A common piece of critical feedback I get from clients is that candidates are too vague when answering interview questions. People don’t give enough information, or just don’t directly answer the question asked. I was recently asked by someone how they can avoid this common interview pitfall. My advice:
- Be Prepared – this should be obvious, but you need to go into an interview thoroughly prepared. This includes being able to talk in detail about your experience, about anything on your resume, to answer common interview questions, and answer/ask questions about the potential employer. Read through your own resume carefully before an interview. You’d be surprised how often I’ve heard about candidate’s who can’t answer questions about things on their own resume! Do your homework before the interview!
- LISTEN To The Questions – not listening to questions is a pretty common mistake during interviews. Often times, people are excited and/or nervous and they fail to really listen to the question because their mind is racing. Listen carefully to the interviewer and ask for clarification if a question is unclear. Very specific questions require very specific answers. Conversely, broad “tell me about your background” questions require more broad answers with less detail.
- Give Examples – whenever possible, it is best to answer questions with specific examples. For example, if asked, “how strong are you with technology?”, you would want to give an answer that demonstrates specific technical expertise. You might respond, “I’m very comfortable with technology. In fact, at my current job, I played a lead role in selecting and implementing a new ERP system which involved talking to several vendors, mapping out the system requirements with consultants, testing the new platform and training staff .” By giving someone a clear and specific example of work that required a strong degree of proficiency in the subject matter, you are sending the message that you know what you’re talking about.
- Watch Body Language – If you think that you are off track when answering a question because the interviewer is yawning, rolling their eyes, looking at their watch, etc., stop yourself! It’s perfectly fine to say, “is that the information you were looking for?”, or, “am I off track? Can I be more specific?”. It’s far better to allow the interviewer to steer you back in the right direction than just plow through an answer.