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The Big Question to Ask When Interviewing

“After you’ve been speaking for 90 seconds without interruption, the interviewer is barely listening at all.” ~ from Don’t Talk Too Much

This week, three people have told me that during interviews, they have a tendency to ramble. It’s not coincidence – talking to “fill up the space” during an interview, or to provide detail beyond what is truly necessary, is an all too common mistake made by nervous candidates.

Most of us have been guilty of it, including myself, so the number one piece of advice I give? Answer in two to three sentences, then ask this:

“Would you like me to elaborate?”

This one question is incredibly powerful.  Why?

  1. It forces you to get to the most important points upfront.

  2. It encourages interaction with the interviewer (they can ask follow up questions), and

  3. It shows you respect their time. Remember, they have more than one question they want to ask!

There are a ton of articles that will tell you to practice your answers, and yes, that is important too. But you have to remember to ask this question at the end of your response!

And why exactly are long-winded answers dangerous?

“Rambling during an interview could be a sign that you aren’t really that confident about your skills and qualifications, or about your ability to articulate what you bring to the organization…When you have provided an answer to the question and continue talking, the listener is likely to tune out the remainder of your soliloquy…If you can’t demonstrate your ability to conserve time and produce answers that meet the interviewer’s requirements, it’s questionable whether you can manage your responsibilities and tasks if you were to be hired.” ~ from What Happens If You Ramble During An Interview?

Of course, it isn’t always the kiss of death, but the risks can be high that you won’t get a call back for another interview if your answers end up monopolizing the conversation. When I schedule interviews, I always tell candidates how long I expect it to last. So when the first “give me an overview of your background” question kicks off for a 30 minute interview, and the candidate is still talking away 10 minutes into it? I get the impression that the candidate thinks what they have to say is much more important than what I’m going to ask and/or share with them during the conversation. If I try to interrupt and ask them to wrap up their answer, but don’t (and let me tell you, it’s happened too much), that almost always makes it an automatic “no”. Why? I don’t know an office in the world where the hiring team wants someone who is going to disregard them during the interview (or in the workplace).

Catch yourself rambling and want to recover? Admit you rambled and apologize! I always respect someone who catches an error then rectifies it right then – it shows me they can course correct not just in communications, but in the workplace as a whole. In other words, maturity.

If it doesn’t sink in til you get home that you might have commandeered the interview by talking too much? Here are a few additional tips to potentially swing the pendulum back in your favor.

So remember, y’all, it is absolutely possible to communicate who you are..without sharing every single tidbit that’s in your brain. Keep it concise, and remember to ask that question at the end of your thought.

“The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.” ~ Thomas Jefferson


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