Behavioral interviewing tip #9: Answer the question you’re asked; don’t go on tangents

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This topic is similar to #6 in the series, but we felt it deserved its own post.

Our founding partner Jeff Wilson related a story recently:

We had a great candidate go in for an interview. The hiring manager himself was an extrovert and someone who appreciated a good conversation. But even he was shocked at how much the candidate talked. He said that he had been able to ask him only a few questions in total–the guy would just keep talking and talking after every question.

Needless to say, the candidate didn’t get the job.

This wasn’t a behavioral interview, but the same advice applies. Actually, it applies even more to behavioral interviews, since they are not based on having the “gift of gab” and charming the interviewer. They truly are (when done correctly) about learning about your past behaviors, which are likely to predict future behaviors.

We’ve found that even candidates who aren’t particularly talky still sometimes feel that they have to do more than just answer the questions they’re asked during a behavioral interview. Why? They’re used to experiencing interviews as some type of performance. They feel they have to prove their “people skills” and so on. In reality, a skilled behavioral interviewer who wants to know about your people skills will ask a question about how you used those skills successfully in the past.

Further, since a behavioral interview is about specifics, you don’t want to talk about anything other than those specifics. For this reason, you don’t want to use a question as an opportunity to go into a long speech about your career or why you think you’ll be good for the job. This is one train that you want to keep on the rails.

Certainly, you want to seem personable and pleasant during your behavioral interview. But rest assured that it’s enough simply to answer each question.

The Key Corporate Services Blog Team
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