When on the job hunt, it helps if people – all people, but particularly employers and potential connections – find you interesting. Maybe they don’t have to find you totally fascinating, though that is not a terrible thing, but at the very least they should not find you boring.
I try to be hyper aware of this, because I tend to get temporarily deeply interested in subjects, during which time I want to learn all I can about them and talk about them all the time, before I move onto something else. So, you could be subject to pretty much any sort of diatribe, depending on the subject of the day – a few weeks ago it was competitive eating. Yesterday it was language development and colour – and it’s not unusual for me to catch someone’s eyes glazing over.
“Oh…sorry!” I’ll say. “Are you finding this interesting at all?”
“Sure! Yeah! Of course!” they reply, obviously jumping back from a daydream. And I know it’s time to switch gears.
I’ve learned to look for signs that I’m losing my audience. Do you do the same? You probably should – particularly in an interview situation, when you’re bound to be the one doing most of the talking.
Signs you’re boring someone:
“Uh huh… Oh, really? That’s awesome. That’s so funny…” Gretchen Rubin points out in this article that “repeated perfunctory phrases” are a pretty good indicator that the person with whom you’re speaking is not very engaged in the conversation. These phrases aren’t necessarily bad in and of themselves, but if they’re all the other people is saying, that is a bad sign.
No questions or interruptions: Rubin also points out that someone who is interested in what you’re talking about is going to interrupt and ask in-depth questions. They’re going to want to know more, ask for clarification — Who threw the party? Who was there? Who did you talk to? He said WHAT? How could he say that? Doesn’t he know that Harvest Moon is Neil Young’s best album? Where did he go to school? What did you say? Uh huh….and then what!? I can’t believe it…
Body language: Don’t be fooled by eye contact. Eye contact is one of the most misleading body language cues, because people are aware of their eyes and the message eye contact supposedly sends. They may be making eye contact in an effort to be polite, thinking that it makes them look interested.
The fact that someone is looking at you is not necessarily a sign that they are interested. Check their chest and feet. If the face is looking at you but the chest is turned away, that’s an indicator that they don’t really want to be there. If the feet are pointing away, they probably want to make a run for it.
You’re doing most of the talking: You know the old 50/50 rule, right? You should be doing no more than 50% of the talking and the other person should be doing the other 50%. In an interview, this is obviously more flexible, since the other person is asking questions that you need to answer in detail, but you can still have a back and forth.
Fidgeting and posture: According to Rubin, in 1885, Sir Francis Galton wrote a paper in 1885 called “The Measurement of Fidget.” He found that people slouch and lean when they are bored, so if your audience is slouching rather than sitting erect, you’ve lost them. Also – and this seems pretty obvious – engaged people fidget less. If your listener is picking at or adjusting things, doodling or playing with their hair, you’re boring.
How to fix it?
When an interviewer says “Tell me about yourself” or “Tell me about a time you overcame an obstacle,” get to the point. Omit superfluous details and don’t get sidetracked when telling a story. Stick to the highlights. Get from A-Z without getting lost. If someone wants more details, they will ask for them.
When appropriate, ask questions.
And, most important, pay attention to the aforementioned cues. If your audience exhibit the aforementioned behaviours, switch gears.
It helps if you actually are interesting, if you read and do interesting things. But you don’t have to be the Most Interesting Man/Woman in the World to not be boring. Don’t we all know people who can make a trip to the corner store sound fascinating? Be one of them.
It’s usually not what you’re saying but how you’re saying it.