It’s not always a numbers game

When, in an interview training session, I hear a candidate start an answer with “there are five reasons…” or “I had six responsibilities…”, I know what’s coming next, writes Liam Horan, career coach, Sli Nua Careers.

Can you guess?

What’s coming next is confusion.

Almost without exception, the candidate will get stuck after three or four reasons. They won’t remember the list they have just flagged. And this will cause them great discomfort as they flap around trying to remember the elusive points. 

Liam Horan, BALLINROBE Tel: 094 95 42965

My advice is not to try harder to remember lists but to stop introducing definitive lists to the interview in the first place. When you say there are five reasons, you are under immediate pressure to give those five reasons. And that’s just too much pressure to put on yourself in an already pressurised situation.

When you flag five, you become fixated on five. You are setting yourself up for a fall and it is important to box more cleverly in an interview.

Flagging five is akin to an actor presenting the theatre audience with the script before the play so they can check if he misses a word or a line.

If we are writing a college essay, or a job application, or, er, a newspaper column offering tips on job searching, we can be definitive with lists. Writing is different to speaking. When speaking without notes, as we do in job interviews, it is best to give yourself a break by saying “there are a number of reasons…” or “some of my responsibilities were…”

Ditch the lists where you can at all.

The panel may ask you to provide a definitive list – e.g. to an emergency medical technician, “what are the five key things you must do when you arrive at the scene of a road accident” – and you will have to go to five then. But unless they look for five, you should avoid setting yourself such a defined target.