Where To Look During An Interview

During an interview, you may feel awkward trying to appear interested without staring down the person asking questions. Here's what to do.

You go in for a job interview feeling prepared and relaxed. The next thing you know, you're sitting barely five feet across from the person who may become your next boss. As you discuss the job description and answer each question with the goal of making a good impression, you wonder where you should be looking. After all, you can hardly keep your glance fixed on the interviewer facing you, nor can you avoid looking in the person's direction. Here are a few basic guidelines for making eye contact.

1. Most people feel uncomfortable locking eyes with someone for very long. A common length of time for professional eye contact is about five seconds. Some parts of a dialogue may grab and hold your attention, eyes included, for several seconds longer. But for the most part, a few seconds at a time will be enough.

2. The best times to glance directly at an interviewer is when the person is speaking to you, rather than rambling on about a company concern or answer the telephone if it rings while you're there. Specifically, it helps to gaze at a speaker who is asking a question so that you don't give the impression of being evasive or shy.

3. When it is your turn to speak, make random eye contact during your comments. You need neither stare nor keep your gaze averted, either of which may raise questions about your credibility. Glance at the speaker intermittently, unless your response is brief, in which case you can hold his or her gaze for the duration.

4. Where should you look the rest of the time? Glance at your hands or your lap, as though reflecting or thinking. You also can look at any materials you may be holding that are the subject of current discussion, like a company mission statement or a departmental policy. Your gaze might pause between the person and your lap, lingering momentarily on the desk between you, for example.

5. When should your gaze wander? You can stare out the window or leaf through items on your lap if the interviewer receives a telephone call or someone stops by at the office to ask a question. Your inattention provides a mental aside, at least in appearances, that allows the interviewer a few moments of partial privacy.

6. What if the interviewer stares at you or avoids your gaze? Staring may be a personal habit of no particular significance, so you need not take it personally. But if you feel the person is literally looking you over, feel free to draw his or her attention to any materials you have brought with you, like your vita or reference letters. You also can break an eye-lock gaze by looking away as though musing on one of the speaker's comments. An interviewer who does not look straight at you may be shy, so this is an opportunity for you to be pleasant and accommodating in not staring the person down or taking a dominant role.

Even small things like your gaze can tell an interviewer much about your personality. Practice in front of a mirror before going to an interview to get a comfortable feel for managing your glances at and away from the person you will be meeting.

© High Speed Ventures 2011