Answering interview questions
Essential tips

The secret to answering interview questions confidently and professionally revolves around the old saying "It's not what you say, it's how you say it!"

Creating a positive impression with the interviewer/s involves a package which includes:

  • Creating a positive initial impression and developing rapport with the interviewer or panel
  • The vocal and visual aspects of your communication style - that is, how you actually say your words, and your accompanying non-verbals - your body language
  • Delivering well structured, well organised answers

Let's look at each of these areas in detail

Stuck for words in your interviews?

If you've got great communication skills and are not getting job offers from your interviews could your problem be the answers you give to interview questions?

If you suspect that this is the issue then you might find the Ultimate Guide to Job Interview Answers to be really helpful.

It has some great suggestions about answers for even the trickiest interview questions!

Answering interview questions
Building rapport with the interviewer/s

The word "rapport" means to create a harmonious connection or relationship with someone, to communicate in way which resonates positively with others.

In a 2011 study, researchers confirmed what we have long suspected, that..... the decision to hire or not hire a person is heavily influenced by the initial rapport the job candidate had with the interviewers. If you are interested, here is a link to an article about the research.

If rapport building is so important to the outcome of your interview, how can you develop this rapport?

How to develop rapport with the interviewers

As the abovementioned article points out, rapport building begins at the commencement of the interview, at the introductions stage.

This is an essential piece of knowledge.

What this means is that you absolutely must think through and rehearse where possible the first stages of the interview. Be very clear about how you will look, what you will do and what you will say.

If you haven't already done so please take a look at the job interview skills page, and in particular the section on "how to make an outstanding first impression".

Take particular notice of the points made about the visual, vocal and verbal elements of your communication style - as already mentioned...... it's not what you say, it's how you say it!

So....if developing rapport, especially very early in the interview is the secret to interview success, what else can you to develop this?

Answering interview questions
Your communication style

The best advice to follow when answering interview questions is to be yourself.

This means, that as far as possible, allow your natural personality to shine through when you communicate.

It doesn't mean however that you shouldn't look for ways to improve your way of communicating.

One of the most important aspects of communication style that can be improved with practice is ...... eye contact.

The level of eye contact that takes place when two people are communicating face to face, or in this case when answering interview questions, can have a massive influence on the impression you make with the interviewer.

Answering interview questions and eye contact

Why is eye contact so important in an interview?

Possibly you have heard the saying that the "eyes are the window to the soul".

In Western societies in particular, lack of eye contact, especially a downward or downward/sideways gaze can, in certain situations, convey negative impressions like:

  • lack of confidence
  • lying
  • guilt
  • dishonesty

On the other hand, research about this aspect of communication reveals that an upward, or upwards/sideways gaze can be interpreted as someone who is recalling factual information, forming an opinion, or editing their response to a question.

These types of eye movements, combined with appropriate levels of mutual gaze, can help convey very positive impressions such as credibility, believability and confidence.

Note: Customs and how eye contact is interpreted in communication vary quite significantly across different cultures.

For example, in East Asia and Nigeria it is a sign of respect not to look the dominant person in the eye.

In Western cultures however, this absence of direct eye contact can convey the impression that the person avoiding eye contact is untrustworthy, or "shifty".

Answering interview questions
Managing eye contact

Try to maintain comfortable and regular eye contact with the interviewer/s - this is something which is also known as mutual gaze.

Mutual gaze occurs when two people are communicating face to face about a topic of mutual interest - in this case your suitability for the job. It means the extent to which they maintain eye contact with each other.

In normal day to day conversation, a comfortable level of mutual gaze eye contact between the two people is likely to be somewhere between 30-60% of the time. This level of eye contact is about right for job interviews as well.

If you're unsure about how eye contact works in interpersonal communication, and where mutual gaze fits into the process, here are some basic tips:

  • When taking on the listening role many people focus their gaze on the speaker's mouth.
  • Establish mutual gaze when you are listening conveys interest, and encourage the speaker. From time to time make direct eye contact with the speaker.
  • Accompany listening with occasional, and slight nodding of the head.
  • When speaking, make contact with the listener's eyes - this helps to convey you are confident and credible in what you are saying.

Answering interview questions and handling your nerves

Managing eye contact can also help with controlling nervousness during the interview. How? has something to do with the warmth of your gaze.

Your gaze can be interpreted as being cold, hard, warm, soft, penetrating.

In an interview it may be best to convey a warm gaze - this can be helped by consciously having a warm feeling or attitude toward the interviewer, rather than being focused on your nerves.

Remembering to smile when answering interview questions will also help you to add warmth to your gaze.

Answering interview questions
Using your voice

Another aspect to consider about how to answer interview questions relates to the use of your voice.

Quite obviously the tone of your voice, how you articulate your words and the rate at which you provide interview responses all contribute to making an impression with the interviewer.

Here are some tips about how to answer interview questions with regard to your voice:

  • Vary the rate at which you speak. This is the best way to create interest in the listener
  • Quicker rather than slower speech conveys interest, enthusiasm, and knowledge of your topic
  • Don't speak so quickly however that the speaker can't understand what you are saying
  • Slow speech can indicate uncertainty, lack of confidence, and lack of knowledge
  • Vary the pitch of your voice. Be aware that when you lower the pitch it conveys confidence and authority.
  • Voice pitch which has an upward inflection can communicate surprise, but also doubt or uncertainty
  • A voice which has a very nasal tone is often irritating and distracting to the listener. If this applies to you, practice projecting your voice more from lower down in your chest

Answering interview questions
and your communication style

Your communication style is the means by which you create rapport. I've only touched on the basics here, rather than providing a course on communication skills.

If you've not consciously thought about your interpersonal communication maybe this is time to do some analysis by recording on video or audio and reviewing it.

Getting feedback from people who you trust can also be helpful.

If you need to learn more about how to answer interview questions using non verbal techniques I recommend do some research on how to develop your communication skills.

Combine this with actual practising these skills.

Answering interview questions
Delivering well constructed answers

There are several things you can do to ensure you deliver good answers to interview questions.

The first is to focus on the employer's selection criteria. Clearly you are going to be asked questions which are closely related to this.

Therefore, for every attribute outlined in the selection criteria, make sure you can explain that you have this attribute, that you can apply it to your work, and you have examples to prove that this is true.

Please go to this page on behavioral interview questions for more examples about typical areas for behavioral job interview questions.

Check these pages - common job interview questions and top 10 interview questions. Both these pages have questions, and some suggestions for answers.

Here's another important tip - sell the benefits you'll bring to the job in your interview responses. One way to do this is to remember to use the words "which means".

Using these two words turns an ordinary answer into a good answer to an interview question. This section of the job interview skills page explains in more detail how to sell the benefits to the interviewer.

Answering interview questions - Summary

The theme of this page has been to concentrate on your style of communicating with the interviewer or panel.

You'll realise that there are very important benefits in understanding what you can do to develop rapport with the interviewer.

The skills described here about the use of eye contact and your voice in job interviews can definitely be improved with practice.

P.S. A gentle reminder that you might want to take a look at the Ultimate Guide to Job Interview Answers if you find you're stuck for words during your interviews.

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