One of the most common pieces of interview advice is to make eye contact with the interviewer. This advice, however, oversimplifies a more complex form of human communication ... and in an era of video interviews, making "eye contact" can be even more complicated.
Mastering eye contact can help communicate your interest in the interviewer and the job. Here's what job seekers need to know about getting eye contact right in interviews.
Don't make eye contact ... modulate eye contact.
The advice to "make eye contact" implies that it's important to look into the interviewer's eyes at all times, regardless of the situation or the respective cultures of the interviewer and job seeker. Direct, sustained eye contact, however, can easily backfire.
Eye contact is one of many nonverbal cues humans use to communicate. The use of eye contact is context-dependent as well as culture-dependent. While many western cultures see eye contact as a sign of interest and forthrightness, cultures in other parts of the world see regular eye contact as aggressive or rude.
No matter what culture or situation you're in, sustained staring at another person can make that person uncomfortable. When making eye contact, avoid gluing your gaze to the other person's face. Instead, think about "modulating" eye contact -- using it at times to indicate interest and focus, and looking away at other times.
Once you've found a pattern of glancing at and away from the interviewer that feels comfortable to you, don't suddenly change it. Sudden changes in eye contact or eye movement can be read as dishonesty since they can indicate increased stress.
Embrace the art of shared attention.
It's common for people to assume that the eyes go toward the thing that has our attention. As a result, it's essential to look at the interviewer when you want to communicate that their words are the focus of your attention. It's also important to look elsewhere when it's time to move your attention to that point.
For example, suppose the interviewer presents you with a document or item to discuss during the interview. In that case, it's vital to look at it, not only to participate in the conversation but also to communicate that you also find this item important. Looking where others look, a process known as "shared attention," builds empathy by demonstrating that you both find something meaningful.
Where are your "eyes"?
The COVID-19 pandemic sent much of the world into social distancing mode. As workers and companies realized the benefits of remote work and video communication, they began to embrace these modes, which has how we work and participate in interviews.
Today, video interviews are far more common than they were just a few years ago. Video interviews require specific skills, however, which aren't always the same as the skills involved in an in-person interview -- including skills related to the use of eye contact for communication.
First, eye contact in a video interview doesn't always read as eye contact. That's because the "eyes" transmitting your image to the interviewer are those of your webcam, not your physical face. You may be looking directly at the image of the interviewer on your screen, only to have your gaze read as looking slightly downward because the camera is positioned slightly above the part of the screen you're looking at.
For most of a video interview, the difference between looking at the screen and looking at the webcam is small enough not to be a concern. To communicate particular interest or attention, however, don't be afraid to glance up at the webcam itself. The interviewer will see this as you looking directly at the interviewer, sending the same message as if you looked directly into the interviewer's eyes during an in-person interview.
Navigating post-COVID job seeking poses several new challenges. Don't hesitate to talk to a staffing partner who can help you address these challenges and find work you'll love.