ShoutDuring interviews, filler words, such as “like” or “um,” can sabotage your position as a competent professional by undermining your words and making you appear anxious and less confident. During a job interview, fillers work against you, lessening the impact of everything you say. By making a conscious effort to cut such words from your everyday speech patterns, you can reduce the chances that they will appear during an interview.

One reason that people insert fillers into their speech is to give themselves more time to consider a proper response to a question. The fillers give your brain time to catch up with your mouth. One way to avoid this automatic behavior is to pause before speaking and think about your answer. By avoiding the natural tendency to start speaking immediately, you’ll have time to formulate an answer, eliminating your need to say “like” or “um.” Practice this process during your daily activities to overcome the initial discomfort. When the time comes for a job interview, you won’t so easily fall back on old habits.

When you are unprepared to answer a specific question, you may be more likely to insert fillers as you attempt to formulate the best answer in your head. To avoid this situation, do everything you can to prepare before an interview. Start researching the company as soon as the interview is scheduled. Think back through your work history and talk it over with a supportive person. Identify anecdotes and situations that illustrate how you can be an asset to the new company and practice talking about them out loud. With practice, you will work them into your memory and keep them foremost in your thoughts during an interview. If necessary, write stories down to reinforce them. The more you prepare, the less you’ll need to search for filler words during an interview.

Part of the challenge in eliminating fillers is awareness. To get your brain focused on the problem, film or record audio of yourself speaking, either in a mock interview or a meeting. Note the fillers that are the biggest problem for you and count the number of times they occur. Throughout the day, pay attention to when you say these words. If necessary, get your friends, family, and colleagues involved by asking them to remind you each time you say one of the problem words. If you need extra reinforcement, use the method of snapping a rubber band on your wrist each time you notice yourself saying filler words. Often, increased awareness is enough to eliminate a significant percentage of fillers from your vocabulary.

Filler words, like other language tics, are a bad habit, and, like other habits, it takes time and concerted effort to break. However, with careful practice and patience, you can eliminate filler words and improve the way you appear to potential employers throughout the interview process.

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