking in front of a group or interviewing for a job, people often revert to filler words such as "like," "you know," "basically" or "actually," and even sounds such as whistling, snorting, or giggling to patch over pauses before collecting their train of thought.
We're all guilty of throwing in one or two of these utterances during normal conversation, but the danger lies in how often they are repeated throughout your entire discourse. Sadly, it's when you rely on these interruptions as substitutions for actual words in order to express your thoughts that you diminish your image as an intelligent professional and viable job candidate. Subsequently, you may be perceived as an individual who has trouble focusing, or as someone who has difficulty organizing his or her ideas -- deficiencies that potential employers interpret as hindering your work performance.
Self-awareness is a fundamental step toward correcting such habitual speech patterns which disrupt the flow of conversation, so here are seven ways to pick up on when you're about to trip up.
Here are seven ways to eliminate common speech hurdles and increase your verbal fluency:
1. Evaluate your verbal communication skills by audio-and/or videotape yourself as part of a mock interview, suggests Leah Ross-Kugler, MS, CCC-SLP, a certified speech-language pathologist. This way you can go back and listen for where you stumble.
2. Prepare talking points about yourself and keep them tucked inside your writing portfolio. Discreetly refer to your points in order to keep the flow of conversation moving seamlessly.
3. Focus on your breathing by taking replenishing breaths between phrases so you can use complete words instead of sounds. Ross-Kugler explains this helps slow down your speech and allows you concentrate on what you're going to say next.
4. Modify a distracting behavior such as giggling by smiling. By using an action considered to be positive and engaging, you not only patch over a potential gaffes but also improve your connection with the hiring manager.
5. Designate a ring or a watch to a hand that is not routinely assigned to such accessories. They serve as reminders for avoiding nervous laughter during an interview, proposes Ross-Kugler.
6. Join a speaker's group such as the National Speaker's Association or Toastmasters International to practice and improve your verbal communication skills.
7. Keep an empty "filler sound jar" along with lots of pennies handy. Monitor your own number of filler sounds or enlist a friend or family member to do so. Similar to keeping a "swear jar," throw a penny inside the jar each time you use a word filler, snort, giggle or do anything that interrupts your flow of speech.
When you want to get the right message across, it's best to let the words flow. While you may not catch every "um" or "ah" at the next interview, you'll certainly reduce the number you say and come off as the clear, intelligent candidate you are.
Lizandra Vega is the author of "The Image of Success: Make a Great Impression and Land The Job You Want" (AMACOM 2010). Cofounder and Managing Partner of Manhattan-based boutique staffing firm Perennial Resources International (PRI), she is also a Certified Image Coach. www.lizandravega.com