Interview talk – 11 steps to lose the ‘um’s and ‘erh’s

What you’re planning to say: “I am a reliable, tenacious worker who takes initiative. My high levels of organisation were demonstrated in X project and Y assignment, and I would be thrilled to work for this company.”

What you end up saying: “So I’m basically um like kinda erh……….organised?”

Herbert Clark of Stanford University has outlined these ‘filler’ words and sounds as ‘signals’ we give to a listener when we “anticipate a delay in our speech…These phrases mean ‘I need to make sure you realize I’m delaying because I’m having trouble.'” It can happen to the best of us, but when your career chances are riding on your ability to express yourself, how do keep your composure and talk the talk?

  1. Breathe – Exhale just before you speak and take it steady in pace. Rushing through your points won’t save any time and it definitely won’t improve your chances.
  2. Pauses are okay – take time to think and use pauses to collect yourself – pauses are normal things to do. This is not a Shakespearean monologue that requires a faultless delivery. It could also be argued that pauses can be used to your advantage to show respect after being asked a question and to add emphasis to any of the points you have made.
  3. Ask a family member, close friend or somebody who already annoys you to call you out when you use your ‘filler’ words and sounds (arming your assigned person with a fly swatter is optional but not recommended). You’d be surprised how often you use pointless words, phrases or sounds, a list which includes ‘y’know’ ‘ahem yeah’ and ‘right?’. You may unconsciously use them to round off your sentences, but the more aware you are the better. Persistent practice will lead to you eventually being unaware of the fact you aren’t using them!
  4. Prepare – but don’t over-prepare. Taking a piece of paper with you might seem helpful but it could also just freak you out and put the interviewer off if they catch you memorising lines. Think natural, be natural!
  5. Smile – relax your face muscles, put yourself and everyone around you at ease, and see how much more relaxed you feel.
  6. Speak with conviction – this is aided by ending sentences in a lower tone, rather than raising up at the end as though you were asking a question.
  7. Avoid ‘conditional’ words such as ‘could’ or ‘might’ and words that ‘water down’ what you want to say (quite experienced, pretty good) – sounding unsure is undesirable! Believing in yourself is not the same as arrogance, so don’t worry about coming off too cocky.
  8. Ask a teacher, or someone your trust, to listen to you speak and correct any grammatical errors or habits of street-vernacular. Caroline Dowd-Higgins, host of the weekly CBS radio “Coach Me Radio” series states that, “it showcases your confidence or lack of, and can support or detract from what you actually say if your diction and grammar is subpar”.
  9. Film or record an audio clip of yourself speaking – yes it will sound awful to you, but use it to catch out the unnecessary words that you maybe didn’t even know you were using, such as ‘actually’, ‘literally’, or ‘so’.
  10. Don’t be hard on yourself for regional accents – eloquent does not mean received pronunciation – you don’t have to change your accent! Be yourself, just try to ease yourself into a style of speaking that sells your best qualities
  11. Focus on what the interviewer is saying – if you relax and ‘answer’ rather than ‘present’ you’ll find it much easier to passionately and professionally explain yourself. Pay attention to the questions and take your time formulating a response.

Remember: the fact that you’ve been invited for an interview is something to be happy about. The person looking to hire just wants to know more about you and how adept you would be at fulfilling a role.

For more tips and hacks, check out our other blogposts!

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