June 19, 2012
Remedies for interview rambling
If you've ever taken a public speaking or presentation skills class, you've probably heard the time-tested advice: "Tell them what you're going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you've told them."
This advice applies to interviewing, as well.
While hundreds of books have been written outlining how to respond to virtually every interview question under the sun, few of these resources talk much about the flow of the interview itself -- and the proper way to transition in and out of your answers so that you don't sound like a robot who just memorized a stack of flash cards.
That's where the advice from the opening paragraph comes in. When asked a question in an interview, don't overcomplicate things. Start your response by simply answering the question, directly, in yes-or-no fashion. Don't miss the chance to look hiring managers in the eye and tell them exactly what they want to hear.
Sounds easy, doesn't it?
This approach is less common than you'd think. For example, I was role-playing an interview with a client of mine the other day and asked her if she was good at managing projects. Instead of providing a straightforward answer, however, she launched into some tangential thoughts about project management and then told a long, convoluted story about a project she had managed once upon a time. In hindsight, I wish she'd just told me straight out, "Yes, Matt, I'm extremely good at project management and consider that area one of my strong suits."
Had she framed her answer this way, right from the beginning, it would have had a much stronger impact. But many job hunters overlook this simple step, either because of nerves or the desire to regurgitate some flowery answer they had read in an interviewing book somewhere.
As for how to end your interview responses, that's a potential area of improvement for many job hunters, too. Many candidates talk until they run out of steam or eventually just trail off to the point at which the interviewer decides to interrupt them. This is not ideal, as you might imagine.
Instead, concentrate on sticking the landing. Restate the question that was originally asked and reconfirm that you have exactly what the interviewer is looking for. In other words, tell 'em what you told 'em.
In the situation shared earlier, for example, my client could have ended her response on a powerful and highly structured note by saying, "Hopefully, Matt, that gives you a good sense of my project management capabilities. I'd be happy to elaborate further or provide additional examples of the projects I've handled over the years, if needed."
Following this basic technique will give you a natural stopping point and signal to the hiring manager that you weren't talking merely to hear your own voice, but in an attempt to provide a thoughtful, relevant answer to a specific question. What's more, you'll get brownie points for a being a polished communicator.
This might not be the most sophisticated piece of advice you'll ever hear about interviewing, but these guidelines are relatively simple and could make a big difference in your results. You'll be given a lot more leeway in terms of what you say in the middle of your interview answers if you always make sure there's a great beginning and end to the story.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
Paul Anderson helps professionals in transition find their desired employment.
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