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Communicating effectively while wearing a mask at a job interview

Even before COVID-19, people wearing face masks in public is a common sight in China and other east Asian countries where a mask-wearing culture is strongly rooted. It is seen as a sign of respect to those around you to use a mask when feeling unwell to avoid spreading infections. In business situations, however, face masks can be an impediment to communicating effectively as they hide our facial expressions and make it difficult to hear what others say.

During a job interview, you may be wondering whether it’s better to keep your mask on or remove it. In this article, we offer tips on whether to wear a mask during an interview and how to facilitate communication even while wearing a mask.

1. Confirm mask-wearing guidelines before the interview

Many companies have started accepting visitors into their offices after social distancing measures have slightly been relaxed. However, companies do often require visitors, including interviewees, to wear masks. We recommend keeping your mask on during an interview as a show of courtesy and to prevent possible infections. In case there are any special exceptions, check with your career consultant on what the organisation’s guidelines are regarding masks before the interview.

2. Inform your interviewer

After entering the room and greeting the interviewer, it’s a good idea to inform them in the beginning if you plan to keep your mask on for the interview. Let them know that they can interject at any time if they have any trouble hearing you.

3. Don’t be afraid of repeating yourself

When everyone is wearing masks, it is often difficult to catch what the other person is saying. Not to mention, with social distancing measures, sitting at least 2 meters apart makes it even more challenging to hear each other. You may be worried that you are unable to properly convey your message to the other party or feel frustrated that communication is not proceeding as smoothly as you would like. To ease your anxiety, it is best to just accept that there will be instances where you must repeat yourself and vice versa. If you are unable to hear the interviewer's explanations or questions, but feel that it's an important point, don't hesitate to raise it politely. For example, “Pardon me, but I couldn't quite hear after – but I think it's an important point. Could you please repeat it?”

4. Be more mindful of how you speak

Since your usual voice sounds quieter when your mouth is covered with a mask, try making your voice louder than usual when you speak. Also, since the voice becomes muffled and difficult to hear, it is also a good idea to speak with a slightly higher tone than usual. Make a conscious effort to enunciate each word as clearly as possible. Numbers and important keywords should be repeated twice or emphasized repeatedly when summarising a response to avoid misrepresentation. If you tend to speak faster than normal, slow down your pace so that it’s easier for the other person to follow. Short pauses before and after important keywords or stories that you want to emphasize will make it easier for the interviewer to digest. Before the interview, it is highly recommended to actually wear a mask and practice speaking. Record yourself answering interview questions and listen to see how your voice sounds. By adjusting to the appropriate tone, volume and speed, you can enter the interview without worrying how you will sound like.

5. Make effective use of eye contact and gestures

When half of the face is covered, reading others’ facial expressions is tricky. Therefore, eye contact and gestures are important. Be aware of eye contact when listening to the interviewer. To show that you are listening intently and understanding what the other person is saying, ensure that you are maintaining eye contact and nod your head when appropriate. Also, be aware that since your facial expressions are not visible, it’s possible to look unintentionally bored so try to be as lively as possible. When it’s your turn to speak, keep eye contact with the other person and don’t be afraid of using your arms and hands to make gestures. When used effectively, hand gestures can make you appear dynamic and enthusiastic. However, overdoing it can be distracting so find a good balance.

6. Stick to clean, simple masks

While there are many options of masks to choose from in terms of style and colour, it is safest to stick to plain white or pale blue masks for a clean look. If the colour of your mask is too loud or the pattern is too busy, this can be distracting for the other person. Try to keep your eyes as visible as possible by pulling back any hair that may cover them. The key is to be as presentable and neat as possible so as not to detract from having effective communication.

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