How to Reel in Interview Rambling in 3 Easy Steps

Among all the deadly job interview sins, rambling is one of the worst.

An HR Manager recently confided to me this about a candidate: He looked great on paper, but in-person he wouldn’t stop talking. I felt like I needed reins.

Chalk it up to nerves? I’m not so sure. Feeling on-the-spot is one thing, but I’d credit most interview rambling to a simple lack of preparation.

As an interviewer, I want to see a candidate’s top performance, not their first rehearsal. After a first meeting, I tend to remember what a candidate said and how they made me feel.

Was I intrigued? Was I annoyed? Did I feel my time and my questions were valued? Was I comfortable?

Unfocused, long-winded talking can kill the sense that a two-way conversation is happening. It can also make a candidate seem unorganized, unsure of his/her/theirself and unable to cope with pressure. And, frankly, it can be boring.

Here’s how to pull back on interview rambling and make every word count.

Start in a good place recommends you take some pre-interview time to get happy and confident about who you are as a candidate – especially as it correlates to the job in question. Ask yourself: Why are you a great fit for the job? Do you have exemplary, compelling stories to relate about your career? Are you excited about you?

Luckily, interview questions themselves are highly predictable – or at least the overarching themes (e.g., prove leadership, likability and experience) are. Before any interview, spend significant time researching the company, anticipating questions, and cataloging your proudest accomplishments.

Get comfortable with silence

Many people ramble simply because the interviewer doesn’t jump in right away after they answer a question. So they start to back up (occasionally a bit lost on where they’re headed) and end up blabbering.

Silence doesn’t always signal displeasure. Interviews are compressed periods of time when a lot of information is exchanged and a lot of first impressions need to be examined. Allow sufficient time after each answer so that your interviewer can digest, think and respond.

These slightly awkward moments are a great time to read body language. Is their head nodding? Are they writing something down? Are their brows furrowed? Allow the interviewer some time to tell you, verbally and physically, how they’re feeling and adjust your course from there.

End your answers with this simple phrase

Once you’ve answered the question, look your interviewer in the eye and ask them: Would you like me to expand?

Here’s why I love this question: it’s courteous (you’re acknowledging their original motivation for asking the question in the first place) and it shows you care about whether you’ve done a good job. Essentially, you’re asking for on-the-spot feedback. How am I doing?

Hey, I don’t mind nerves. I can almost always overlook them. Where it gets uncomfortable is when a candidate starts to lose themselves and stops reading the room. As an interviewer, I want a voice in the getting-to-know-you process.

And yes, for the majority of our time together, I do want the reins.