Employer Branding Workplace

How to Zip It in Job Interviews

I had a client see me last week because she was concerned she would go off on a tangent in her job interview. She said she talked so much she was afraid she would lose the interviewer or shoot herself in the foot with something she said. She’d done it before and blown her chances.

Talking hind legs off donkeys?

This is not uncommon in an interview. Many people talk too much when they want to be believed. And a job interview is a real scenario where your faith in yourself is being challenged. My client said she talked too much because she thought that the interviewer was asking her for “more information” when they were looking at her blankly, so she felt she needed to keep going and going. She’d eventually forget the question she was answering. She also said that she was trying to cover all points, because often she didn’t quite understand what the interviewer was asking her.

My thoughts on this are, that if you are a chronic over-talker, to stop yourself talking and change your natural style will make you uncomfortable, so don’t try to be something you’re not in interview. What you can do though, is help the interviewer help you manage it.

Have I confused you?

Good communication is in how the message is received. There are some interviewers who like bullet points and some who like detail. If you’re a detail person, and your interviewer is a bullet pointer, you have a problem. You’ll not know this from the outset, so ask: “would you like me to give you detail or would you like the bullet points?” If you know this, you can work with this, and you’re more likely to stick with bullet points, if that’s what the interviewer prefers. You’re less likely to go off on a tangent at that point you see the interviewer’s eyes glaze over and you suddenly want to be believed.

Try these three tips next time:

  1. Clarify: If you don’t understand the point of the question clarify it at the start. Good questions to ask are “I’m not sure I quite understand the question” or “are you asking me about ‘a’ or ‘b’?” Once you get the point of the question, you can concentrate better on answering it. I know I am making this sound more complicated than it is, but think of what you naturally might do in a non interview conversation.
  2. Ask in chunks: If the interview question is complicated and in two or three parts it is also easy to lose track of what you’re talking about. You can ask the interviewer to ask you that question in parts if it sounds like you might not remember it. For some reason long multi-part questions seem to be really common in the public sector interviews. I have no idea why!
  3. The body speaks: Watch the interviewer’s body language. If you do see the “poker face/eyes glaze over” that’s a good indication that you’ve lost your audience. Whatever you do, don’t keep going. Keep it light and keep it real. There’s nothing wrong with saying something along the lines of – I don’t think I’ve answered your question here, can you ask me it again?

Final word of advice:

Make your weakness your strength. One of the things interviewers want to see is that you are self-aware. I am a detail person. I talk a lot and fast when I need to be believed. So one of the things that has worked well for me and my clients is saying “when I get excited about a topic I tend to give a lot of detail. Please stop me if you’ve heard enough.”

Further reading: Are You Making These 5 Common Interview Mistakes?

By Karalyn Brown

Karalyn Brown is a resume, interview and job search consultant based in Australia. She’s also an online careers agony aunty, writes frequently on career issues for a major Australian newspaper and talks job search tactics on the national broadcaster. You can visit her blog InterviewIQ or follow her on Twitter @InterviewIQ.