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Good Speaking Skills Lead to Great Interviews in the Military-to-Civilian Transition

by Carolyn Heinze, Contributing Editor

Article Sponsored by: Vinnell Arabia

Public speaking is difficult for many of us and anyone who has addressed an audience has probably experienced jitters. Good speech is not only important in those history-making, or even run-of-the-mill, speeches, but also impacts the success or failure of a job interview. For those who are experiencing a military-to-civilian transition, developing good speaking skills are essential. It is important to know how to express yourself verbally and to make sure you get your message across.


"When a poor impression is made because of your voice or speech pattern, it's hard to get the message across that you're the person for the job," said Carole Martin, a San Francisco-based interview coach and author of "Interview Fitness Training, Perfect Phrases for the Perfect Interview and Boost Your Interview IQ."

Janet Ruck, a job and career transition coach based in Columbia, Md., says that job interviews are similar to giving speeches in that the speaker must know the audience. "I am surprised at the number of people who apply for a job, get called for an interview and forget what that job was that they applied for and go in cold, having not prepared at all," she said.

Not only should you be well-briefed on the company and the position for which you are interviewing, but you should also know what you are going to say. This does not mean that you should memorize a pre-prepared sales pitch, but you can anticipate the questions that the interviewer will ask, and practice with somebody who will give you feedback.

"People will write down what they want to say in an interview, but they never say the words out loud," Ruck noted. "When they go into the interview, they are hearing the words out loud for the first time, and sometimes that's not how they meant to sound." By practicing out loud, you have an idea of what your ideas will sound like. "It's the same strategy as when you're doing a speech."

Martin observes that while many job candidates may have good things to say, they do not speak up when they are saying them. "Your voice is very important; you have to speak out," she said, noting that some individuals have a tendency to mumble. "No matter what you are saying, if you are not pronunciating and speaking clearly, people are not receiving your message."

Utilizing proper grammar and sentence structure is also important. Martin suggests that job candidates in the military-to-civilian transition should prepare by recording themselves to gain an idea of their strengths and weaknesses. She notes that after doing this, many of her clients discover the over-usage of "um" as a means of tying their thoughts together or stalling for time. While it is good to be conscious of this, she cautions against being too concerned about it. "Be aware of it, and try to use it less," she said. "If you start worrying about it, you become even more inarticulate because you are focusing on how often you're saying, 'um.'" The same goes for tacking on the phrase "you know" each time you make a point.

Some women, especially those with higher-pitched voices, have a hard time sounding authoritative when speaking in a professional environment. "Sometimes their message gets lost because it sounds soft," Martin said. While it is difficult to combat nature, Martin believes that lowering one's voice is something that can be practiced, and this is where recording can also be of assistance.

When interviewing for positions in the civilian workforce, veterans must translate their experience from military lingo into civilian language. "One of the problems with people who are coming out of the military, as well as with people in government in general, is the tendency to fall into the laziness of using jargon," Ruck said. "Jargon works well to enhance your communication with people who are working in that environment with you. However, if you are in another environment and the person who is interviewing you doesn't know the jargon, you're cutting off the ability to communicate with that person."

Phrases like "I deployed the vehicle," rather than "I got the car," act to further the distance between the job candidate and the interviewer. "Take the military out of your mouth," Martin advised. "When you talk in a formal manner like that, you sound very stiff and they are really not getting to know who you are."

Non-verbal communication goes hand-in-hand with good speaking, and one of the most important factors in connecting with your interviewer is to make eye contact. Good posture is also necessary in exhibiting confidence; while you do not want to be at attention, you do need to sit up straight, without being stiff. Martin suggests that to gain an idea of how to conduct oneself physically, try to match the interviewer's comportment. "You can take your cue from the interviewer," she said. "If the interviewer is more relaxed, then you can be a little relaxed." And, be sure to start the interview out right with a firm handshake.

As is the case with honing any skill, improving how you speak can only be achieved through practice. Ruck recommends Toastmasters International (www.toastmasters.org), a non-profit organization that helps professionals improve their speaking skills through a worldwide network of clubs that meet regularly. She also encourages people to volunteer for opportunities that will force them to put themselves out there. "Volunteer to speak at work," she suggested. "If there is an opportunity to do a briefing to a higher-level officer, put yourself into that position."

There are a number of everyday activities that offer the opportunity to practice and sometimes they do not even involve talking. Martin notes that radio and television can be a good source for pointers. Select a serious, educational program (call-in shows or reality TV are not the best choice) and listen to how the presenters and interview subjects deliver their messages.

Ruck pointed out that while many military-to-civilian transition interviewees are inexperienced in the job interview circuit, so too are many interviewers. "There is not much training given to people who go into these positions where they will be interviewing (job candidates)," she said. "If you can make that interviewer feel more at ease, you are connecting with your audience - in this case, the interviewer - and it will make the experience more positive for the both of you."

Carolyn Heinze (carolynheinze.blogspot.com) is a freelance writer/editor.

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