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Stick to the script

By Rhod Ellis-Jones
The Sydney Morning Herald

Speechwriter Rhod Ellis-Jones offers tips on staying on message while under scrutiny.

Preparing for an interview and knowing what tack to take when answering questions can be a challenge for even the most confident. In a high-stress interview situation, it can be startlingly easy - even when well prepared - to become tongue-tied and sidetracked from making the most of the points you had planned to expound upon.

The same pitfalls and challenges have to be overcome when giving a speech. The good news is, as with delivering a speech, the art of performing well in interviews can be taught and learnt.

Here is the advice I give clients when they are preparing for the podium - and much of it translates to job interviews.

Lead from the outset
The best public speakers are those who grab the audience with a strong, positive message. Prepare your talking points ahead of time and ensure they match the job or list of desired skills.

Choose a key message and take it as a theme that you can return to for emphasis. For instance, if the job requires you to meet deadlines, ensure you emphasise your ability to manage your time efficiently to get the job done.

Consider using a story to illustrate this key attribute - it's great to establish credibility with a "show" to back up the "tell". Choose a story that you're good at telling and it will also help build your own confidence.

Know your audience
Do your research; not just on the company but on the people across the table. Move beyond simply typing their names into Google. The social networking site LinkedIn will often list their interests, ideas and experience. Hidden away in the company's website will almost always be the annual reports and summaries of strategic plans - read them.

Try to get a feel for where this role fits in within the wider aims and direction of the company. Is it a newly created position, for example? Will it help the company respond to its competitors? If you understand why the position exists within the broader scope of the organisation, you're much more likely to be able to answer questions in a manner that will strike the interviewer as insightful.

Demonstrate affinity
This goes far beyond the usual advice to mirror the tone and body language of your interviewer: tie your goals to those of the interviewer and the company's.
Demonstrate how the role will enable you to achieve company objectives and use carefully chosen anecdotes to show you have a genuine interest in the people and the organisation.

Confidence shows
Be aware of your movements and you can often fake what you might not feel. Where are your hands? Rest them on the table - don't cross your arms. Look into the interviewer's eyes when you speak. Lift your chin up and out. Make sure you are comfortable, as you could be there for some time and fidgeting will make you look bored.

Presentation is crucial. As soon as you enter the door, you're being measured on your clothes and grooming; match your appearance to the company's values.

Express efficacy and purposefulness
Like all effective speakers, try not to talk too much - babbling often exposes the very gaps in your knowledge that you're trying to disguise (think politicians).

Answer questions succinctly and demonstrate a sense of purpose and a keenness to find answers to business problems. It's OK to pause to ponder an answer. Remember, too, that positivity is attractive: make like Obama - "yes I can".

Avoid humour
Jokes can backfire — just smile and be positive. Never deride anyone in an interview (regardless of how bad your former boss was), as it will reflect badly on you no matter how justified by the circumstances. The interview is an exercise in looking forward, after all.

Express your energy and positive approach. Don't make jokes that are risky - this isn't the theatre for risk.

As the interview wraps up, return to your key message. Clarify how your strengths match the position and reiterate how keen you are to get to grips with the new role.

Do you work to a plan in a job interview? Tell us at

Rhod Ellis-Jones is a political speechwriter and principal consultant for a marketing and PR

Published: 14 August 2010

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