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6 ways to strike the right tone in your job interview

Follow these guidelines and you will come across as a confident and compelling candidate.

6 ways to strike the right tone in your job interview
[Photo: Amy Hirschi/Unsplash]

You can read a million different pieces about nailing a job interview. How to avoid making common mistakes. How to prep for bizarre interview questions. Even what you should wear to get the gig. But one thing that’s rarely addressed is tone.

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While the word “tone” often refers to the voice, more broadly it refers to the way you sound when you speak and the feeling people get about you. Your tone is an expression of vocal and word patterns. It’s a subtle (but crucial) reason why an interviewer might be turned off and not hire you–or why they might be drawn to you and make you an offer. Follow these six guidelines and you will come across as a polished, confident, and compelling candidate.

1. Be assertive, not aggressive

This distinction can make all the difference in an interview. Being assertive means that you can confidently affirm your ideas; being aggressive means that you have a fighting attitude. (In fact, the word “aggressive” comes from the Latin word aggressio, meaning “attack.”)

Women often tell me they’re afraid of sounding too aggressive, which is understandable, given the frequency with which people still fall back on stereotypes about women in the workplace. Regardless of your gender, your interviewer can easily be turned off if you come on too strong.

To avoid this, stay away from edgy expressions like “I feel you’d be making a mistake if you pass over me” or “I have other options, of course.” Also make sure you don’t sounding aggressive toward your last boss or company, as in “I didn’t like my boss,” or “The culture was Neanderthal.” Be assertive and simply present your ideas and your value clearly and confidently (“I feel I’d be a great fit.”)

2. Be confident, not self-important

Here, too, there is a fine line that you must walk. Being confident involves showing your strengths clearly and convincingly, but if you push your credentials too far or too emphatically you’ll come across as self-important.

For example, a job applicant will sound confident if she says, “I believe I have the background to succeed in this role,” whereas an applicant will sound self-important if he says, “I’ve got everything you’re looking for; when do I start?”

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The confident person presents her credentials and leaves the decision in the hands of the recruiter. The self-important person overstates his credentials and makes the assumption that he will be hired. Remember, no one wants to hire a know-it-all.

3. Be forthcoming, not rambling

To show you are open and authentic, share a few personal stories, moments of achievement, and even some of the most challenging episodes in your career. Let people have a behind-the-scenes look at you.

Such stories, however, can easily lead to rambling. So when you bring in personal anecdotes, keep them short, and make sure they have a point. Also make sure that when you answer questions, you don’t go on endlessly.

4. Be prepared, not scripted

If you sound programmed or scripted, you’ll never get the job. But that doesn’t mean you should skip the prep work. The best way to do this is to write out the key things you want to convey. Specifically, make sure you have a main message about yourself and some supporting points that show your strengths and credentials for the new role. Also write out (in bullet point-form) your answers to some of the questions the interviewer may ask.

Go over these key messages until you feel very comfortable sharing them. That way, when you deliver them, they’ll sound spontaneous, but polished. Your interviewer will think you’re a bright, confident communicator–and you’ll feel more confident because you’re prepared.

5. Be gracious, not fawning 

Good manners in a job interview are a must, but don’t overdo it with obsequiousness. Being gracious is a necessary art–it allows you to show appreciation to your interviewer for inviting you in, for giving you the honor of being among the candidates, and for providing the opportunity to present your credentials. Graciousness goes a long way to building the relationship.

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You should, however, avoid fawning or overly gracious statements that make you sound like too much of a subordinate. Such comments come in the form of expressions like “I can’t thank you enough for this interview,” or “It has been a humbling experience to talk with someone like you who is such a strong HR leader.” Be warm and grateful, but don’t be too humble.

6. Be excited, not anxious 

It’s normal to be nervous, but the people who are best at interviewing are able to channel that energy into something positive. Talk about the opportunity and how thrilled you would be to take on the new role.

Make sure you don’t overdo it, however. No interviewer wants to hire a candidate who can’t stay grounded during a job interview. Stay cool, and focus on how prepared and excited you are about the opportunity.

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About the author

Judith Humphrey is founder of The Humphrey Group, a premier leadership communications firm headquartered in Toronto. She also recently established EQUOS Corp., a company focused on delivering emotional intelligence training to the fitness, medical, and business sectors

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