If you’ve interviewed for a job before, it’s likely that one of the first questions you were asked was something along the lines of, “So, tell me about yourself.” This popular ice breaker is a great opportunity for the interviewer to get to know you a little.
However, if you talk about yourself for too long, you could end up talking yourself right out of the job altogether. Sure, it’s important to be responsive — but not too responsive.
Creator of the Dear Abby column, Pauline Phillips once said, “The less you talk, the more you are listened to.” She was definitely onto something.
Monster.com says that in an interview, you usually have about 90 seconds to answer a question before you lose the interviewer’s attention entirely. So, it’s important to be selective in what you choose to share and tailor your responses to keep them clean and concise.
“Interviewers are of course looking to learn about you and get a sense of your personality,” career expert Nicole Williams said. “However, what they really want is someone who is succinct, articulate and pensive.”
There are a few things to consider when it comes to your interview responses.
Your interviewer’s time
It’s important to keep in mind that your interviewer has their own schedule to keep.
Dan Auerbach, operations director at Intuitive Digital, said interviewers often have back to back interviews scheduled. Going overtime could disrupt their entire day and leave a bad taste in their mouth about your interview.
A hiring manager and former recruiterRichard Moy said that when a candidate spent too much time on a question, he found himself tuning out, planning ways to interrupt them, deciding to cut the interview short, or ending up late to his next meeting.
These are not things you want your interviewer to be thinking about when they are considering you for a job. It’s best to be considerate of everyone’s time by answering the question concisely and moving on.
What information is actually relevant
One of the worst things you can do in an interview is oversharing. It’s important to answer the questions, but you have to consider what information is relevant to the conversation… and what could be left out.
“Of course, you want to do everything you can to make a hiring manager feel that you are the choice for the position,” Moy said. “However, as the old adage goes, sometimes less is more. Way more.”
A good rule of thumb is to avoid controversial topics such as religion, politics, or sports. You should also avoid sharing any personal information or secrets. Keep in mind, your interviewer doesn’t know you and is judging everything you say in relation to your ability to do the job. Personal relationships, family issues, medical concerns and the like don’t fall under that umbrella.
Williams recommends practicing answering questions with a friend in a mock interview setting. That way you can get used to giving well thought out responses, without rambling or tripping over your words.
“Being comfortable with what you are saying and how you structure your sentences is very important when it comes to interviews,” she said. “You don’t want to give one-word answers and you certainly don’t want to dive into a five-minute spiel.”
A good interview should feel like a conversation
You’ve probably heard before that it’s important to come to an interview with your own questions. But how will you have time to ask any of them if you fill up your time rambling on and oversharing? Make sure you leave time to ask the interviewer about themselves.
“People love to talk about themselves,” global recruitment director at Sapient Austin Cooke said. “So if you as a candidate can kind of get interviewers talking about themselves, you’re one step up.”
Kent Kirch, global director of recruiting at Deloitte, said that the questions candidates ask him usually leave more of an impression than anything else.
“What’s really disappointing to an interviewer is at the end of an interview and I ask the candidate, ‘Do you have any questions I can answer for you?’ and he says, ‘Nope, I think you answered them all,’ and that’s the end of it; it’s just really frustrating,” he said. “It all goes back to preparation, and [your questions tell] the interviewer you thought about this interview before you walked in the door.”
Your confidence is being judged
Talking too much about one topic or feeling obligated to fill awkward silence shows insecurity, unpreparedness, and lack of clarity.
David Blacker, managing principal of Venerate Media Group said that interviewers often wait longer to respond after you’ve given an answer to see how you’ll react or try to fill the void.
“People typically see this as they didn’t answer the question properly and would fill that space with more information, typically stuff that may hurt their chances,” Blacker said.
This isn’t necessary. Answer the question succinctly and then wait. Your interviewer may be taking notes. If they don’t ask another question, ask your own or even ask if there’s anything you can clarify. No need to keep talking and giving more details.
Job-hunt.org puts it simply: “Answer each question, focused on your fit for the job and the benefit to the employer for hiring you. Then, shut up OR ask a question of your own. If you talk too much, you may be blowing away an opportunity to knock their socks off with your answer to a question that they don’t have time to ask.”