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Miss Conduct

Acing the interview

Tip One: Don’t make “perfect eye contact.” Plus, advice on dealing with a parent who takes advantage of your generosity.

>I recently had a job interview. Toward the end, one of the interviewers glanced at the clock; I asked whether I was talking too much. When I left, I felt really good, as if I had given it my all. The interviewers seemed receptive to my perfect eye contact and the amount of preparation. I made them laugh a few times, too. What are the nuances and idiosyncrasies that I should pay attention to during an interview?

W.J.  / Swampscott

Whoa there, tiger. You might be injecting just a little too much intensity into the proceedings. Your Holmesian powers of observation are excellent, but sweet fancy Moses, keep them to yourself. Nothing is worse than being caught out in a surreptitious yawn or watch-glance. Give folks the courtesy of pretending you don’t notice their every twitch and fart. And “perfect eye contact”? I don’t know how it’s possible to do that with multiple people, but even if it is, you shouldn’t. It makes their brains all fighty-flighty. Sustained eye contact in the animal kingdom means you have one of two intentions, neither of which is to be the new head of accounts. (Also, your goal isn’t to be able to say, “I made them laugh.” It should be “We even laughed together.” See the difference?)

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You seem like a nice person, and I’m sure you were polite and articulate and prepared. But you need to ease up on your scrutiny. No one wants to work with a colleague who maintains perfect eye contact and tries to make people laugh. We want to work with people who make us feel competent and comfortable.

>My mother sometimes borrows my car, which is fine, except that she keeps it much longer than she says she will. I wouldn’t mind her taking the car for a prolonged period if she’d simply tell me first, instead of assuming I won’t need it and disappearing for hours. I think it’s inconsiderate but don’t know how to address it, particularly because she is my mother.

K.D. / Anna Maria Island, Florida

The next time Mom asks to borrow your car, instead of waiting for her to tell you how long she needs it, tell her when you need it back. Don’t ask or negotiate or give reasons; just set your terms. “Can I borrow the car Saturday?” “Sure, pick it up any time, but I need it back by three” or even “Take it all day; drop the keys through the mail slot when you’re done.” If she isn’t back by the time you’ve requested, call her. (People who are borrowing your car should be accessible by cellphone while they have it.) If she’s late, point out that you’d agreed on a return time and give her a for-your-own-good hard time. Your one and only cherished mother and this expensive possession disappear together, and you’re not supposed to worry?

That’s the text, now on to the subtext. Do you find that you and your mother often make assumptions about the other? Communicate indirectly? Do you often feel that you can’t say what you need to because “she’s my mother”? If so, you need to start clearing away this deadwood now and creating the skills and structure for more honest conversations. Because someday the answer to “Can I borrow your car?” might be “No, Mom. It isn’t safe for you to drive.”

 Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.

NEED MISS CONDUCT’S HELP? Write to her at missconduct@globe.com. And read her blog at boston.com/missconduct.

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