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Babbling Is For Babies, Not Interviews

Lonnie Pacelli -- The ability to communicate clear, concise responses to interview questions is a major factor for your interviewer in deciding whether or not to hire you. To ace your next interview, here's how to successfully talk less but say more.

Some years back I was interviewing candidates for a financial analyst position. One of my interviews was with a gentleman who was already a company employee but was looking for a new job within the company. I started out the interview with the question, "What interests you about this job?" The fellow started into a response, and then launched into tangents about his family, prior jobs, and personal interests.

About five minutes into the interview I'd already made my decision to not hire the guy, but I was intrigued by his verbal meandering. I decided to let him keep going just to see where he would go. He finally stopped talking 30 minutes after I asked him my original question. My next question to him was "Do you realize you talked non-stop for 30 minutes?" Before he could launch into another wandering discourse, I thanked him for stopping by and told him that I didn't think he was right for the job. He very well might have had the technical and business skills needed to do the job, but because he babbled on and on without clarity of thought he was declined.

The demonstration of clear, concise thoughts through responses to interview questions is a major factor for your interviewer in deciding whether or not to hire you. When responding to questions, your interviewer is not only listening to your answers but also imagining you talking with colleagues, suppliers, customers, or executives. If you, as an interviewee, aren't able to respond with crisp, concise, thoughtful answers during an interview, imagine how you would come off in a major customer presentation? You may have some insightful things to say, but if they get lost in long, meandering responses then you're going to seal your fate as a declined candidate.

Next time you interview for a job, keep the following things in mind:

Target your responses around a key message

When asked a question, formulate your response around a key message or a series of key messages. State your key message first, and then provide a couple of sentences which support the key message. Know what your key message is before you start talking, otherwise your response will meander.

Watch the interviewer for frustration

Look for cues that the interviewer is impatient, confused, or bored. The best interviews I've done have been where an interviewee captured my interest by a stating a key message and we were just able to talk. Look to capture an interviewer's interest; if he or she doesn't look interested, wrap up your point and stop talking.

Keep eye contact with the interviewer

Keeping eye contact with the interviewer will help you to stick to your key message because you won't get distracted. Keeping eye contact also demonstrates conviction and confidence. Wandering eyes feel evasive and can contribute to babbling.

Take a breath before you respond

Let the interviewer finish his question before you start responding. Take a second after the question, get your key message in your head, then start your answer. Being too eager to answer the question will contribute to drifting from your key message and will brand you as being rude.

Don't argue with yourself

Don't play point/counter-point with yourself. When asked a question, formulate your key message and take a stand in your response. It's OK to briefly identify the other side of an argument, but make sure you state a key message and don't give the perception that you are indecisive.

Provide context to your answers

Don't just give "yes" or "no" type answers without providing a bit of context behind the response. The interviewer not only wants to know what your answer is, but something about why you think the way you do. Be cautious about drifting on and on with your answer; make a couple of statements that support your key message, then clam up.

Ask your interviewer for feedback

At the end of the interview, consider asking the interviewer to provide some feedback to you on how they think the interview went. Specifically ask about the quality and conciseness of your responses. Just be careful not to get into an argument about the interviewer's feedback; listen politely and thank them for the feedback. Don't create a negative impression with the interviewer because you argued or got defensive over any feedback you received.

It's easy when nervous or excited to babble on and on and lose focus in your responses to questions. Formulate key messages, keep eye contact, watch your interviewer, and take a stand with your responses. You'll better engage your interviewer, captivate interest, and help to secure the job you want.

Courtesy of Lonnie Pacelli

Lonnie Pacelli is an accomplished author and autism advocate with over 30 years experience in leadership and project management at Accenture, Microsoft, and Consetta Group. See books, articles, keynotes, and self-study seminars at

© 2017 Lonnie Pacelli

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