When less is more in job interviews

Q: I find in interviews that I talk too much. I feel that I lose both the interviewer and myself. Once I get into this cycle I don’t know how to stop. I can’t find my way back to what I should be talking about, and I start to get frustrated. This makes the problem even worse. How can I stop myself going on so much in job interviews? (MD, email)

A: It’s often said about a Best Man at a wedding that he can’t stand up – and he can’t sit down. Talking too much is frequently a function of nervousness. Many people find it very difficult to know when to stop and what generally happens then is that they talk until somebody else talks over them to stop their flow.

In my experience, the one area that will lead you to talking too much in job interviews is when you give examples. People often feel the need to give far more examples than is necessary.

Try to confine your examples to two or three per question. So if you’re trying to prove that you are a team worker give, as I said, two or at most three examples – be it from your work, personal life, or involvement in various community or voluntary organisations.

An interviewer can only take so much information on board. If you happen to get to the interview panel late in the day, they may well be quite fatigued and unable to concentrate, as you lead them through a circuitous route of five, six or seven different examples.

So, to explore a practical solution to your problem, practice giving shorter examples and beware that trying to explain in greater detail can actually lead to greater confusion, not greater clarity. An interviewer is like somebody driving along the road who pulls in to get directions only to be told that the place they’re looking for is after the next right, next left, left again, right and right and right and left again…

They are unlikely to be able to absorb that level of detail. Nor can the interviewer go with you, as you embark upon this hazy journey through your examples and career to date.

So I will be very surprised if the problem happens anywhere other than when you’re giving examples.  How about limiting yourself to just one example per answer for the next job interview?

And, most importantly of all, when you feel you have said enough and you want to stop, just stop. Slam on the brakes. There is no need to talk beyond that point where you feel you have given enough.

Let the silence linger. The onus is on the interviewer to fill the silence.

There may well be three people on their side of the table so there are enough of them to come up with another question to break the silence. Don’t be afraid of the silence. When you’re finished, just stop.


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