The most common thing I hear that unnerves people the most during an interview is silence.
The dreaded pause after you answer a question; when that pause is dropped in the middle of the room like a big ol’ purple polka dotted elephant.
Our natural reaction is to fill that void. All sorts of things start running through our head, like: did I say something wrong, did they misunderstand, do I need to clarify, do I sound like an idiot, should I give more examples, can I stop talking, good gosh make the voices stop!
And the trench digging begins. We start talking nervously trying to answer unanswered questions, going down rabbit holes and pretty much derailing the original question and possibly the interview.
Stop, breathe, relax.
First, they may be pausing because they are thinking about what you said and, hey, not in a negative way. Maybe you triggered a different idea and they are thinking about how to approach. Maybe you introduced a skill set that would be great and they are thinking about how to incorporate it. Maybe they lost track of what they were thinking. Maybe they are hungry and thinking about what they are going to order for lunch.
The point is, you just do not know what they are thinking. I highly doubt ‘mind reader’ is on your resume so what makes you think you can magically develop that skill right then and there?
I know it is easy for me to say stop, breathe and relax because I am not the one that feels like I am sitting in front of a firing squad.
So, let’s look at it from a different perspective. Think about that pause as the same as when you are having an argument – i.e. ‘discussion’ – with your wife or mom.
Caveat – I am going to make assumptions and generalizations here. I am not man or woman bashing, I am poking fun of each of us to help get you through an interview.
If you are one of the significantly low number of women who do not do this or have never done this to your significant other or child(ren) I applaud you. I am not. Most people I know hear this example align with it immediately. This is for demonstration purposes – don’t shoot the messenger.
When your wife or mom is upset with you, what do they do? They ask you a short, direct question. When you answer, what do they do? They remain silent, for an extended period. They wait. They watch to see if your body language screams out a little white lie or discomfort. We wait, we watch and then we determine how to proceed. It is a girl thing.
Now, you know we do this, we know we do this so this is not new. You have probably figured out that it is best to respond in a way that answers the question putting yourself in a positive light while at the same time not making yourself look bad.
Then you wait. If your answer was received positively, you can expand on it. If it was not received positively, you have not said enough to get into really big trouble, so you can smooth it out and refocus it in a positive way.
It is not nice, it is not always fair, but as a generality, we do it; and we are good at it.
Normally, the question we are quizzing you on is not a deal breaker. “Did you eat the last cookie?” “Did you put my cashmere sweater in the washer with your shop towels?” Things like that. We may not be all that happy, but they are not deal breakers.
By the way, we also know most men ruin at least one article of our clothing to get out of laundry. We know you do it, you know you do it, this is not new and you are good at it. But that is another story.
The next time you are in that uncomfortable space in an interview, just think of it as having a ‘discussion’ with your mom or wife. You survived that; you can survive this too, with flying colors!