Communication involves thoughts, feelings, ideas, perceptions, intentions and commands through a set of words strung together to form sentences. Speech is the major form of communication but we also listen, see and use physical gestures whilst interacting with someone. The way that we communicate varies from person to person. Some of us are great at writing emails but when it comes to face to face conversation, may find ourselves struggling to make coherent sense. Others have the gift of the gab and can comfortably engage in conversation with anyone. However, ask them to send that same person an email and the page may remain blank for quite a while. So, are you a writer or talker? Whilst the writer may wish he had the confidence to strike up conversation with a perfect stranger, the talkers of this world are often lost for words when the formality of writing presents itself. During an interview, an employer will most likely look for someone who has effective communication skills in both writing and talking but there is one hidden skill which you may not be prepared for… let’s find out what it is.
The written application
You have scanned all the job vacancies, carefully completed the application form, updated your CV ensuring that your skills are relevant to the position and attached a cover letter. For the writers of the world, this is the easy part. Your blank canvas becomes your stage where you can be as creative as you wish and why not? This is one way street and there is no awkward eye contact to worry about, no difficult questions to answer and no time limit. You can pop the kettle on; mull over what you would like to say and fine tune those all important points. You edit your work so thoroughly that even Sir Alan Sugar would employ you. You proudly submit those vital documents through the post or online and pat yourself on the back for producing such great work but deep down at the back of your mind you know that this is only the beginning, the second stage will require a face to face meeting. Shock, horror, dread…you will have to leave the safety of your computer keyboard and meet the one who was so impressed by your words, he has invited you for an interview…gulp!
The verbal part
Whilst you feel flattered by the fact that your clever use of the English language has taken you to interview stage, you have landed yourself in a bit of an iggle piggle…you need to be equally as impressive verbally as you were on paper. Now that flow of words must come from your mouth and not your keyboard. Yikes, you really need to be prepared for this as words do not come so easily when they have to be expressed on the spot. Now, you feel like a fish out of water. Your keyboard has been taken away and you are completely on your own. You know how your mind always goes blank when under pressure. You brush up on the kind of questions the interviewer is likely to ask but this is merely clutching at straws and you know that anything could be thrown at you. You try to remain calm and composed and are grateful for the self -help tips available online for managing nerves. You try to put things into perspective, you know that you want this job, the salary is great, the company is growing and the prospects are endless. After that much needed prep talk, you take a deep breath, walk confidently to the interview room and enter…
Expect the unexpected
You are doing great! The interview is coming to an end and you know you have surpassed yourself. You were asked questions which you were able to answer and you built up a great rapport. You can start to relax a little, you are over the worst and it is just a matter of wrapping up. As such, the final few lines will go something along the lines of:
Interviewer: “Could you confirm how long you were employed at Top Girl?”
Your reply: “Yes, I was with them for two years”
Interviewer reply: “May I ask why you left?”
Your reply: “The company was located forty miles from where I live which meant a long commute. I was lucky enough to find a job closer to home which enabled me to reach work fresh and ready to spring into action, rather than sluggish from being stuck in a traffic jam”.
Interviewer: “If you could imagine yourself as a stand- up comedian, how would you start your routine?”
Your reply: There probably isn’t any immediate reply at this point, more a case of on the spot fear and a strong smell of body odour. Suddenly all those nerves you had calmed one by one are now standing up on edge. You feel your palms start to sweat, your mind has nosedived under a virtual blanket of despair and you have no idea where to go with this. You fail to see how the question has any relevance to the job itself but it was asked and the interviewer is waiting for an answer.
Whilst this may seem like an unlikely scene, don’t be too quick to pass it off. Unanticipated questions are fast becoming a popular interview tactic. Employers often look for people who can react at a moment’s notice to unexpected situations and pressure. Whilst we beaver away in the background working on our CV and facing the music in the interview room, we can never fully prepare for those out of the blue questions and the way that we react. We forget the third form of communication which is often tested these days…body language.
How you react during this moment will provide your interviewer with a great deal of information about who you really are. It will certainly clarify if those written and verbal answers were correct. Now you are under the microscope as you have to think on the spot. There is no time to make a cup of tea and think about the question, no time to answer in a way that you know will impress, it is just a matter of being able to ad lib successfully. How do you deal with it? Verbally, there is no right or wrong answer but physically your response will either make or break you. If you stutter, fidget and draw a blank, you contradict everything you wrote and spoke about with regard to maintaining a cool head under pressure. If you remain calm and search for a witty response, you back up everything that you said. Being able to laugh in the face of adversity shows that even in the most stressful of situations you are able to lighten the load and exercise that chuckle muscle.
To sum up: Communication is more than the art of fancy talking and impressive writing…it is about your body language. People would much rather work with someone who is calm and collected rather than flustered and flouncy. Therefore, it is important to work on your gestures prior to an interview to ensure that you do not display any signs of nervousness. Monitor your speech, if you find your mouth running faster than your brain, this is an indicator that you are feeling highly stressed…slow your speech and you will be able to think before you speak and answer questions coherently. This is not a competition to say as much as possible in the shortest time. Your interviewer is a person, so be sure to make plenty of eye contact and build a connection. The eyes are the window to the soul, they tell the recipient a lot about you. When you are talking about your deepest passions and successes, your eyes should light up with enthusiasm, this is the sort of body language an employer will want to see. Eyes which skitter around the room can convey a feeling of falseness and insecurity…definitely not an image you would want to portray. Relax…don’t sit in the chair like you have a pole surgically attached to your spine. By looking this formal, you tell an interviewer that you are rigid. Would you want to work with someone who is completely inflexible and set in their ways? And lastly, don’t forget to show those pearly whites. Okay, you don’t need to sit there grinning like a Cheshire cat but you do want to let the interviewer know that you are a pleasant gal and someone who would be a pleasure to work with.