ask the readers: how can I have more energy in interviews?

I’m throwing this one out to readers to weigh in on. A reader writes:

I’ve been out of work for over a year, taking some freelance work (mostly unpaid) here and there.

Recently, I’ve received feedback from a few interviewers that while my credentials and interview question answers are all stellar, they felt I lacked enthusiasm and energy during the meeting. In term, this issue is read as a lack of interest in the position.

I have tried to think of ways to counteract this, to appear engaged and positive without seeming unprofessional or immature. However, I can’t seem to get over this hurdle. Do you have any advice?

Readers, what do you say?


{ 75 comments… read them below }

  1. SJ*

    Have you ever read any books on body language? I happened to find one in a communal bookshelf and it made me a lot more aware. The one I read was The Power of Body Language, by Tonya Reiman. I haven’t read any others, so don’t have any others to recommend, but I found that one helpful both professionally and personally.

  2. fposte*

    Do you know what they mean by this–is it facial expression, voice, body language, turn of phrase, all of the above? Is there somebody you’ve worked with before or a friend who might be able to give you more insight if you don’t know?

  3. John*

    For energy, sit on the edge of your chair, which will cause you to lean into the interviewer. Chairs are a devise that sucks the energy out of people, so you don’t want to sit back.

  4. Mike C.*

    Make sure you get plenty of sleep, you’ve eaten an appropriate amount of time before the interview, and maybe a few choice stimulants would help.

    Also, find a few things to be excited about regarding the job or the company at large.

    1. fposte*

      Though when I think of the people I know who’d have a similar problem, it’s not that they aren’t excited, it’s that their excitement doesn’t register as excitement. One, fortunately, was able to come off as crisp and efficient (which she was) rather than excited, and I think that was sufficient to compensate.

      1. Kelly L.*

        I have this too. It’s not even resting bitchface so much as it’s resting nothingface. It actually helps sometimes when I need to conceal that I’m royally pissed off in a meeting or something, but for interviews, I have to fake a little visible excitement on top of my actual excitement. Definitely lots of coffee and a good meal (but not so big it makes you sleepy) and then the thing I visualize is that my eyes are lighting up, like an excited cartoon character. It’s hard to describe. I think what I’m really doing is just opening them a little wider and making sure to make eye contact.

        1. MP*

          I’ve been told that I’m extremely hard to read with my nothingface, so when I need to bump up the excitement it comes off as insincere or even snarky. Coffee works a little for me, but it’s a fine line between excitement and anxiety (as mentioned down thread). I also only apply to jobs that I’m truly interested in anyway, so that helps to answer any questions aroun why I applied in the first place (recognizing not everyone has this luxury if they’re unemployed).

      2. Lindsay J*

        I’ve had this problem before. It was in a phone screening and part of the issue was that I wasn’t feeling 100%. However, I’m also just not a physically demonstrative person by nature. At sporting events etc I’m not up yelling and screaming, I don’t usually openly cry when I’m sad, I have a hard time acting goofy even around children, etc.

        I was actually called out by the interviewer during the screening – she said something along the lines of, “You don’t really sound very excited about this position.” I assured her I was excited, and that maybe it wasn’t carrying across in my voice because I was ill at the time, etc. I thought I had engaging answers to the questions she had asked, and when offered the opportunity I asked what I felt were good questions (including the magic question). However, I’m pretty sure by that point the damage was done and the perception that I wasn’t enthusiastic ruined my chances no matter how well the actual content of the interview went.

        I just kind of chalked it up to an issue of fit. If my lack of enthusiasm (ie not being super bubbly) was going to be a problem in the interview, it was likely going to be a problem every day on the job. I don’t want spend my days being lectured for not being smily enough or not having enough pieces of flair or whatever, and so not being hired might have been a blessing in disguise.

        However, since it sounds like you have received this feedback from multiple interviewers I would try to get to the bottom of the issue. Will any of them provide specific feedback on what made them feel like you lacked energy or enthusiasm? Or can you do a mock interview with a friend to get the same feedback? Is the personality type people look for or expect to deal with in your industry significantly different than your own? If so is that something you can overcome? Are you maybe equating being professional with being stiff and stuffy when if you relaxed and let your true personality shine through you would be fine?

