Nail Your Interview, part III: Clear & Balanced Communication

Good conversational skills are necessary, even in an interview. When prepping for an interview, think about how you want to come across to the interviewer. I think we all hope that we will be thought of as interesting and engaging, knowledgeable and skilled. How can you communicate all of this? Preparation is key. Remember that your interviewer is just a normal human, like you. A really great interview often feels like a really great conversation. What makes you feel comfortable in a conversation? We are going to talk about some ways to feel more at ease on your end as well as some ways to make sure the interview is enjoyable for your interviewer.

Maintain Balance and Flow

When the interviewer asks you a question, answer concisely, but not abruptly. This means that while your answer should not be long-winded, it should not be curt or overly short either. Excessively long, detailed answers can make an interviewer feel antsy and ready to move on, but having to dig for answers can also create discomfort for the interviewer. Again, think about what you like in a conversation and what makes you comfortable. Do you enjoy it when a simple question gets you a 10-minute response? If not, assume that your interviewer will not appreciate it either! On the flip side, do you enjoy it when you ask a question and the other person gives you a one-word response that effectively ends the flow of conversation? Try to find a comfortable balance. A great way to find this balance is by prepping some of your answers ahead of time.

Prep Your Responses

What are some interview questions you have been asked before? What kinds of questions do you expect to be asked during this interview? Prepare your responses to frequently asked questions, like “Where do you see yourself in five years?” or “Why are you leaving your current position?” Think about really common questions, but also about questions you might find it difficult to answer. Some responses are going to take a bit more finesse to answer clearly and with the right tone. With these questions in mind, start by finding the main idea. What is most important point for you to communicate to the interviewer in your response?

Find the “Just Right” Amount of Detail

When answering questions about your experience, background, or technical knowledge, think about the level of detail in your response. Are there details that would technically be on topic, but are not truly necessary? We sometimes deceive ourselves, justifying overly long answers by telling ourselves that all of the details are important. The truth is that it’s absolutely possible to talk about your qualifications and demonstrate your knowledge without going into every single detail. Ensure that you have a clear picture of the high-level ideas you’d like to convey about yourself and your experience. How can you condense complicated information or thoughts into manageable, bite-sized chunks?

You may find it helpful to write out your answers to common questions to organize your thoughts. Once you have them written down, it will be easier to see the changes needed. Write a longer version, a middle-of-the-road version, and a super short, concise response. Distilling your idea into a mere sentence or two can help you get to the heart of the answer—what is most important to share.

When organizing your response to a question, it is sometimes helpful to list bullet points first to make sure the overall structure makes sense. While you may get different questions during the interview than the ones you prepped, your preparation will still help you. Developing responses ahead of time will give you better control and allow you to express your ideas more fluidly and confidently in the moment. Keep in mind that you will likely be able to adapt your prepared answers to fit a variety of different questions. For example, questions like “What is your greatest strength?” and “What makes you a great fit for our team?” may have overlapping themes. With a few small changes, you can take the nicely prepared wording from one question to fit the other.

Read the Room

As you speak with your interviewer, read the situation to determine how much information to share. Do your best to fully answer the question without overwhelming the interviewer with details he or she may not want or need. Pay attention to the person you’re speaking with to get feedback. Do the interviewer’s body language and facial expressions show that he’s engaged? Does he interject with follow-up questions now and then, showing that he’s interested? If you are unsure how involved your response to a question should be, you may want to start with a more succinct answer, but then make it clear that you are able to go into further detail if needed.

Final Thoughts

Ideally, there will be a good flow back and forth between you and your interviewer. Try not to monopolize the conversation or spend too long answering a single question as this may cause your conversation to lose some momentum. Project an open and friendly vibe as you speak with the interviewer. Remember that you want to demonstrate your knowledge, experience and skill, but you also want the interviewer to feel comfortable interacting with you and believe that you would be a welcome addition to the team.

If you haven’t already, check out the first installment of this series on squashing your interview anxiety and our second installment on connecting with your interviewer. Best of luck with your interview prep!