Words to the Wise

By Cynthia M Piccolo

There was a line in the old Star Trek series – I think Mr. Spock said it – and it went something like this: "It is easy for a civilized man to act uncivilized. It is impossible for an uncivilized man to act civilized." Regardless of what the job entails, at an interview, you have to show that you are civilized.

In Interviewing for Success, we provided a general overview of what to do the night before, the day of, during, at the end of, and after your interview. Now, here are some pointers about language at interviews:

  • Speak at a normal rate. Interviews can be scary and nerve-wracking, and it's normal for nervous people to speak more quickly. Taking a deep breath, and thinking about your answer before speaking, helps to slow you down.
  • Avoid making the end of your sentences rise in tone, which makes everything you say sound like a question. When we're nervous, this is fairly common. (Some also say it's common to Canadians, but I dispute this!) But unless you're asking a real or rhetorical question, speak in a normal tone.
  • Avoid sloppy speech. While it's fine amongst friends and family (except maybe grandma and Aunt Ethel), it's not fine at interviews. Two examples: Avoid slurring words together (e.g. say "going to" not "gonna") and avoid mispronouncing words (e.g. say "asked" not "axed").
  • Avoid colloquialisms. While colloquial terms are commonly used in informal conversations with friends, interviews are formal conversations. Avoid words like "ain't."
  • While interjections like "uh," "er," or "um" are perfectly natural, make sure your answers aren't riddled with them. It's better to pause, think about your answer, then speak, rather than make your answer up as you go along, and have your point lost in the "uhs" and "ums."
  • Few people have flawless grammar (I knows mine ain't … er, I know mine isn't!), so saying, "Avoid grammatical errors" is pointless. Instead: Make as few grammatical errors as possible, and especially avoid making major ones. For example, say "My friend and I took …" not "Me and my friend took …"
  • Avoid excessive use of jargon. There are times when jargon is useful, and it may even be expected that you show you can "talk the talk" of your career or specialty – but back up the jargon with a concrete example or anecdote. For example, "I'm a real people-person. At my last job, aside from my duties with patients, I was a member of the unit social committee and work environment improvement committee."
  • Speak firmly and positively. For example, say "My goal is to …" rather than "Hopefully, I'll …"
  • Don't try to speak above the interviewer. This means to avoid constantly interrupting her/him and to avoid trying to sound more knowledgeable than her/him (even if you are).
  • For heaven's sake, don't swear! Not even the mild ones. Even if an interview is going well, and you've established a good rapport with the interviewer, and you share common interests, dislikes, and irritants – keep it professional! After all, once you're hired, you can revert back to your regular, more comfortable ways – at least during coffee breaks.

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