  5. coconutwater*

    Do you have a mentor or someone you can work with one on one? It might be helpful to get feedback from someone you trust, in the moment. You can practise as well as video tape yourself so to see what interviewers are seeing. In preparing for an interview-the day of, perhaps listening to music that makes you feel pumped up or like dancing might help put you in a higher energy mode.

  6. Seal*

    A few suggestions, in no particular order:
    – smile and nod, or at the very least have an interested look on your face. Practice with a mirror if necessary.
    – sit up straight and lean forward a bit.
    – make eye contact with the interviewer or anyone else who asks you a question.
    – don’t fidget.
    – jot down a few notes during the interview of items that interest and ask about them.
    – make sure you come up with questions to ask in advance.
    – do your homework about the company so if they ask, you are prepared to discuss.
    – end the interview by thanking them for their time, telling them how much you enjoyed meeting everyone, and that you would very much like to work there. Smile when you say it.

    The successful candidates I hired all do variations of the above.

    1. LizNYC*

      +1 to all of these. Plus, if you can get to a point in your interview where you’re really having a conversation rather than question, pause, answer, pause, *awkward silence* I think you’re on your way too. (That said, taking a pause before you answer is SO helpful to formulating thoughtful answers or even just to pep talk yourself into not freaking out.)

      1. JW*

        You might be doing this, but I want to reiterate the asking questions part. It’s one of the best ways to show interest and excitement in the job.

        Also, don’t be afraid to say that you’re “excited to be here.”

  7. just laura*

    Facially– smile at people; raise your eyebrows when listening (not in a creepy way!). Vocally– have some inflection. Get feedback from close friends about how you come off. I have some friends who look negative or seem awkward on the surface, and I think they lack a general warmth. Can you describe what you think the issue is?

    1. tcookson*

      LOL about not raising your eyebrows “in a creepy way”! I picture someone doing the Joey-from-Friends “How you doin’?

  8. Jim*

    Make sure you have plenty of information about the job and the company do some research and you’ll seem interested and enthusiastic .

    1. voluptuousfire*

      +1. I definitely have the same problem as the OP. I’ve been out of work for awhile and find it hard to muster up the proper enthusiasm for some of the positions I’ve interviewed for. While I’m friendly and alert, I don’t necessarily appear as interested as I should be.

      One thing to do: come with a list of prepared questions. Having those written down shows you mean business. Showing you mean business = interested. My last job interview I had about a dozen questions prepared and while I didn’t ask all of them, the interviewer definitely liked the fact that I was prepared. Also, print out a copy of the job description so you have it for reference.

  9. The Other Me*

    Do mock interviews with someone. And if you can, record yourself during this exercise.

    It might be uncomfortable to watch afterwards, but you will likely get insight into how others are seeing you that you wouldn’t otherwise.

  10. Lindsay*

    Toastmasters!! You get instant feedback on how you come across to people and tons of practice talking to and in front of people. Visit Toastmasters dot org, there are clubs EVERYWHERE.

    (Sorry, I’m turning into the crazy Toastmasters pusher.)

    1. Jennifer O*

      Another vote for Toastmasters.

      The practice you get speaking – along with the immediate feedback – are so incredibly useful. I have several friends who have credited Toastmasters with increasing their comfort in interview situations.

    1. Victoria Nonprofit*

      This is the best TED talk I’ve ever seen. I think I was the person who recommended it!

      1. Colette*

        I think you might have been, actually! I loved it, and actually suggested to my manager that we think about how it might help our customer service reps.

      2. NutellaNutterson*

        Hah, I recommend it to everyone, too! I use the “fake it till you become it” idea with folks a lot, too. I love the idea that though it starts out feeling awkward like an elementary school play, eventually it becomes part of your toolkit and you can utilize those skills whenever you have the need.

      3. Anonymous*

        Hah! I posted the link without reading the comments first and was suggesting the same thing! Worked wonders for a friend who had the same problem as the OP describes.

    2. Rachel*

      Wow, thank you for posting this. I’ve tried to be aware of my body language in interviews but I always end up making myself small. I will definitely try this for my next interview!

  11. Heather*

    Join Toastmasters, get into community theater, take a standup class… basically do something that teaches you to be more performative. It will seriously help!

  12. Laurie*

    I’ve received this feedback a lot, and I have to get into “performance” mode mentally (I’m an introvert).

