TAO Self-help

Title:In Your Job Interview, Answer the Questions - Then Shut Up

Author:Susan P. Joyce, © 2015 All rights reserved

Date:February 2015


A very important key to job interview success is knowing when to stop talking. First, we usually learn more when we listen rather than when we talk. As the old saying goes, two ears — but only one mouth — for a reason.

Secondly, much damage can be done inadvertently when you share TMI (Too Much Information) in your job interviews.

When to Stop Talking in a Job Interview?

Short answer: when you've answered the question you were asked.

Carefully listen to the questions you are asked. If you don't understand the question, STOP, and ask for clarification.

When you are sure that you understand the question, demonstrating your excellent listening skills, answer that question. Then, stop talking.

If there seems to be an extended silence and you have a question related to the question you were asked, asking now may be a good idea. The interviewer may be seeing if you will volunteer more information (TMI) to fill in the conversational gap. Better to ask a good question.

For example, assume you are applying for a project manager position, and you are asked what information you would include in a project progress report. After you answer the question, you could then ask how often project reports are expected — daily, weekly, monthly, or some other time frame. That information would be good to know when you are evaluating the opportunity, and you could (perhaps) fine-tune your original answer based on the additional information specified.

Do NOT add information about how crazy your current (or former) boss is, requiring daily progress reports. OR about the time you inadvertently sent the progress report to the client rather than to your boss — a big no-no.

DO share how your boss frequently uses your progress reports as examples of "best practice" methods that new staff members should follow (if true!).

So, don't over share (the crazy boss or the big mistake you made), but don't skip an opportunity to highlight an accomplishment.

Important Job-Interview Don'ts

Job candidates often sabotage their job interview performance by talking too much. So, don't feel responsible for making sure there's no "dead air" time in the interview by sharing more information about yourself. If the interviewer doesn't ask another question after you've answered one, ask a question of your own.

People often blow opportunities by nervously filling up silence with things better left unsaid.

Don't "trash" anyone. This is definitely time to showcase the positive side of your personality.

Don't share personal details, like child care or parent care issues, a pending divorce or other troubled personal relationships, trouble with your personal finances, your addiction to online gambling (even at home), or other issues that could scare off an employer.

The biggest problem with talking too much in a job interview is killing the opportunity by what is revealed.

Why People Typically Talk Too Much in Job Interviews

Job seekers don't usually try to fail at a job interview (although sometimes, as an interviewer, you do wonder about their motivation). Most job seekers want to succeed at job interviewing. The reasons they talk too much are usually one of the following three:

  1. Inexperienced in job interviewing.

    Perhaps they are new to the job market and/or young and inexperienced in a successful job search process. Job interviewing is a completely new experience, and they're not sure how it works or how to succeed at it.

    On the other hand, many job seekers have been employed by the same employer for so long that they don't remember how job interviews work. Their last job interview was years — maybe decades — in the past.

  2. Unprepared or not well-enough prepared.

    Fortunately, this one is easy to fix. Just read the articles in WorkCoachCafe and Job-Hunt.org about how to answer the typical job interview questions, develop your own answers, and practice in front of a mirror or with a friend a few times. You don't want to sound over-rehearsed, but you don't want to blow an opportunity by being unprepared.

  3. Just plain nervous.

    Most job seekers are nervous when they interview for a job. Job interviews are stressful, sometimes very stressful!

    Most people are less nervous when they know they are well-prepared, so prepare as though the job offer hangs on it (because it might). Often, as you gain experience interviewing, the nerves become more calm. You know you can do it.

    I highly recommend that you try Dr. Amy Cuddy's "power poses" in private, before every job interview. Dr. Cuddy's research has shown that power poses actually reduce the stress hormone level in your blood, and increase the confidence hormone level. Exactly what you need before a job interview!

Have Your Own Questions Ready

Be sure to have questions of your own to ask. That shows both interest and preparation. Be sure that your questions aren't already answered on the employer website or in a Google search. Be prepared to succeed!

Remember that they are (or should be) trying to impress you, too, and your questions of them will help you decide if you want to work for/with them.

Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. Susan is a two-time layoff "graduate" who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. In 2011, NETability purchased WorkCoachCafe.com, and Susan has been editor and publisher of WorkCoach since then. Susan also edits and publishes Job-Hunt.org, is a Visiting Scholar at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and a columnist on HuffingtonPost. Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on Google+.

Featured Employers all