Dos and Don'ts of Handling Interview Silence

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You?re at a meeting or job interview. You?ve just answered a difficult question or made an important point and are met with an unmovable silence. You wait, growing a bit uneasy, but the room remains deafeningly still.

What would you do? According to executive coach Mary Kay Scarafile, most candidates rush in to fill the void by talking a blue streak. "Most people are so intimidated by the silence that they slip into the role of someone who has goofed and is trying to recover. They?ll do anything to end the silence, so they begin to qualify and expand on their previous answer hoping to hit on something that will fix the problem.

"This most often results in candidates offering more information than they need to - information that is irrelevant, even damaging, to them and their cause."

A senior advertising copywriter says her panic over an interviewer?s silence cost her her dream job.

"When asked whether I?d still work if I won a $10 million lottery, I said that if I worked for this agency, yes, because I would be doing what I loved. It was an honest answer and I thought a good one, but the creative director just stared at me suspiciously."

"After a while I got so nervous, I began conceding that there were a number of changes I would make if I won the money... It was all down hill from there."

Whenever you are confronted with silence, the best strategy is to refuse to be intimidated by it. Remember, some people use silence as a test to see how you respond under stress. And if you actually did goof, remaining calm will do more to defuse the situation than a stream of chatter.

Scarafile recommends that if you ever encounter the silent treatment, you should keep quiet yourself for a while and then ask very sincerely: "Is there anything else I can add to fill in on that point?"

This puts the responsibility back on the interviewer, and if you have said something that is troubling him or her, will give you a better idea of how to recoup.

Knowing what to say is important. Knowing when to stop is vital. To keep from talking yourself out of a job remember these Do?s and Don?ts.

Do your homework beforehand. Anticipate questions that are likely to be asked and prepare brief (two minutes or less) compelling answers to each.

Don?t spend time talking about dates, chronology or other information readily available on your resume unless asked to do so.

Do pause briefly before answering a difficult question to gather your thoughts. It not only helps you organize what you want to say, but will make you appear more sincere.

Do pay attention to verbal and non-verbal cues from the others in the room to gauge their reaction and adjust your responses accordingly.

Do bring along a portfolio of successful projects (if applicable to your line of work) so that the interviewer can see and get a feel for the breadth of what you can do and ask about the projects which interest him or her.

Become comfortable with silence. Remember, eloquence is saying the proper thing... And then stopping!

Last Updated: 24/09/2007 - 3:50 PM


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