The best job seekers don’t ramble. As a recruiter, I hated to interview ramblers. You ask them for their career story, and they start with where they grew up, cover each year of grade school and explain each state they lived in before settling in this part of the country. You ask about a specific project, say a product launch in Japan, and they launch into an exposé on the purchasing habits of Japanese consumers before and after World War II, before and after the market boom, before and after the popularity of Pokemon. The Rambler answers the question eventually but not before sharing additional background in painstaking detail. He or she does not realize that the best interview responses give just the right amount of information in just the right amount of time. It’s not about being short for brevity’s sake, it's about being concise.
Explain the context.
The interviewer was not at the product launch in Japan or whatever other example you’re sharing. So when you give an example, you have to share enough context for the project so that the interviewer understands why this project is important and why your contribution mattered. The context can best be understood in the overall objective of the project (e.g., a product launch in Japan), the output delivered at the end of the project (e.g., a manufacturing plan and timetable, as well as a marketing launch campaign) and what role you played (e.g., overseeing the manufacturing and marketing teams). That’s all you need! The Rambler will get lost in the play-by-play of how the project unfolded or in the technical minutiae of the project. These details are irrelevant because the employer isn’t launching the exact same project — the employer is trying to determine if you could add similar value to their specific project. You are selling you, not your projects.
Define the scope and scale.
How big was your team? How big was your budget? How high were the revenue targets? How many people attended your event? How many departments did you coordinate? Numbers like these are important details because they demonstrate the extent of your responsibility and make it easier for the employer to see where you fit. If you have run a similarly sized team or budget to what you might inherit in this new role, that’s a relevant selling point. Anything more is information overload.
Get to the point.
You’ve set up enough context so the employer understands your contribution. You’ve prepared your numbers so the employer understands the scope and scale of your responsibility. Now don’t forget to end the story with what actually happened: What were sales, profits, brand recognition or other important metric after the product launched in Japan? How did the company or client benefit? What did you learn? The Rambler has no moral to the story. The Rambler is just sharing disparate facts. The best interview responses have a beginning, a middle and an end, where the end demonstrates value that the employer can appreciate.
You don’t want to be the Rambler. You don’t want to go on and on and leave the interviewer confused as to what you’re talking about, where you’re going with all these details or why you bothered to tell that particular story. The best job interviews are a conversation, not a monologue. You don’t want to dominate; rather, you want a comfortable back-and-forth. When you’re concise with your responses, you allow the interviewer time and space to engage with you.
Caroline Ceniza-Levine is a career expert with SixFigureStart®. She is a former recruiter in management consulting, financial services, media, technology and pharma/biotech.