Responding to Job Interview Questions without “Overanswering”

Job interview

Do you ramble? Say more than you need to when a simple explanation is best? It happens, especially during job interviews. If you want the job, less is more.

Okay, so I read a great suggestion recently that was totally unrelated to searching for a job, but that is equally applicable. I found it while doing research for a writing client on convertible debt.

The writer of the blog, “How Convertible Debt Works,” Brad Feld, described how he had given a speech and afterwards received an email with a critique. It said, in part:

Your answers to audience questions tend to be overly long and rambling… “overanswer,” to invent a word. You start strong and respond right to the essence, but then your focus blurs and you keep taking verbal baby steps away from the thought stream.

Feld attempted to explain that when answering audience questions his intent is to “provide additional context to the question.” However, apparently it isn’t always successful. This same experience can occur with job seekers, especially when nerves set in.

Getting Nervous in Job Interviews

There may be many reasons why you get nervous during a job interview. Here’s a list of 14 possibilities. Understanding what makes you uncomfortable may help you. However, regardless of why you are nervous, you may have one of these two reactions during an interview.

The interviewer asks a question. You respond with an answer. You suddenly worry that your response is inadequate, so you start tacking on additional thoughts, or the interviewer doesn’t immediately respond when you come to the end of your response, so you try to fill the silence.

Whatever you do, stop. Don’t overanswer. Don’t fill the silence. Just stop. Be comfortable with the knowledge that the question was asked and answered.

Job Interview Preparation

In my article, “Improve Your Chances of Getting a Job by Getting to the Point,” I write about the need for brevity in the recruitment process, including during the job interview. So how can you overcome a tendency to be long-winded?

First, know you are not alone. Most job applicants are nervous during job interviews. According to financial recruitment firm Portfolio Payroll, 96% of job seekers find it difficult to sleep the night before a job interview. If you know you are the type of candidate that becomes overly anxious or excited when it comes to job interviews, there are techniques for overcoming job interview jitters.

Next, as suggested at the beginning of this article, interviewing is another form of public speaking. While there are several articles available to help you wrestle with your fear of public speaking, Maggie Wolff’s article, “Tips for How to Overcome a Fear of Speaking in Public,” does a great job of mirroring steps that are easily transferrable to job interview nerves. These include pre-interview preparation, using examples or stories during your job interview, and looking and feeling your best on the day of your interview.

Finally, change your mind set about job interviews. Instead of thinking of job interviews as a test and looking at the interviewer as your adversary, think of the situation as an opportunity to chat with a stranger about your life. After all, you know yourself better than anyone.

When you think about how to respond to an interviewer’s question (and I do recommend thinking a moment before responding), consider this quote from Julius Caesar. “Vini, vidi, vici.” Translation: I came. I saw. I conquered. Tell the interviewer your task, what you did, and the ultimate outcome.

If you can do it in three short sentences, that’s great. They can always ask for further explanation if needed. That’s how to answer job interview questions without overanswering.