Interviews: Communication Missteps

During an interview candidates may be forgiven for clinging to the age-old advice “be sure to sell yourself.” After all, isn’t that what an interview is all about? Isn’t it an opportunity to assertively promote experiences and capabilities as a solution to an organization’s problem?

Well… yes, and also no.  Here’s why:

Recruiters approaching an interview – whether face-to-face or by phone – have an agenda and limited time to accomplish that agenda. The goal is to collect candidate data in the form of verbal responses to questions. An experienced recruiter will set the tone and pace for the interview.  The result being sought is getting enough info about the candidate to be able to decide if there is a preliminary match based on must-have critieria.  Candidates who do not allow themselves to be led through that agenda can cause frustration resulting in an incomplete data set for the interviewer.

For many, interviews cause nervous excitement. The pulse quickens and there is a natural desire to promote oneself, to be understood and appreciated. However all too often words flow unchecked as candidates seize the opportunity while thinking: This is the moment to shine – be sure to sell yourself!

Nervous job-seekers are sometimes overly talkative: rambling monologues resemble the act of trying to stuff 10 pounds of grain into a five pound sack; clipping the ends of the interviewer’s sentences cause a sense of awkwardness and being hurried; repeating a point over and over can suggest an inability to focus and perhaps trying too hard to convince the interviewer.

The path to being hired involves many steps; there is a time to sell but also a time to listen carefully before responding. A selection process usually starts with one or more phone interviews followed (hopefully) by a site visit and further in-person conversations. At all times candidates should allow themselves to be led by their interviewers. Remember that there is an agenda! The interviewer’s goal is to collect certain types of information at the right time so that you may be evaluated for the next step along the path.

During the interview, candidate answers need to be exacting to the question being asked or the questioner may not fully collect enough information needed for a decision. If responses are indirect and tangential to the main question, the interviewer may leave the interview without having all questions answered. An incomplete interview coupled with frustration on the part of the interviewer can quickly lead to being disqualified, even for rock stars.

To be successfully led through an interview, here’s what to do:

  • Relax and focus; understand that the quality of your response is usually more important than quantity of words spoken
  • Listen carefully to the question being asked – be sure to answer that question only; do not freeform on what you think the interviewer needs to know
  • Answer concisely – provide details but find the end to your answer and be silent
  • Understand that if your interviewer wants more information, she will ask for it with a follow-up question; this is totally normal and far better than fighting with the candidate for airtime
  • Allow your interviewer to fully finish speaking before you speak; a healthy pause before responding can even make you appear thoughtful
  • Hold off on the “sell yourself” answers until they are requested; listen for something like “why do you feel you would be a good fit for this role?”
  • Ask questions during the interview to gauge the quality and volume of your responses: “Would you like for me to elaborate?” or, “Did I answer the question fully?”

Participating successfully in interviews is a skill. Good interviewers will set their candidates at ease and appear to be engaging in friendly conversation, but candidates should always communicate in return with a sense of restraint. The interviewer’s agenda is more than friendly conversation – it is structured with the purpose of collecting specific information in order to qualify prospects for the next step. Candidates who adeptly follow their lead will always put their best foot forward.