Body Parts and Adornment
Shave your face the morning of the interview. If you wear a beard or mustache, please make sure it's trimmed neatly within 24 hours of the interview. Get a haircut a few days in advance of a scheduled interview. And, please, trim your nose hairs.
Style your hair conservatively; no fancy hairdos and no purple or pink streaks. Go very lightly on any perfume—again, you want them to remember you, not how you smelled.
Men and Women
I know this seems like silly advice, but please use a deodorant. I once interviewed a candidate who didn't, and I couldn't wait until he got out of the room, out of the school, and out of town.
Interestingly, some recent research suggests a link between how one smells and personality. For example, if you want to make a good (olfactory) impression, smell like pure simple soap because people often associate cleanliness with confidence and success.
If you have eyebrow rings, nose studs, tongue rings, tapers, tunnels, plugs, spirals, or other metal objects in your face or body, please remove them. If you frequently wear 17 earrings in your left ear and 9 in your right ear, you might want to consider removing them, too.
If you have any visible tattoos, think about how you can remove them from view. This may involve wearing a long sleeve shirt or blouse to cover a tattoo on your arm, a wide bracelet to hide a tattoo on your wrist, or dark stockings to cover a tattoo on your ankle. I recently had a student who had some extremely elaborate tattoos from his neck all the way down to his ankles. As he prepared for his first interview, he knew he would have to wear a high collar shirt and cover his feet with long dark socks. He succeeded brilliantly and nobody knew about his body art. (As a follow- up, it should be mentioned that he now teaches middle school. Because he always wears long-sleeved shirts, not even his students know about the dragons and wizards adorning his torso.)
Cut and/or trim your fingernails. Clean them too. (If you have dirty fingernails, I certainly don't want to be shaking your hand.)
In the United States, if you have good eye contact with a person, it generally means you are interested in the person and in what that person is saying. On the other hand, if you look down or away from a person rather than meeting his or her gaze, you are considered to be uninterested or unconcerned. It is frequently a signal that you lack sufficient self-confidence.
In other countries around the world, eye contact has different connotations. In some Middle Eastern cultures, eye contact is considered to be inappropriate in accordance with religious laws. In several African countries, extended eye contact is taken as a challenge of authority. In some Asian cultures, lack of eye contact is a sign of respect. However, in a job interview situation (in North America, at least), eye contact between a candidate and an interviewer conveys trustworthiness, honesty, and interest—three qualities you want a potential employer to know about you.
When you answer questions in an interview, always look directly at the person asking the question. If you are in a group or panel interview, address the specific person asking the question rather than the entire panel. If you ask a question, don't look down or to the side; rather, look directly at the individual and pose your question to a specific individual.
Good eye contact helps establish a good rapport between the interviewer and you. Just as important, it helps to signal your interest in the conversation and your desire to accurately and effectively answer each and every question.
If eye contact if difficult for you, you may wish to conduct some mock interviews with family members or friends. Practice looking directly into a person's eyes as you talk and answer questions. You may even wish to practice by placing a chair in front of a full-length mirror and having a conversation with yourself.
It's vitally important that you practice this nonverbal behavior. If you appear to be "shifty-eyed" or indirect in responding to questions, an interviewer may get the impression that you are less than forthright in your responses or are trying to hide something. Those are certainly not impressions you want to leave with any potential employer.
It's not always what you say, but how you say it that leaves an impression with the interviewer. This would be a good time to go back and review the notes you recorded in the "Introduction to Speech" course you took in your freshman year. It would also be a good time to practice appropriate speech patterns that will help put you in the most favorable light.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
Make sure you can project your voice at a level that can be heard five or six feet away (the average distance between interviewee and interviewer). If you tend to speak softly, I would suggest several practice sessions or mock interviews so you can practice projecting.
Always be sure you articulate your words and your responses. While you will undoubtedly want to practice some of the questioning scenarios included in this book, you shouldn't get so comfortable with them that you get lazy in accurately pronouncing the words, phrases, and sentences. Typically, when you are nervous (as in an interview), you have a tendency to hurry through the pronunciation of words. You may want to consider slowing down your speech a little as you respond to a question.
Use correct grammar. I remember one student who would use the word "like" constantly in her speech ("It was, like, you know, like, the time when the teacher, like, was telling the kids, like, they should, like, settle down. It was, like, difficult for us to, like, get them back on task."). You may want to ask an older adult to listen to you to see if there are any grammatical habits that need attention.
Pace yourself. Again, when we are nervous we tend to talk faster than we want to and faster than someone can understand us. Make yourself a mental note to speak a little slower than you would to your friends or classmates.
It's always a good idea to pause every so often when responding to a question. Pausing puts extra emphasis on a particular point ("When I visited Franklin High School last month, [pause] I was really taken by the high level of student energy and enthusiasm in the hallways!"). It is also appropriate to pause briefly before responding to a question. If you answer too quickly, it may send a signal that you're answering with the first thing that pops into your head. On the other hand, when you pause briefly before you answer, it demonstrates that you are carefully considering the question as well as the most appropriate reply. Thoughtful responses always get you more points than do quick responses.
Vary your tone of voice. Try not to speak in a monotone or in a "flat" voice. Occasionally add some inflection or change your tone of voice to demonstrate your enthusiasm, motivation, and interest. If you want to appear interested in the position, one sure suggestion is to add some honest inflections into your responses. You may say you are interested in becoming a teacher at Sunnydale Middle School, but it will be your tone of voice—rather than just your words—that will convey that interest most directly.
Using the Essential Seven
Nonverbal behaviors can make a big difference, more than the responses to formal interview questions. Taking the time—ahead of any interview—to practice and assess your nonverbal behaviors can help you reap multiple "brownie points" during the course of any interview. Please don't neglect this all-important and critical element of any successful interview.