Don’t Talk Yourself Out of a Job

There are two ways to answer interview questions: the short version and the long version. When a question is open-ended, I always suggest to candidates that they say, ‘Let me give you the short version first. If we need to explore some aspect of the answer more fully, I’d be happy to go into greater depth, and give you the long version.’

The reason you should respond this way is because it’s often difficult to know what type of answer each question will need. A question like, ‘What was your most difficult assignment?’ might take anywhere from thirty seconds to thirty minutes to answer, depending on the detail you choose to give.

Therefore, you must always remember that the interviewer’s the one who asked the question. So you should tailor your answer to what he or she needs to know, without a lot of extraneous rambling or superfluous explanation. Why waste time and create a negative impression by giving a sermon when a short prayer would do just fine?

Let’s suppose you were interviewing for a business development manager position, and the interviewer asked you, ‘What sort of business development experience have you had in the past?’

Well, that’s exactly the sort of question that can get you into trouble if you don’t use the short version/long version method. Most people would just start rattling off everything in their memory that relates to their business development experience. Though the information might be useful to the interviewer, your answer could get pretty complicated and long-winded unless it’s neatly packaged.

One way to answer the question might be, ‘I’ve held business development positions with three different firms over a nine-year period. I started my career with a mid-tier law firm where I developed my skills. I have since worked as a senior business development executive for a magic circle firm and my most recent role has been working for a big four accountancy firm as a business development manager. In that role I oversee one of their key sectors and manage a small team.’ If you stop talking at this point, the interviewer may ask more specific questions about these roles.

Or, you might simply say, ‘Let me give you the short version first, and you can tell me where you want to go into more depth. I’ve had nine years experience in business development with three different firms, starting at a mid-tier law firm and currently as a manager of a big 4 accountancy firm. What aspect of my background would you like to concentrate on?’

By using this method, you show the interviewer that your thoughts are well organized and that you want to understand the intent of the question before you travel too far in a direction neither of you wants to go. After you get the green light, you can spend your interviewing time discussing in detail the things that are important, not whatever happens to pop into your mind.

When asked for examples of work you have done, ensure that they are relevant to the position you are being interviewed for. Don’t fall into the trap of just talking about a piece of work that you enjoyed the most. Generally, when answering questions about your experience, always try to highlight a relevant piece of work that will show-case your experience and skills to make you sound like a desirable candidate.


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