The gift of gab can be something of a curse during an interview -- you could end up talking your way right out of the job.
It's important to remember that interviewers are only human, and their attention tends to wane as you speak. Fully understanding this is critical to effectively communicating during any interview. Your response should be less than a minute and a half when an interviewer asks you to "tell me about yourself." Why? You'll have that interviewer's attention for just about 90 seconds.
The average interviewer's attention span looks something like this:
- As you begin speaking, the interviewer is listening with nearly full attention.
- After about 10 seconds, he begins listening with less intensity.
- After 60 seconds, his mind begins to wander and he's devoting less than half his attention to you. The interviewer starts asking questions about your response or begins formulating his next question.
- After you've been speaking for 90 seconds without interruption, the interviewer is barely listening at all.
An interviewer's attention level can be nearly impossible to detect, because most people are skilled at nodding their heads and saying "hmmm" while looking at you, all in an effort to disguise their wandering minds. The longer you speak without interruption, the less attention the listener is giving you. Hence, when you provide a long answer that builds to an important conclusion, often the interviewer is no longer listening. This is particularly important when you respond to an interviewer's request to tell him about yourself, because there is just so much you can say on the subject, and you can't be sure what part of your background the interviewer is most interested in learning about.
Your Questions Are Key
Near the end of your response, it's important to keep the interviewer engaged by asking questions.
Skilled interviewers will pose behavioral-event questions, asking you to describe specific examples of your experience. In these situations, your response can easily last much longer than 90 seconds. In such situations, interrupt yourself by asking the interviewer a question like, "Is this the level of detail you are looking for?" or "Is this the type of example you're interested in?" This strategy helps to reengage your listener and promotes two-way communication.
According to Kent Kirch, the global director of recruiting at Deloitte, interviewers are more impressed with your questions than any selling points you try to make. "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 says. "It all goes back to preparation, and [your questions] tells the interviewer you thought about this interview before you walked in the door."
Asking questions can also give you a strategic edge. "People love to talk about themselves," says Austin Cooke, the global recruitment director at Sapient. "So if you as a candidate can kind of get interviewers talking about themselves, you're one step up."
Your interview goals are to ensure you are understood and to make the best presentation of your talents. Engaging interviewers in two-way communication by asking questions helps you ensure they are listening while you deliver your response.