How to sound authoritative at interview

Job applicants want to sound like they know what they are talking about. They also want to avoid embarrassing themselves by having waffle or incoherent blather come out of their mouths.

Here are five ways to increase sounding like you mean business and know what you are talking about.

1. Structure your responses

When information is provided in a structured way it is easier to follow, sounds coherent and gives you somewhere to start, somewhere to go, and importantly, somewhere to stop talking.

The STAR model is a structure often recommended in writing applications. It works equally well for interview responses. When you are invited to give an example of some behaviour, drop your content into the STAR structure:

S = Situation or context to the example

T = task to be carried out

A = action or approach taken

R = results obtained.

A modified version is the SAR structure which combines task and action.

Using a structure will help organise your thinking and stop you waffling.

2. One idea, one sentence

Interview responses are not an exercise in ‘stream of consciousness’ – opening the mouth and allowing a seemingly endless collection of thoughts to flow forth. When invited to talk about themselves, such as ‘Why are you interested in this job’ or ‘What do you offer’, a string of thoughts connected by ‘and’ can flow, making it difficult to follow.

Offer your comments in short sentences containing one idea. Rather than saying: ‘I’m a strong candidate for this position because I have a background in finance, and I have a track record in cutting costs, and this will be valuable during times of financial restraint, and I can manage projects, and I get along with people and …’

Try something like: ‘I am a strong candidate due to the combination of experience, skills and knowledge I have. I have a background in finance with a track record in cutting costs. This will be valuable during times of financial restraint. I can manage projects. I get along well with people …’

3. Make statements

When offering information off-the-cuff there is a risk that you start upwardly inflecting after each item. If you have a habit of upwardly inflecting, chances are high you will do this in a job interview. A lot of upward inflecting can sound like you are seeking validation and are unsure of your material.

When talking about your experience you need to make statements that end on an even keel so that you sound certain of your material.

4. Avoid hedges

Another habit that can detract from sounding authoritative is to start sentences with expressions like ‘I guess’, and ‘I believe’, or to include expressions like ‘kind of’ and ‘sort of’.

If many sentences start with ‘I guess’ or ‘I believe’ you can sound uncertain – taking stabs in the dark or you believe rather know what you are saying. Expressions like ‘sort of’ can also diminish certainty by being less precise, sounding like you haven’t got command of the vocabulary to explain what you are saying.

5. Tolerate pauses

While it is natural and normal to insert fillers into spaces while we are thinking – such as ‘um’ and ‘ah’ – being able to tolerate a couple of seconds of silence gives you thinking space and allows you to start a sentence at the point where your thought begins.

To speak with authority:

  • Use structures to organise your material.
  • Use complete sentences covering one idea.
  • Make statements without upwardly inflecting.
  • Avoid expressions that convey uncertainty.
  • Tolerate small doses of silence.
Dr Ann Villiers, career coach, writer and author, is Australia’s only Mental Nutritionist specialising in mind and language practices that help people build flexible thinking, confident speaking and quality connections with people.