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Advice / Job Search / Interviewing

How to Make Sure You Sound Like a Person (Not a Robot) in an Interview

I once worked with a senior marketing executive. He was among the top candidates for a chief marketing officer role with one of my recruiting clients. On paper, he was impressive. In real life? Really great. Organized, focused, and one heck of a nice guy. I thought he would kill it throughout the interview process.

He made it one round.

One. Uno. I was shocked. I seriously thought this guy was going the distance.

I called the head of HR, and she told me exactly what had gone wrong.

In his fervor to be prepared to say just the right things, at just the right moment, every step of the way, something not-so-great happened to that senior marketing executive. He turned himself into an over-rehearsed, inauthentic robot. And the members of the executive team noticed, quickly.

(And not in a good way.)

So how do you avoid this moment? How do you make sure you walk into your next job interview ready to demonstrate that you’re professional, genuine, and likeable, without coming across as C3PO or, worse, some freewheeling cheeseball?

Here are four strategies to consider:

1. Prepare, But Don’t Memorize

Oh, heck yes you need to walk in to the interview prepared.

This is not news. But “prepared” does not mean “I just memorized every last stinking question that could possibly be asked.” It’s far better to consider how your career story wraps around the questions you hear are always asked in interviews (ahem, Google “most common interview questions”) than to over-rehearse rote responses to all of them. It’s near impossible to come across as relaxed and authentic when you’re in hyper-vigilant mode waiting for the next question to come up.

2. Think P-I-E

Mmmmm, pie. No, seriously: P-I-E. It stands for passionate, interested, and engaged.

It’s the perfect acronym (and yes, it’s OK to memorize this one) to help ensure that you are a genuine, normal human being in your next interview. Correct answers don’t mean a thing (just ask that marketing exec) if you don’t look inspired to be there, totally dialed in to the conversation, and crazy about that thing that you do. Nail all three of these and you’re golden.

3. Choose Pause Over Babble

Quantity is most assuredly not always quality. If you don’t know quite how to answer a question, don’t try and cover it up with a tidal wave of words and sentences. You’re not going to overwhelm anyone into hiring you, for crying out loud. Instead, realize that it’s perfectly OK to pause and think for a second or two. It’s also OK to ask for clarification if you don’t quite understand what’s being asked.

Now, don’t sit there and stare down the poor person across the table for 2.5 minutes, but short, thoughtful pauses don’t make you weak; they make you real.

4. Take a Run-Through

You know that silly little saying, “Practice makes perfect?”

Right, we’ve established by now that we’re not going for “perfect” here, but you can bet your bottom dollar you’ll be more at ease in that interview if you take a run-through or two prior to the big day. Ask a friend or family member whose opinion you value to spend 30 minutes with you. Give them a list of questions that you suspect might be asked. (Don’t know? Here are five ways to figure it out.) And then hit it.

After the mock interview, ask that person for honest feedback: How did you come across? How was your body language, your eye contact? Better yet, film the whole session and watch it for yourself a time or two in advance of the interview. Fine tune accordingly.

Arriving prepared for an interview is everything. But, you know what’s more likely to clinch it for you?

Arriving authentic.