Eyes Right!

Today our topic is about the importance of eye contact. Think about a time when you were having a serious conversation with another person, perhaps a junior member of your team, and that person had difficulty making eye contact with you. Do you remember what you were thinking at the time? Could it be that you thought they were being untruthful? Avoiding eye contact often signifies that the person is uncomfortable with what they are saying. Although that discomfort may stem from shyness, interviewers may assume otherwise. That’s not to say that liars can’t look you in the eye (the best ones do!).  But a person’s reluctance to do so can cause immediate suspicion. 

No doubt, interviewees have been known to stretch the bounds of truth in order to secure a job. Unfortunately, that might be the conclusion that a hiring manager makes when the job candidate avoids eye contact. Therefore, while interviewing you may need to make a concerted effort to use eye contact effectively. That doesn’t mean staring the interviewer down – you don’t want to appear creepy! However, any time you are making a key point, you should make a deliberate attempt to do so with good eye contact.

Keep in mind that maintaining eye contact also helps you read the nonverbal cues of the interviewer, such as signs of confusion, excitement, disinterest, etc. You can then adjust to those nonverbals as the situation dictates. For example, let’s say you mention something that causes a puzzled look on the interviewer’s face. If you are observant of that reaction, you can take action, such as checking for understanding.

There are two situations that require special consideration: Group Interviews and Virtual Interviews.

As for group interviews, it’s impossible to make consistent eye contact with everyone in the room. Primary eye contact should be made with the person who asked the most current question. But it’s a good idea that when answering the question, you glance at other members of the interviewing team. That way, they don’t feel excluded from the conversation. But don’t be surprised if they don’t return that eye contact because they are looking down at their notes, their phone, or at the person who just asked the question. Keep in mind it’s human nature for your attention to be drawn toward the person with the friendliest demeanor. Be mindful of that and try to spread it around.

When it comes to virtual interviews, it’s a common tendency to draw your eyes to the video feed instead of the webcam. This tendency is especially profound when it’s a group virtual interview and you are looking at the person’s image that appears in the far corner of your screen (made worse if you have a very large monitor). To the individual(s) on the other end, it appears as if you are districated. The simple solution is to treat the lens of your webcam as if it were the eyes of the interviewer.  If possible set up your computer so that the video feed and the webcam are in close proximity. That way you can look at the video image and it still appears that you are making eye contact. However, keep in mind that this technique doesn’t work as well when it’s a panel interview.

At the end of the day it comes down to experimentation with your set-up and practice with another individual ahead of time. That experimentation often means elevating your laptop on a box to bring it to natural eye level. In the Alliance Training program, we conduct multiple video interviews with our candidates to help them perfect their eye contact.