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How to Use Principles of Communication to Prepare for a Job Interview
Motivated job candidates who seek out information that will help them in the interview process are likely the job candidates who already recognize the significance of performance in this area. Such a candidate will also benefit from the practice of a few key communication methods that lead to a more successful job interview.
Solid preparation for the interview process can set the stage for the experience a new job candidate can expect. Generally, motivation cannot be taught, and graduating students who still need persuasion to see the big picture will likely need to learn that lesson on their own. For first-time job seekers who want to land the job, however, a working knowledge of some basic communication principles can provide the preparatory tools needed to put their best feet forward with prospective employers.
Anticipate the Interview Format
The typical job interview involves a one-on-one, question-and-answer discussion between a candidate and a company hiring official. However, this format is not universal, and some companies develop their own unique strategies to determine a candidate’s potential. Therefore, a candidate should anticipate the unexpected. As Beebe, Beebe, and Ivy discuss in their text Communication: Principles for a Lifetime (2009), the defining principles of communication come into play in all communication settings, no matter how many individuals might be involved. Depending on the particular company, an initial job interview might involve the traditional, one-on-one meeting. In other cases, a candidate might face two or more company representatives from different departments. These representatives might each ask questions of the candidate, or a central figure might conduct the interview while one or more others observe and take notes.
In yet other cases, a candidate might appear before a formal panel composed of high-ranking company officials who take turns questioning the job seeker on different levels of competency, behavior, and values. In addition, some companies confront job candidates with on-the-spot tests of skill or knowledge. For instance, a company that seeks a graphic designer might ask a candidate to sit down at a computer and create an image within a specified amount of time during the slot.
Additionally, many companies gauge a candidate’s behavior and interactions with employees who are not involved in the hiring process. A common example involves a hiring manager who may follow up (formally or informally) with a receptionist or other front-line staffer to ask about a candidate’s demeanor upon arrival, during introductions, or while sitting in the waiting area. Within many organizations, candidates are already judged on several accounts before they ever sit down with an official interviewer.
Reduce Uncertainty in Advance
When preparing for a job interview, a candidate can apply uncertainty reduction strategies in order to familiarize him- or herself with the corporate culture of a prospective employer. As Beebe and company note, individuals tend to be more comfortable with new encounters when they know what they're getting into. In many cases, job candidates need only turn to the Web to gain much of the information they can use to develop an understanding of a company’s structure, goals, and values. Almost every company has a website, most today now maintain a social media presence, and many include a team mission statement that outlines the company’s purpose or vision.
Most companies also describe their team’s values in terms of customer service, commitment to quality, attention to detail, and other factors. For instance, Radisson hotels have been known to operate under a widely publicized, corporate “Yes I Can!” brand of service, which defines staff members’ willing and able approach to guest relations. Thus, if an individual were to interview for a position with a Radisson hotel, he or she might first research the corporate website and read about the brand of service. He or she could then enter the interview knowing that he or she would be expected to position guests’ wants and needs as a top priority.
Many organizations also maintain pages on their websites that are specifically targeted toward job seekers who are interested in career information. Such pages often detail characteristics of a successful company employee while describing the skills and traits that are expected of workers, either in general or specific to particular job openings.
Prepare for Unique Scenarios
Under some circumstances, a job candidate might not physically appear before an interviewer at all. For instance, many corporations initially screen candidates through the use of phone interviews. Phone interviews, as well as video interviews, are also sometimes used to reduce travel expenses when candidates are located far from company headquarters. When a candidate does not undergo a face-to-face evaluation, the interview process can be easier or harder, depending on the candidate's communication skills. According to Beebe, et al, an individual’s self-awareness and perception of nonverbal communication play a large role in understanding, adapting to, and reacting to such non-standard interactions.
For instance, an individual who engages in a phone interview does not need to worry about his or her physical appearance, but he or she must be mindful about tone of voice, enunciation, and other aspects of verbal delivery. For a video interview, a candidate does not experience the pressure of being in the same room as the interviewer, but he or she must carefully relegate facial expressions, gestures, and responses.
In addition, as a common add-on to the job interview process, some companies require candidates to complete knowledge assessments or personality profiles. Such an assessment might be a prerequisite to the interview, a final step in the onsite interview process, or a follow-up requirement to continue candidate screening. While such evaluation tools are designed to elicit a candidate’s true potential fit with a company, a candidate might still keep factors of company culture in mind as a guide for desired responses.
Remember Nonverbal Factors
Even in a face-to-face interview, as much as 93% of an individual’s meaning is conveyed through nonverbal communication, according to Beebe and company. Without speaking at all, an individual expresses his or her feelings about a situation. Eye contact, facial expressions, body posture, hand gestures, and vocal cues all add depth and nuance to the actual spoken word.
