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Ask the Hiring Attorney: How can I avoid stumbling on my words during an interview?

Job Interview

Q: I’m nervous about interviewing, and I have a tendency to stumble on my words when I’m nervous. What can I do to make sure I’m coherent during the job interview?

A: You’ll feel calmer and more confident going into the interview if you’ve anticipated questions you might be asked and practiced providing clear, thoughtful answers.

The key is preparation.

Remember that everything on your resume is fair game during the interview. Pull out your resume. Read through it carefully, think about every line, every accomplishment. Why is it on your resume? What technical qualification or “soft” skill does it convey? What is the story behind it? What did you learn?

Research the employer and the position. The more you understand about both the job you’re applying for, the structure and culture of the employer, and the industries or clients the employer serves, the better you’ll feel when answering common interview questions about how you’ll be able to contribute to the workplace.

Once you’re clear on what the employer needs and what you can offer, you can practice interviewing. Some school career centers offer mock interviews; if you have access to those, then I encourage you to participate! You can also ask friends, parents of friends, or others to help you with mock interviews. But you should also practice interviewing by yourself. Pull out your smart phone to record your answers to commonly asked interview questions. Play back the recording and listen to your answer the way an interviewer would. Are your answers clear, thoughtful, reflective, friendly, and confident? Or are your answers meandering, awkward, nervous, or rushed?

If you don’t have a lot of interviewing experience, then likely it’s the latter.

Play back your answer again. Where are you getting bogged down? Where do you stumble or use verbal ticks (such as “um,” “you know,” “like,” “and”)? Were you talking much faster than you thought you were?

The next time you record, take a deep breath. Think about what you want to convey before answering questions. Then… slow down—a slower cadence allows you to give more thoughtful answers, and helps you seem more confident and relaxed in an interview. Practice answering these questions several times, at different times of day. You might even try to catch yourself “off-guard” by recording your answer while stopped at a red light or standing in-line at the coffee shop.

The goal here isn’t for you to memorize answers so that you can deliver them like a robot. The goal is for you to understand your value to an employer and to get comfortable conveying that value. When you feel you can accomplish that goal, then your word-stumbling days will be behind you.

A version of this article was originally published by Bloomberg Finance L.P. Reprinted with permission. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

Shauna Bryce Shauna C. Bryce is a graduate of Harvard Law School with 20 years in law and legal careers. As a nationally recognized lawyer career coach, she works one-on-one with executive-level attorneys in Global 100 law firms and multibillion-dollar businesses in the U.S., Europe, and Asia, as well as regularly presents to groups of lawyers, career coaches, law students, and others. Her advice column, Ask the Hiring Attorney®, inspired by what general counsel and partner-level clients said they wish they had known while they were in law school, was originally published by Bloomberg Law. She’s the author of the How to Get a Legal Job® series and Bryce Legal® Career Advice for Lawyers blog.