    And in addition to all the tips mentioned above i.e practicing, increasing voice inflection, I also make sure I am well caffeinated :D


    1. voluptuousfire*

      But not too much! Having to go mid-interview isn’t fun. :p Or being so over-caffeinated you’re jittery and fidgety.

      1. Kelly O*

        Um, yeah I will second this one – too much coffee is a BAD thing during an interview. I did it unintentionally (and it was a meet at the coffee shop interview anyway, so there was the cup I had to have there….)

        Let me tell y’all, that was an embarrassing interview. I think my eyes were twitching so badly I don’t even want to think about it. Remember that episode of Saved by the Bell when Jessie takes the caffeine pill to study? That, only in a suit.

        1. Kelly L.*

          I’m so excited! I’m so…scared!

          (I think that episode was a cultural touchstone for so many of us…)

      2. Laurie*

        Haha yeah I can see how that would backfire.

        I have a very high tolerance for coffee, meaning I would need 12+ oz. of strong, black coffee to really be twitchy and jittery in an interview. If I have a usual starbucks sugary drink, I’m sufficiently caffeinated to appear enthusiastic and excited about the job.

        I’m probably also starting from a very low base of excitability. Most people who’ve worked with me tell me I appear verrrry calm, like nothing bothers me. So maybe I need more caffeine than the average person…


  13. Senor Poncho*

    Pretty sure I had (have, I suppose, although I haven’t had to interview in a while now) this same issue. Fake it til you make it seems to be the credited advice on this one though.

  14. LibKae*

    Like most of the people so far, I’d look at things like if you’re smiling, if you’re leaning slightly towards the interviewer(s), if your voice indicates interest — general body language-type cues that show interest.

    If it helps, I think of that sort of thing under the category of “fake it ’til you make it”. You’re hopefully at least a bit interested in the job, since you applied for it — you’re just tired from all the interviews, so it’s not the interest in the job you need to fake, just the appearance of it. If you ever did any acting in school, this would be the time to bring it out. You are playing the role of you as a person excited about this job.

  15. Lucy*

    I actually just rejected someone otherwise qualified due to a severe perceived lack of enthusiasm… one of the main things that stuck out to me was that she didn’t ask me any questions about the role, our industry, or give me any real reason why she was applying for the job. It wasn’t that she wasn’t a cheerleader (I’m quite dry myself) but I don’t want to give a job to someone who couldn’t care less, and take it away from someone who actually wanted it.

    So I think you can make up for a lack of bubble by just seeming genuinely interested in the job.

    1. Nodumbunny*

      Yes, I think folks here have made a lot of good suggestions, but I think that if it is hard for you to make yourself appear “bubbly” and wildly enthusiastic about the job (although everyone can smile and make eye contact), you can make up for that by doing your research on the company so that you can ask smart questions and they know that you did your research (and not critical questions but “When I was looking at your website I noticed x, can you tell me more about that.”)

    2. VictoriaHR*

      That was going to be my question – what questions are the OP asking at the end? Do they show that she (going with she for brevity) is researching the company before her interview, and genuinely interested in making the company better? Or is she focusing on what she needs out of a job?

  16. CollegeAdmin*

    Wear something with some color. I’m not advocating a fluorescent tie or a rainbow polka-dot shirt, but a nice solid bright color brings light to your face and makes you look more awake and engaged.

  17. Malissa*

    Lacking enthusiasm is such a vague description. I’ve often seen this used where people really mean lack of engagement. Are you making eye contact? Are you smiling? Are you actively listening?
    I would try to make sure eye contact happens. Make sure you smile. If you can work a joke or two into the conversation that might help.
    Make sure you’ve researched the company. Lack of knowledge about the company that is readily available on the internet does show a lack of enthusiasm. Since I tend to get into the moment and forget things I often make a list of the company’s highlights and things I found interesting that I can glance at. If asked to explain I just say I found so many interesting things that I wanted to make sure I didn’t forget one.
    Little things can go a long way. Good Luck!!

    1. Kelly O*

      I always wonder what exactly they mean by enthusiasm when this gets brought up.

      I can be perfectly interested and engaged, but not be all “rah-rah” about a topic. And honestly there is really not a lot worse than someone who is clearly not comfortable with the smile or the joke trying desperately to sell it.

