Leadership

How filler words like 'um' and 'uh' could actually help you ace your job interview

Most communication experts will tell you to drop filler words like "um" and "uh" from your vocabulary. But these words actually come in handy during an interview, because they make you sound less rote and more personable.

That's according to self-titled expert interview coach Barry Drexler, who has conducted more than 10,000 interviews over the course of 30 years at companies like Lehman Brothers and Lloyds Bank Group.

"Yes, you should say 'um' and 'you know' because if you don't, you sound like a robot," he tells CNBC Make It. "Talk like you're having a normal conversation."

During an interview, your primary goal is to be relatable and connect with the employer. That's difficult to do, says Drexler, when you sound stiff and monotonous. Using filler words gives you the chance to pause, reflect and deliver answers with a normal cadence and inflection to your voice. It also stops you from rambling.

"People want to hire people they like." -Barry Drexler, interview coach

Imagine that an interviewer asks you about your previous job experience, says Drexler. A rote response would sound something like this: "My last job was at Bank of America. My position was a bank teller and I provided exceptional service to customers on a daily basis."

A more colloquial answer would be this: "Well, I previously worked at Bank of America as a bank teller and uh … There, I provided exceptional customer service at our local branch and was basically tasked with resolving customer issues in a timely manner."

While you're essentially delivering the same content in both responses, says Drexler, the use of filler words makes the second answer sound much more conversational, warm and inviting.

"People want to hire people they like," says the interview coach. "They want to hire normal people who sound comfortable in their own skin and who talk normally. They don't want to hire a robot."

Drexler says that job candidates are commonly misadvised to avoid the use of all filler words, which makes them come off as mechanical and rigid in an already nerve-wracking environment.

Speaking more conversationally also allows you to produce higherer caliber answers, says Drexler, because you're able to hesitate mid-sentence and really think about how to frame your responses. He points to public speakers, such as former president Barack Obama, who pause for effect and use drawn out "uhs" to punctuate their speech and make their words resonate with their audience.

Finally, filler words can act as a transition between two ideas or statements. Compare this response, "I worked as a teller at Bank of America. Before that, I was an associate at M&T Bank. And before that, I worked at Chase," to this response, "I worked as a bank teller at Bank of America and uh … prior to that, I was an associate at a local M&T Bank."

The flow in the second answer is less repetitive because the filler words insert a natural pause, says the interview expert. "Contrary to what people think, you definitely want to have your 'you knows' and 'ums.'"

With that said, Drexler warns against the overuse of these words, noting that there's a marked difference between, "I previously worked as a bank teller, where I was in a um … customer-facing role," and "Um … I previously worked as a bank teller and uh … you know, I worked in like a uh … customer-facing role."

"You want to sound like you're having a normal conversation with someone," explains Drexler. "So then the interviewer will feel relaxed [and] you'll feel relaxed."

"That's how you establish rapport," he says, adding "That's how you get hired."

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