Personal and Professional Voice

As most seniors will probably tell you, right now is a stressful and challenging time in our academic and professional careers. Family and friends continue to ask us the pestering and nerve-wracking question of what we are planning on doing with the rest of our lives…or at least after graduation. Many seniors are currently going through interviews, be it for graduate school or full-time positions, in which one of the most difficult challenges is to come across as a competent and qualified potential coworker but also a friendly personality that would get along well with others in the office/group/organization.

As a Speaking Fellow, I have run workshops in which students want to practice interview-type questions and to work on speaking in professional situations. I recently helped coach a friend one-on-one during her interview preparation, and I have noticed both in my personal experiences and in working with others that figuring out how to best incorporate your personality in your “professional” voice is a major challenge. So here are some handy tips that I’ve found are useful for some of the people I’ve worked with to create an effective combination of the two:

  1. If it helps you to write notes on how you would answer questions, that’s great! But a way to make sure that your language stays natural (and that you sound comfortable) even when you do rehearse certain anticipated questions is to speak your answer instead of writing it. Outline a structure for the main points that you want to hit, but make sure your actual answer is in your own, natural spoken language!
  2. Take out words that you stumble over/words that are difficult to pronounce or seem to throw you off your natural flow. In our “professional” voice, we are often tempted to use big words and fancy language. If you are in a technical interview you definitely want to practice that terminology, but in most behavioral questions that you get you will sound most comfortable and natural when you use words that are normal for you. Uncomfortable words also tend to throw us off of our natural pace. If there is a word that has tough sounds to pronounce or is difficult to annunciate, use a synonym. For example, I try to avoid using the word “specifically” in interviews because it slows down the flow of what I’m saying, and so I use “particularly” instead.
  3. Brainstorm and practice transitions—that is where you will be able to connect ideas and avoid sounding stilted. It is really common for people to use fillers—particularly the word “um”—in between thoughts. Words like “moreover” and “additionally” can also be an awkward way to transition in a conversation. One effective way to transition is to transition through topics/categories. For instance, if you are talking about summer work experience and then are moving to talk about club leadership experience, a possible transition could be “on campus” or “during the school year, I am involved with XYZ.”

Preparing for speaking in professional situations, whether it is in a formal interview or a just conversation with a professor, is challenging! Practice is the best way to prepare, and one-on-one sessions with Speaking Fellows are a great resource for all students because they offer a setting to practice and experiment out loud and with someone who can offer helpful feedback.

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