I once judged a pageant where a contestant in the panel interview had clearly been given advice not to look directly at judges. It felt like she was looking somewhere above our heads, maybe to reduce her anxiety about full-on eye contact. But I was distracted by her answers because I was wondering if a fly was buzzing or another person was standing behind us. That’s not really the reaction you want from your judges.
Eye Contact Tips for Interview
Read, “How to Organize a Mock Interview” if you want to practice these tips.
1. Don’t look up or down
When you’re trying to come up with an answer, you might have a habit of looking up into the sky or down at your feet as if you’ll find the answer there. Try to keep your eyes on the judges. It’s okay to have brief moments when you’re not locking eyes, just don’t rely on that as your crutch. Don’t let a disinterested or seemingly hostile judge throw you off, either.
2. Smile with your eyes
Let’s be honest, the power of the Smize is real. Show your interest in being there with open, excited, and interested eyes. Videotape yourself if you need to practice, you’ll pick up on small facial movements and changes that can help you present more professionally.
3. In panel interviews, move your eyes among the judges
Start with your focus on the judge who asked the question, and then jump after a few seconds to each judge as you continue and wrap up your question with the judge who originally asked the question again. You might have a tendency to focus completely on the person who asked you the question, but remember that you’re there to present yourself to the entire panel. When you do practice interviews, have someone pay attention to whether or not you’re doing this.
4. When making a strong point, intensify your eye contact
If you’re talking about your pageant platform, taking a stand on a controversial issue, or replying to a judge who is pushing you with a leading question, intensify your eye contact briefly to emphasize your point. Use this sparingly, or you’ll appear slightly crazed, not passionate (you should practice on someone before your pageant to make sure you hit the intense level without making it to the creepy level).
5. Match your eye contact to the rest of your body
If you’re turning to face someone to answer a question, your profile changes and your body may need a brief shift, too. Make sure if your head is turned, the upper half of your body changes, too. Your hand movements should be aligned with your eye contact as well.
6. Start eye contact immediately
You might have a split second to get a visual of the room before you enter and start being judged. If you’re headed for a podium or a chair, keep your eye contact on the judge or judges you’re approaching while using your peripheral vision to position yourself and avoid any obstacles in the way (such as chairs, recording tape on the floor, or tables).
Eye contact is one of the most important ways to connect with judges in interview, as well as with people in everyday life. Practice this and everyone will find you engaging and charismatic, hopefully winning you the crown.