      I would think that the best way to appear enthusiastic would be to do your homework, and to have solid, thoughtful answers to questions. Not necessarily spitting back out something from an interview guidebook, but really getting at the core of what you are all about.

      To me, “enthusiasm” is so vague and subjective, I have a hard time figuring out how to make changes, or if they’re even necessary (meaning – was that just a weird interviewer, and a sign it might not be the greatest cultural fit ever.)

  18. Lucy*

    Language is important too- not that you should be parroting the interviewer, but if you can pick up on a few key phrases they use to describe their business and use that language later, it can show you are engaged and listening.

    I also agree with the suggestion to do research and ask questions- enthusiasm in an interview doesn’t have to be all “BOOM! POW!”– that’s just not everyone’s personality. However, I think that well-researched, thought-provoking questions prove that you are engaged and excited.

    1. fposte*

      Additionally: answer in full sentences, even for yes or no questions, and if you tend toward a lot of vocal fry, try to refrain–it can sound like you’re sleepy.

    2. plain jane*

      I agree, language is quite important. When you have a chance to infuse those positive action words into your answers do so. Also emphasis, e.g. “really like” vs. “like”.

      “I got into teapot making by fluke, but I’m constantly surprised at how much it speaks to the things that I really loved about computer science when I did that in school.” (my standard reply to my non-standard degree for the industry)

      “The thing I really like about this industry how people come back to you later and tell you about how collecting Teapots connects them to so many new friends.”

      “I’m really energized by the opportunity that Teapot Manufacturing gives me to work with lots of different teams, from design to manufacturing to our retailers and final clients. I always find that the best work comes out of bringing the diverse viewpoints together.”

  19. JenTheNiceHRGirl*

    A lot of it is just company culture and a matter of preference. I have a friend who was told the same thing by an interviewer, so for her next interview she tried her best to show that she was enthusiastic, and was told that she wasn’t a good fit because she was “too bubbly”. Sometimes you just can’t win, so it is best to just be yourself. That being said, there are some great pieces of advice above. Preparation is very important and things like getting a good night’s sleep, eating a good breakfast, making sure that you look your best, etc… will certainly help as well. Think about the reasons that you are excited to interview for the job and be prepared to use them as examples. Think about what you would do if you were already in that role, how would you contribute to the team, etc… find things that really excite you about the job and when you talk about them, the enthusiasm should naturally show through. Also, smile, make eye contact, and make sure that there is nothing in your body language that could be causing an interviewer to think you are not engaged (like leaning away or looking at the clock etc…)Good luck!

    1. Anonymous*

      This is a great point. As a naturally non-excitable person, if I act excited during the interview they’ll expect me to be like that all the time, which would be horrible.

  20. Ann Furthermore*

    I find when I work out in the morning that I have more energy all day long — I’m more engaged, more productive, and less likely to fall victim to the post-lunch slump where all you want to do is curl up under your desk and take a nap.

    Also, do you find that you’re better at certain times of the day than others? If you’re a morning person, try to schedule interviews early in the day. If you get a second wind mid-day, try to schedule them later. Of course, you’re usually at the mercy of the interviewer(s) so this might not always work.

  21. Yuu*

    I wonder if it is because you have been on so many interviews that it is hard to get excited about *this* one. Burn out is easy with this kind of thing, because protecting your heart from rejection can unfortunately be the cause of it.

    A way to fake it is to try to think of someone who does make you talk animatedly, and pretend you are talking to them. Another is to try to practice “mirroring” the other person to promote bonding/empathy.

    1. voluptuousfire*

      Definitely the burnout. It’s like going on yet another date that’s most likely not going to go anywhere but there’s that dim hope that this may be *the* date that keeps you going.

      I live in an outer borough of NYC and I look at my interviews in Manhattan as a chance to get out of the house and maybe walk around a bit (weather permitting) or treat myself to lunch at my favorite pizzeria or pick up some inexpensive wine at the Trader Joe’s wine store on 14th street. I don’t look at the interview as the main focus. I think of what I’m going to do afterward and it does help bring some enthusiasm to the task.

      OP, if you can, why not refocus your interview perspective? Plan a little something nice for yourself after the interview and use that as the motivation for your mood. Plan to treat yourself for a cup of coffee at that new coffeehouse in town or take yourself for a glass of wine at happy hour at your favorite restaurant or the trip to the library to take out that book you’ve been dying to read. Having that thing to look forward to could help a lot.

