When preparing for an important job interview, have you been told to “just be yourself”? Or when feeling nervous about speaking in front of strangers, tried that trick of imagining everyone in the room naked? You’re right – they’re useless bits of advice. Like it or not, you now have to be masters of self-branding and self-promotion. If you can’t sell yourself and your ideas, there’s a good chance your career will not advance in the way you’d like it to.
There are many courses and workshops that help you become a better communicator in the business world. Top courses include leadership training from Impellus (impellus.com), and management skills for emerging leaders at Harvard (extension.harvard.edu). There are also some great books, such as Talk Like TED: The 9 Public Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds by Carmine Gallo and the classic The Quick and Easy Way to Effective Speaking by Dale Carnegie. The skills needed for presentation are not dissimilar to those for job interviews.
TALK THE TALK
When it comes to getting a “yes” at your next critical meeting – be it a job interview, raising finance or getting a counterparty to agree to a merger – there is one particular training programme, Rehearse It (rehearseit.co.uk), that claims a success rate of more than 90 per cent.
It offers one-day workshops, pitching rehearsal sessions and one-on-one coaching from founder Robin Roberts and his team of actors, and film and theatre directors.
“An interview is analogous to an audition. It’s key that individuals learn how to take control of the situation in order to deliver their best possible performance,” says Roberts.
Since launching two years ago, the organisation has worked with more than 120 people, many of them extremely high-powered – from European Union commissioners to senior judges and chief executives.
Why do they need help? “By nature they are perfectionists and are going for something they don’t want to risk not getting,” says Roberts. The curriculum covers psychology, body language and role play.
Roberts founded Rehearse It after retiring from a long career at global headhunting firm Egon Zehnder. He says: “While there, I noticed that even the world’s most senior people mess up their meetings and interviews – including people who were candidates to be chairmen of FTSE 100 companies. It made me wonder why we can screw up critical meetings.”
How does it work? “Rehearse It is a combination of behavioural science and performing arts, which we guarantee will improve your performance dramatically,” he says. “It’s not a drama class, though. We are not training people in our workshops to be Daniel Craig or Cate Blanchett. We are saying, look, in this critical moment when you are in front of an audience, doing these things will nudge opinion in your favour.”
How quickly do you think strangers form an opinion about you? In a minute? A few seconds? Roberts says: “The most common mistake is not to realise how quickly the judgement is formed. It’s actually milliseconds. Our brains have evolved to collect data about other people really fast.” This means that not only do first impressions count, but you have far less time to present yourself than you thought.
At what point does the interviewer typically make a decision about whether you are right for the job or not? Roberts says: “There is research that shows that all the information they will base their decision on is gathered in the first 15 minutes. Most interviewers believe they are using the entire hour to keep an open mind, but the research indicates that is not the case. The problem is, almost everyone sleepwalks into the room, warms up as the meeting goes on, and by the half-hour mark all cylinders are firing, but by that point it’s too late. You need to come out of the gates like a racehorse.”
FAKE IT ’TIL YOU MAKE IT
We all know we need to practise our presentations, but if you think rehearsal involves no more than mumbling it in the shower, think again. As Jon Dean, managing director of Impellus, says: “Fail to prepare – prepare to fail.”
Speeches come under even greater scrutiny. Nigel Oseland, PR manager for Toastmasters International (toastmasters.org), a membership organisation for people who want to practise speaking in public, feels strongly about the way you shouldn’t deliver a speech. “I am a little more forgiving of people who are speaking in English when it is not their first language, but otherwise, if someone is reading from a script, I walk out. I find it offensive because I know I can read quicker than they can read to me.”
Instead, he says: “It is better to write your speech, get the wording right, distil it down to some key points and then talk around them. Think about the structure and the content that will appeal to your audience. It’s not about what you say but what they remember that counts. The trick is moving from a monotone delivery to a speech that inspires people. Humour helps you come across as human and lets the audience engage with you.”
Another good way to enhance your public speaking prowess is to attend a training course at RADA in Business (radainbusiness.com), a social enterprise aligned with the London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, with expert tuition from voice coaches, actors and influence specialists. Charlie Walker-Wise, client director for RADA in Business, says: “We teach people to use their physicality, breath and voice to project themselves into any given environment. These communication skills are not just acting skills – they are human skills.”
During the course, participants learn why your voice is, as Walker-Wise says, your “greatest tool of influence”.
Sound is movement, he explains, and just in the way you need to practise kicking a ball into a net, you need to rehearse your presentations out loud. “I’m a trained actor, but the only way to make it look easy is to practise,” he says.
Walker-Wise also says that when we are nervous, we forget to breathe. “We don’t want to mess up. We tend to retreat and play it safe, but then often think: who was that?” RADA in Business courses are designed to free us up to be the “best version of ourselves”. So when you walk into that job interview, you really can “just be yourself”.
TEN TOP INTERVIEW CHEATS (Courtesy of Rehearse It)
1) MASTER THE HANDSHAKE
Make sure you don’t give a soft, flimsy handshake – whatever your gender, make sure you give a good firm grip and look the person in the eye. Remember – it is not about asserting dominance, but sincerity. Don’t pump the arm – you’re not Donald Trump.
2) CONFIRMATION BIAS
Research shows that an interviewer’s questions are easier if you create a good impression immediately. Once you have set up an unconscious “confirmation bias” within the mind of the evaluator – they already like you, and want you to do well – you can nudge the ultimate decision in your favour.
3) SUMMARISE YOUR EXPERIENCE
On average, hirers spend no more than six seconds reviewing your CV before choosing candidates to interview. They know almost nothing about you when you walk in, so gently ask if they would like you to summarise your experience.
4) HOLD YOUR BAG TO THE SIDE
Looping your bag over your shoulder or forearm looks too informal, while holding it in front of you suggests you are nervous or scared. Always hold it to the side, whether you are a man or a woman.
5) DRESS WITH RESPECT
Select an appropriate outfit for the company – if it’s a tech firm, wearing a three-piece suit would probably be a big no-no. Equally, turning up to an investment bank in jeans and a blazer will not give the right impression. Wear something a little more pressed and polished than the typical employee.
6) DON’T HESITATE TO SHINE
Interviewers make their initial judgement about you in half a second, and then decide whether or not to give you the job in less than 15 minutes. Agree with the interviewer during initial small talk to demonstrate you share the same world view, and make sure you are engaged and ready to deliver during early questions.
7) MIRROR BODY LANGUAGE
As soon as you meet your interviewer, subtly copy the way they stand or sit, crossing your legs or resting your arm on the back of the chair if they do. In a “natural” setting with friends, most people do this without thinking, but in an interview you can behave more awkwardly. Don’t follow behind them down the corridor – walk next to them.
8) USE YOUR HANDS
Always keep your hands in view and rest them on the table. Use them to add emphasis when you talk and make sure your interviewer can see you thumbs, which shows you are at ease.
9) ASK QUESTIONS
Prepare three questions to ask at the end based on your research of the company, but be careful not to appear critical or doubtful. Never ask about benefits or salary – wait until you are offered the job.
10) END WELL
Make it seem like you really enjoyed the conversation and don’t want the interview to end. Avoid looking like you want to get out as soon as possible. Maintain eye contact, smile and talk as you gather your belongings.