“Human interaction is critical in the workplace,” explains Hemming, author of “Work It! How To Get Ahead, Save Your ^%# and Land a Job In Any Economy” (Simon & Schuster, $13). “If you can’t look someone in the eye during an interview and have a conversation, then the interviewer will think that you have a problem communicating — or worse, that you’re not being truthful with them about your work experiences.”
Maintaining strong eye contact doesn’t mean you have to stare vacantly at the person you are interviewing with. Simply thinking of the interview as a conversation with a respected friend can make you appear less rigid.
“If you have a habit of looking away while listening, it shows a lack of interest and a short attention span,” says career adviser Jeffrey Ory.
Finding the right balance between strong eye contact and comfortable gestures is key. After all, you want the interviewer to feel at ease without compromising your professionalism.
“The fine line is actually what the rest of your body is doing,” Ory adds. “Good eye contact should be accompanied by a smile, or else you’ll just be staring, which makes most people feel rather uncomfortable.”
Ideally, you don’t want the interviewer to do all the talking. By staring blankly, you denote that you are uninterested in actively participating in the interview process.
“The best interviews are the ones that turn into conversations where each participant volleys questions at the other person and stays engaged,” Hemming says. “So be ready with a short list of follow-up questions. You’d be amazed at how a little preparation with the material can improve your confidence and your eye contact.”
Tips of the trade
Stanlee Phelps, co-author of “The Assertive Woman” (Impact Publishers, $16.95), offers the following advice:
• Taking notes gives you a reason to look away, without seeming uninterested, and is impressive to the employer.
• Nodding in agreement to what is being said or other appropriate changes of expression can help break up the monotonous feel of looking straight at someone for any length of time.
• If more than one person is interviewing you, be sure to turn your attention to each of them at intervals.
• Practice making and maintaining good eye contact with someone before the interview and note any differences in the quality of your communication — are you listening more attentively? Are you conveying more interest and receiving more attention to what you are saying?
• Be yourself. This will put you at ease and help you avoid seeming and feeling stiff and unnatural.