  22. ThisWholeMessSucks*

    Consider actually making a personal connection to the position and using the word “exciting” in some form.

    My example – In my interview I was told of an opportunity to grow the product line by entering the educational product market. Since education is a big part of my volunteer work, I made that connection known to the interviewer, smiled big like I was getting ideas coming through already, and made sure to follow-up later in the interview by connecting that opportunity as “part of” my excitement about this position.

  23. LCL*

    I know this issue of body language/perceived lack of enthusiasm has been discussed at length in one comment thread here. Can’t remember where, though.

    What type of business are you applying to? It seems weird that more than one would say that. Which tells me they are looking for a very specific way to project yourself. So observe someone in that profession who does well, and model your “act” on them.

  24. The Other Dawn*

    We once had someone interview with us and she had a total deadpan expression for much of the time. We ended up hiring her, despite the perceived lack of enthusiasm, and she turned out to be a great find. After she had been here for awhile we joked with her about how unenthusiastic and deadpan she was. She said that she had been on many interviews that became rejections and she was at the point where she just expected to be rejected. She was also nervous.

    I would suggest smiling, not grinning from ear to ear the whole time, and letting that smile makes it’s way into your eyes. Ask questions. And lean in towards the interviewer. Toastmasters is a great idea, too. That way you can get some practice and gets lots of feedback.

  25. Marina*

    Practice active listening. Open your eyes wider, nod, smile, or say “hm” in response to the interviewer speaking, don’t wait til the end of their sentence to show any response. (Although of course wait to start talking.)

  26. Ms Enthusiasm*

    Can you think of anything you are really passionate about? Something like a hobby, or a favorite sports team, or your kids? When you are talking about something you are really passionate about or that you love there is bound to be more expression in your voice. Can you compare how you sound when talking about something you are passionate about compared to when you are in an interview? Can you translate that into finding something about the prospective job you might be passionate about? Or even just faking it.

  27. Mallorie, the recruiter*

    I think it is nice they gave you this feedback. This is the biggest reason I do no pursue candidates to be honest. A lot of it is in the voice. I hear “I love customer service!” but it is said in the way of “I my dog just died…” and I can’t get over it. You def need inflection in the voice and to sound passionate about what you are saying. I try to use the trick of smiling while I talk, especially over the phone. Also, while staying profession is super important, don’t be afraid to let your personality shine through – it not only lets them know who they’ll be working with but I think also helps people to come off as more likable and less stiff.

  28. Michael*

    I wonder if the OP truly is excited about the jobs she’s applying for. We have nothing in the letter to say for or against, but it’s worth noting that you’d have a much harder time faking when nothing’s there than communicating emotions that truly exist.

    In addition to what’s recommended above, write up a list of the parts of a job you’re very interested in or excited about when you get an interview. Let that list come to mind as you use body language to convey interest and engagement. And maybe even use language like, “X, Y and Z are things I’m passionate about and want in the next step in my career, so I’m very excited to hear you describe them in this job.”

  29. periwinkle*

    The usual “do you have any questions for us” query is your chance to end on a sparkly note. Ask questions that focus on what the manager needs from you to make her department/project/whatever successful. This demonstrates an enthusiasm not just for the job, but for the manager’s goals. Ask the manager about her department’s biggest challenges, especially any she mentioned during the course of the interview (if any). To riff on AAM’s magic question, follow that up by asking her to define what an exemplary performer in this position would do to help meet those challenges.

    People think you’re fascinating when you encourage them to talk about themselves. :-) In this case, though, you’re also showing the manager that you’re interested in *this* position, not just *a* position.

    This assumes, of course, that you’re sufficiently intrigued by the position to want to learn more about it.

    1. Anonymous*

      Duh, just noticed this has been suggested multiple times! At least it shows how the talk makes a huge difference, if so many people recommend it :-).

  30. huh*

    I don’t know- if a candidate has exp./education and interest demonstrated by their interview and questions asked….I don’t care if they are HIGH ENERGY. Personally, I usually wonder why someone is so energetic- drugs? sports addict? hyperactive? A calm, professional, engaged candidate that’s impressive.

