How long is too long in an interview?

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How long is too long?

I get asked often what are some of the major reasons candidates don’t get the job after they interview! Like many recruiters, I have have consistent reasons around experience, attitude, presentation and/or just being a fit for the team. Though the most common issue I have seen that not only eliminates candidates in an interview, but can also really undo a candidate who might have it all, is the candidates’ ability to know when to stop talking.

I have seen countless seasoned professionals take one question that should take up to 3 minutes to answer and turn it into a 15-minute one-way response without actually answering the question. It happens more often with senior candidates than those you would expect from because of their pedigree to be a lot more concise and direct.

The sad reality is that the rejected person not only can answer the questions but has the overwhelming ability to do the job justice. Though I have found the following reason are usually the culprit to these long-winded answers to nowhere:

  • Too much back story:

    A lot of candidates spend more time describing the company, the product, name dropping clients than actually focusing on the situation, the result and the task. Give context but don’t spend more time on the back story and give only minimal response about your actual efforts.

  • Its WE not me:

    Candidates spend too much time saying what we did instead of focusing on what they did. Of course, there is balance to this, but you will always get more credibility if you tell us what you actually did as appose to the whole team. Don’t let the team talk eat up the time you need to talk about your work.

  • Long work history:

    Sometimes more senior and technical candidates get caught out here as they are unsure of the audiences understanding of their expertise of industry. Always clarify the understanding. For example, instead of explaining AI technology, you might say “Are you familiar with Artificial Intelligence technology in mobile phones?” They might say yes or no, not matter the answer, ask them if they would like you to explain it or if are they happy for you to give your example without the context of understanding. This allows them to choose if they want the explanation or not.

  • Not enough depth:

    Many candidates spend time in the workplace. For example, I might ask “Tell me about the time you mentored your sales team to success”. The candidate will spend too much time talking about the client, the issues in the team and not enough telling the interviewer what they actually did to both develop and mentor the team and what success they gained. The details need to be on the actual doing not the situation.

  • Preparation:

    Not enough people think of examples, especially current relevant ones. If you choose an example too far back, you might take longer to explain the example as you need to reach back into your own recollection of what happened, therefore filling silence with useless information. Prepare current examples that actually would pertain to the job you applied for.

You might still be asking yourself why would this time factor be held against you? The reality is the interviewee is assessing your reasoning skills and more importantly, your fit for the business.  They want to qualify that you are the person you wrote about in your resume and if you don’t have the emotional intelligence to see that you are talking for too long and not engaging the panel, that’s a more problematic concern for the company.

So next time you’re asked a question in an interview, think about how you can cut straight to the detail, how you can highlight the achievement and focus more on the tasks you executed to deliver the result.

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