How Much Should You Talk During an Interview?

by Brian Skory

Sometimes we hear back that a candidate didn’t talk very much during their interview and that this signaled a lack of interest to the interviewer. But other times the feedback has been that the candidate talked so much the interviewer couldn’t get a word in edgewise! Clearly, there are extremes at both ends of the spectrum, but is there a middle ground where you can hedge your bets that you’re talking enough without overdoing it? 

Your job in an interview is to provide the interviewer with enough information to be able to make a decision as to whether or not you are a good fit for their company. A “good fit” covers a lot of territory, however, including whether or not you have the required skills, are able to learn new ones, whether you are a culture fit, and, ultimately, how likely you are to contribute long-term value to the company. So there is definitely a lot that you should say in an interview. That being said, interviewers are generally very busy people, so you will also need to be respectful of their time and be as efficient as possible without watering down the quality of your answers.

Fortunately, because we’ve gotten so much feedback from so many interviews over the years, we’ve been able to come up with the following guidelines that will maximize your chances of striking a healthy balance between talking and listening. Here’s what we recommend you keep in mind.

  1. An interview should be roughly 50% you talking and 50% you listening.
  2. Your answers should definitely not be one or two words. As mentioned above, this could signal that you are disinterested or unable to express yourself well. That said, a minute is longer than most people think when it comes to answering a question and might be too long in many cases.
  3. Doing a little prep work on answering interview questions almost always pays off. We recommend that you grab some interview questions off the internet and record yourself answering them. This is easily done on your mobile phone or computer. Time yourself and see how long you’re spending answering the question. Observe how you answered the question and ask yourself, “Was my answer too short? Was it too long? Did it adequately answer the question? How could I have improved my answer?”
  4. Grab a friend or your partner and do the above exercise with them. Let them give you feedback on the four points mentioned.
  5. Adjust for your personality. If you are on the quieter side, then know that it’s likely going to take a bit of extra effort to elaborate on your answers. And likewise, if you’re a chatterbox, then know that it’s almost certain you are going to have to dial it down a bit. This is why the exercises above are so useful since they let us observe ourselves from an interviewer’s perspective.
  6. A good rule of thumb is to watch the person who has asked you the question to see if they are giving signals that you have answered the question to their satisfaction—or signaling that you are going on too long. For instance, you can look to see if the interviewer is nodding interestedly and encouragingly or looking down at their interview notes to find the next question.
  7. Try to stay on topic. An easy trap to fall into is to go off-topic as other related thoughts start to come to mind. If you think the new topic may be pertinent and of interest, you can mention it briefly. And if the interviewer expresses an interest in learning more, then it’s certainly fair game to go into in more detail. But as a general rule, it’s probably best to stick to the topic of the question.
  8. Keep in mind that these are rough guidelines and are not going to be applicable for every interview question. Some questions will require a bit of elaboration and others will simply not require more than a few words. Sometimes you’ll have an interviewer that’s talking so much that you can hardly get a word in edgewise. But as general guidelines, they are very good to keep in mind.

Do take the time to run through some sample questions as described above. I think you will find it very worthwhile, and it may just give you an edge over the other candidates interviewing for that position.

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