(Blog portion published in LinkedIn Pulse on July 19, 2016)
Ever wonder why you thought an interview went well when you didn’t make it to the next stage? Long-winded responses, narrating unnecessary war-stories or not giving the interviewer time to redirect are top reasons for an interviewer to rate a candidate poorly or provide inadequate feedback that prevents the candidate from moving forward to the next stage of interviews.
Interviewers use specific interviewing techniques, either intentionally or as learned method that comes naturally to them. While some interviewers let each interview take its course (free-form or with minimal guidance), most have a set of questions or topics to measure a candidate’s skills. A long response can destroy the interviewer’s plan or process and leave them with very little ability to gauge you and your skills. If you deem a long response as necessary, try these six techniques to make sure you come out of the interview with flying colors:
1. Set expectation. Acknowledge that your response is going to be long. Set expectation for what you are going to describe in the next several minutes. This gives an interviewer the chance to course correct: perhaps she expects a short answer, wants you to describe an approach or cover a specific topic.
2. Think about the outline for your response. A good story has a beginning, a body and a conclusion. Similarly think how you are going to structure a long response for greatest impact.
3. Where possible, share the outline. The interviewer is going to listen and summarize your narrative to remember it or take notes. Do them a favor and share the outline showing your structured approach and experience on the topic. Taking notes from your high quality outline verbatim saves the interviewer time and has three benefits – first, it helps them focus more on your narrative; second, they take high quality notes from you (with lower probability of an error) that helps them post-process the interview and third, they get a positive perception of your thought process and knowledge.
4. Take pauses. When meeting in person, read the body language and expressions to see if the interviewer is following you. This is perfect time to provide the interviewer an opportunity to interrupt or ask for clarifications. Especially when interviewing on the phone, after a lack of an explicit acknowledgement from the other side, state that you are going to pause to see if there are questions from the interviewer. Some VOIP-phones are not very good at delivering timely bi-directional traffic, i.e. the interviewer may say something short while you were talking and you may never hear it (for no fault of yours). So take pauses, they are your friend especially on the phone.
5. Abandon the narrative, if needed. If you have lost your audience, it’s better to re-engage on the next topic than continue fighting a lost cause. If you do not feel confident on the topic, or cannot connect with the audience, it is not imprudent to note that your response may have no common ground to relate to and suggest moving to the next topic to be judicious with time.
6. Save the war-stories for the water cooler. Adding short concrete examples within context helps add depth and color to your work experience. However, unless asked more information on a past event, avoid rambling on your favorite stories from the past. They may be great for a water cooler conversation or a social get together at work, but spare the interview from these and be more effective with the 30-60 minutes to highlight yourself and your experience.