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Talent doctor Rob Yeung advises how to hone your interview skills to exude confidence and ensure you give the right impression – and dispels the myth about body language

This article was first published in the March 2014 International edition of Accounting and Business magazine.

Talent doctor: interviews

A big chunk of my work is training managers in how to interview candidates. I also interview senior candidates on behalf of organisations when the stakes are high and the organisation wants to make the very best hiring decision. And I see a lot of candidates who simply don’t present themselves well.

So how can you present yourself well if you’re on the lookout for a new job?

For starters, don’t worry about your body language. You may have heard it said that most of the impact we have on other people comes down to body language and tone of voice. A commonly quoted statistic says that 55% of what we communicate is through our posture, movements and facial expressions. Tone of voice is supposed to account for 38% of our impact, and only 7% is down to our actual words.

The statistic is wrong. It comes from research back in the 1960s that has been widely misinterpreted; more recent studies show body language matters little. For example, University of Southern Mississippi researcher James Hollandsworth used discriminant analysis to examine the relative importance of seven factors on interview performance. He looked at behaviours such as eye contact, body posture, loudness of speech and the content of what people said.

Appropriateness, fluency, composure

The single most important factor was the appropriateness of people’s content – that is, the answers that candidates gave. The next was fluency of speech (which was defined as speaking without too much hesitation), followed by composure (coming across as calm and confident).

Body language hardly mattered. So do not worry about whether you are sitting with your arms or legs crossed or uncrossed. Do not over think whether you are giving enough or too much eye contact. Instead, prepare to win the job by thinking about examples – short stories – to demonstrate your skills and experience.

Suppose an interviewer asks you: ‘Are you a good manager?’ Be sure to describe a situation in which you showed great leadership skills. Perhaps you discovered a project was in danger of missing its deadline but you managed to work out how to get it all done on time. Maybe you uncovered a conflict between colleagues and helped them resolve it. The point is to construct a short story demonstrating how your actions led directly to benefits for your team, customers or organisation.

Finally, allow time to prepare for an interview by not only thinking about the answers you might give but also rehearsing them. After all, actors preparing to go on stage don’t merely read their scripts over and over: they rehearse their lines out loud while thinking about their pacing, volume and intonation. And they do it multiple times until they know they can repeat the performance under pressure.

Good candidates do not just have the right skills and experience, they also think about how best to present them. So help yourself to be one of those stronger candidates.

Dr Rob Yeung is a psychologist at leadership consulting firm Talentspace and author of over 20 career and management books including How To Win: The Argument, the Pitch, the Job, the Race (Capstone); he also appears frequently as a business commentator on BBC, CNBC and CNN news.

Last updated: 14 Jul 2014