  31. BW*

    Has been said by several people above and is worth repeating: It will go a long way if you just remember to:

    – Smile a lot, and
    – Explicitly say to the interviewer: “I’m excited about this position” (and have a reason ready because 99% of the time they’ll ask you why)

  32. Kerr*

    For myself, three things are incredibly important: a good night’s sleep, a proper breakfast (protein!), and coffee. Especially breakfast – even more than coffee. The few times that I had a morning interview and tried to operate without breakfast, the results were…not pretty.

    Someone upthread suggested sitting near the edge of the chair. As a PSA to interviewers everywhere: please don’t offer plush, cushy chairs to your interviewees! I’m sure they’re great for helping clients relax, but there’s nothing so annoying as sitting with your knees scrunched up, trying to sit up straight and project your voice in a low, half-reclining, plush leather chair.

    1. Green*

      If you’re out of work, getting on a reasonable schedule could help (rather than sleeping in late, going to bed late, etc.). If you’re used to waking up at 10, and have to get up at 7 to get ready for an interview, you may get plenty of sleep the night before but not be on your A-game. It takes two weeks to build a habit, so it’s worth getting up and at it a little earlier.


  33. Chris*

    Before the interview, eat, and listen to lively music. Like this:

    Or this:

    Or listen to something absurd. Like this:

    Or realize you have it good and that it could be worse. Like these “poor souls”:

    Or just listen to something energetic. You get the idea. If there’s a waiting lobby, try to listen to music while waiting. Energy is good, because….

    …you can’t assume your interviewer will be. Some interviewers are living corpses. It’s been suggested that when you’re in a room, other people will feed off your energy. If you’re in good spirits, others will be too. If you walk in depleted or depressed, the mood will be depressing and it’ll suck. And if your interview is an hour +, it’s difficult to stay energetic without moving or food.

    That being said, still have a good interview (STAR method, or if you need a story, practice your story like that guy in Resevoir Dogs (which you should watch if you haven’t seen), etc.). But I’ve found that coming in with energy helps and can sometimes bounce off your interviewer as well.

    Last thing, people suggesting to “smile,” how could you all tell OP that without linking this:


  34. Amy*

    I understand completely! I think I am normally a very engaged, high energy person. But when I go into an interview, it’s like all that energy is drained. This thread has some really helpful tips. I’ve also done a couple of mock interviews to critique myself.

    For me, the biggest problem is the inflection and tone of my voice. I start talking in a monotone, especially to typical interview questions that I have answered before. I still haven’t figured out to how to eliminate it completely, but I do know when I answer more atypical questions I am more animated. Like if someone asks what I do in my spare time, I talk about my dog. I can’t really talk about my dog without getting a little over-excited.

    I sometimes have issues with body language, but the Amy Cuddy TED talk and other internet info on body language, power poses, etc. have helped me with that.

    I know that this isn’t always an easy fix, even with all the great resources and advice in the world. Don’t give up though! Even small changes can really give you a better image to interviewers.

  35. Two-elled Allison*

    I don’t know if I’m alone in this, but my first thought was that this sounds like code. I could be way off base, but wanting more “energy” from an interviewee seems like another way of asking a female job candidate to lose a few years.

    Do men ever get feedback that they didn’t display enough “energy” and “enthusiasm?” And if they do, do they get it as often as women? I have a hard time picturing a man not getting a job because he lacked “energy” and “enthusiasm.” Again, the person being interviewed could be just a particularly dour 23-year-old man, and I might be making completely untrue assumptions. But this is the way it reads to me: that a woman doesn’t just have to show that she’s qualified, but also how delighted she is to be grilled by people who have power over the direction of her career.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’ve definitely not hired men because they seemed sluggish or not particularly enthusiastic. And when I think of the people (men and women) I’ve been concerned weren’t sufficiently energetic/enthusiastic, they’ve mainly been young. So I don’t think it’s code for age or gender (although I understand why it could sound that way, given the general cultural context that says it’s okay to tell women to smile all the time, etc.).

  36. John*

    Talk faster. It sounds simplistic, but speaking quickly does add energy to what you are saying. Think about the lethargic tone of a tired or bored person. Even if it sounds unusually fast to you, they won’t know because they are not familiar with your typical speech patterns. SMILE when talking about your interest in the position/what attracted you to the position.

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