- Navigating silence during an interview can prove difficult.
- If you practice ahead of the big day, you’ll know how to fill the silence with substance.
- And if you find yourself rambling, there’s no shame in saying, “Let me start over.”
We’ve all been there: You’re in an interview and everything is seemingly going well. Then, suddenly, the conversation hits a lull. Do you speak first to fill the awkward-feeling silence? Do you wait for your interviewer to lead the way? What body language do you express? I’ve worked in recruiting in the financial services industry for over five years and interacted with thousands of candidates throughout all stages of their interview processes, and I can tell you that awkward silences happen in nearly all interviews. They are rarely the result of doing something wrong, but rather part of a natural course of events – someone stopping to think about a previous answer or someone trying to remember the point he or she was planning to make, for example. Unfortunately, candidates often assume the void is their fault, get nervous, and start rambling to fill the void. But that’s not necessarily the best plan of attack. Here’s what to do instead.
1. Understand the importance of the silence.As a recruiter, there are so many things that go through my head during an interview. First and foremost, I’m responsible for taking as many notes as possible. I don’t want to forget anything the candidate is saying, because I have to pass along the right information to the hiring manager. This sometimes requires me to pause and take it all in. That said, I sometimes do use silence as a test; I want to see how the candidate will respond under pressure. Hiring managers do the same — they use silence to assess a candidate’s comfort and emotional intelligence. To come out ahead, let the awkward silence run its course. Show poise. Count slowly to five, and then say, “Is there anything else I can fill in on that point?” Consider this a moment to reflect on your answers and gather your thoughts for the rest of the conversation.
2. Come prepared.Your battle plan starts long before you walk into the room and shake your interviewer’s hand. Practice answers to common inquiries with your friends and get comfortable answering open-ended questions. Structure each point to tie back to what you studied, what you’ve been doing, or why you’re interested in this particular role. I recommend using the STAR format to make sure you’ve covered everything in detail:
- Situation: What was the context or background?
- Task: What exactly needed to be done?
- Action: What did you do to accomplish the required result?
- Response: What was the overall outcome and how was it received?