At The Interview, Take 4 Seconds


All this week and last, I’ve been facilitating a workshop for people seeking employment. As an Employment Counsellor, I’ve been in both a Facilitating and Support role, as this group are really engaged in actively seeking employment and doing the job of job searching. The format of each day has and continues to be, a half hour presentation on a topic related to job searching and then the group is turned loose to actually look for work. Some go on a computer to research, apply for jobs or update and revise resumes and cover letters, while others make phone calls, have mock interviews, meet one-on-one to get feedback, and still others head on out to drop off resumes or network. It’s all job searching.

One of the common things I’ve mentioned to people is their need to slow down during the mock interview itself. When asked a question, there appears to be this need to answer immediately and sound confident in the delivery. However, while I agree that confidence in delivering an answer is essential, it is also critical to take a moment after having been asked a question, ensure you fully understand what’s being asked, and then selectively choose from all your past experiences, a single example that demonstrates your skills in action.

So why do people sometimes answer quickly and speed along the interview at a quick pace? Perhaps nerves, the misguided belief that it’s important to answer immediately or look unsure of an answer, or even just lack of experience. Interviewers do want to see you at your best; they certainly are trying to see if the person in front of them is genuine, honest, a good fit for the organization but also knowledgeable. How well do you know yourself, know your abilities, liabilities and know what is actually being asked. When a question is asked, it is more than okay to take a moment to digest the question, think about what the question is trying to get at, come up with a story or example from your past that illustrates how you have dealt with a problem or used a skill, and then think of how to best deliver all of that in a well composed answer. All of that takes place in about 4 or 5 seconds.

Now if you don’t pause that 4 or 5 seconds, and you immediately start talking because you don’t want to appear dim-witted or unsure of yourself, what actually may happen is you don’t answer the question asked, you experience verbal diarrhea where you just babble on, or you may eventually get around to answering the question but on a hit-and-miss basis. Some answers are so long, the interviewer is lost trying to figure out where you’re going.

This may mirror the life experience some people have in choosing a career when you consider it. So busy dashing from job-to-job, without really pausing to consider what’s important, what would be a good fit, where or what would I be the happiest and most productive? Doing an inventory or assessment of your skills, attitudes, beliefs, desires, abilities and interests to decide on a career path is no different from considering what line to pursue in intelligently answering an interview question. And to keep the analogy going, there are those who make snap decisions and just run out and get whatever job they can without much thought, just as there are those that rush their thoughts and answers in an interview only to think of what they wanted to say twelve minutes after the interview is over.

Try this exercise; take an interview question such as the one below and read it, but prior to answering, count in your head, “1, 2, 3, 4”. Then just where you would say, “5”, start your answer. Ready?

“Tell me about a time you had a conflict with someone and what did you do to resolve it?”

That 4 seconds you paused is sufficient without being too prolonged to gather your thoughts, come up with a good example that illustrates your skills, and ensures you heard the right question being asked. The interviewer believes that how you have previously dealt with conflict and resolved a situation is likely to accurately gauge how you will deal with conflict if working for his or her organization. So paint a picture that let’s the interviewer see you in action; where were you working, what had to be done, what conflict arose, what did you do and what positive outcome came about? Did the 4 seconds seem an eternity? Did you get stressed waiting? With practice that 4 seconds can and will come across to the interviewer as your technique as your mechanism to gather your thoughts and deliver a thoughtful, well-laid-out response.

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