As authors Allan and Barbara Pease note in , "Yet most people believe that speech is still our main form of communication... because we focus on the words people speak, most of us are largely uninformed about body language, let alone its importance in our lives... Body language is an outward reflection of a person's emotional condition. Each gesture or movement can be a valuable key to an emotion a person may be feeling at the time." The Definitive Book of Body Language
Consider an individual who states, “I'm really excited about this opportunity.” If the individual leans forward, looks the interviewer in the eye, and delivers a smile with these words, he or she will likely convey genuine interest and anticipation. If the individual says the same words but slouches in a chair, mumbles the message, shrugs, and looks off into a corner, he or she will indicate detachment and a lack of sincerity. By cultivating mindfulness of such outward cues, candidates can consciously gear their nonverbal communication to express professionalism and engagement.
Don't Forget to Listen
Regardless of the interview format, a candidate must also implement active listening skills to ensure he or she understands and responds appropriately to every question. In many cases, interview questions are designed to draw out predictors of a candidate’s potential behavior or performance in an array of possible workplace scenarios. By taking an active listening approach, a candidate can pick up on the interviewer's verbal and nonverbal cues in turn, and that can help to formulate a complete, satisfactory response.
Author Madelyn Burley-Allen, in her book , states that there is "a definite connection between listening skills, improved interpersonal communication, professional growth, and career satisfaction. For example, if you're a skilled listener, more people will respond to you in a positive way. You can sell yourself in job interviews, cut down your problem-solving time, and smooth out work relationships. People will respond to you more favorably in any situation." Listening: The Forgotten Skill
Furthermore, by paying attention to the interviewer's demeanor, a candidate can utilize mirroring techniques to reflect equivalent nonverbal communications that can help to reduce tension and indicate cohesion. The use of active listening skills can influence a candidate’s word choices, pronunciation, and oral inflections, all of which can shape his or her image as either professionally polished or carelessly casual. Particularly in a communications-oriented position, proper speaking and listening habits are essential for an individual to appropriately represent competency and credibility. It should go without saying: slang and sloppy language have no place in a job interview.
Consider a candidate who is asked about his or her writing skills. The candidate will certainly not gain any favor by replying, “Yeah, I can write good.” The candidate will better represent his or her abilities by saying something to the effect of “Yes, I have excellent writing skills, as proven by my high scores in my university-level communications courses.” During job interviews, hiring officials expect candidates to demonstrate the job skills they can bring to the position. Therefore, candidates for communications-driven positions (such as those in marketing, customer service, administration, etc.), in particular, must illustrate their real-world mastery of language. Cues about desired responses can most easily be picked up through careful listening.
Consider Cultural Diversity
Candidates who interview for positions based outside of their native countries, along with those who interact with individuals located elsewhere in the world, should demonstrate cultural awareness and an understanding of diversity in relation to the particular company’s needs. Prior to such an interview, a candidate might conduct some preliminary research regarding another culture’s accepted customs and practices. Such information is readily available online, as several extensive, credible resources exist specifically to address cultural differences in terms of business relationships. According to Beebe and others, factors such as differing values, gender roles, emphasis on context, and assumptions can all shape communications between cultures.
A general understanding of and adaptation to potential differences can prepare a candidate to behave and communicate in accordance with another culture’s accepted norms. For instance, a candidate might do well to familiarize with cultural etiquette regarding introductions, including appropriate forms of verbal greetings and attitudes toward handshaking. A candidate should also be aware of potential language barriers in other countries. For example, a candidate should anticipate the possibility of being interviewed by a hiring official with limited English skills or even one who requires a translator to conduct the interview.
By researching and becoming sensitive to particular cultural differences that may influence the job interview setting, a candidate not only undertakes proper preparations to avoid uncomfortable or embarrassing situations but also demonstrates to the hiring official an understanding and acceptance of the company’s way of doing business.
Create a Professional Online Presence
Finally, a candidate should recognize the increasing use of technology by hiring officials to learn about prospective employees. In some respects, an individual’s background check might actually occur through online platforms such as Facebook or Twitter, in addition to business-focused outlets like LinkedIn. More often than not these days, companies consider applicants’ online personae as deciding factors in the hiring process. If a candidate posts photos of wild drinking binges on a personal profile that is publicly visible, a hiring official might well question how that individual will represent the company during social gatherings.
In contrast, if a candidate posts thoughtful, well-written blog posts focused on his or her career interests, education, or areas of developing expertise, he or she might convey serious professionalism in the eyes of a hiring official. For the candidate who is interested in building an online portfolio, numerous website creation platforms such as WordPress, Weebly, SquareSpace, and others provide low- or no-cost options to get started, and communities such as HubPages even offer the capability to monetize content while developing a professional presence.
Regardless of the medium, job seekers will do well to remember that while candidates can use the Web to search for compatible jobs around the world, employers can just as easily use the Web to find out who a candidate really is, outside of the interview setting. In today’s hiring atmosphere, more than ever, all aspects of a candidate’s behavior (on and off the job site) can impact the success of a job interview.