The pressure to speak during an interview can be overwhelming.
When you are talking, you feel as if you are in control of the narrative, thereby reducing any potential uncertainty. You sense that 60 minutes is not enough time to do justice to your career story, so you try to maximise the (uni-directional) flow of information. Your brain is hard-wired to use communication as a skill to survive, and there are few situations that invoke the “fight or flight” response more than an interview.
You talk, and talk, and talk.
The interviewer is assaulted by a barrage of words and their brain is overwhelmed by the volume. They wish that the candidate would shut up for a second and let them collect their thoughts and formulate a question that is important to them rather than the irrelevance that is gushing their way. They secretly want to put their fingers to their lips and say shush….
However, to a candidate, the thought of moments of silence during an interview seems unbearable.
For the reasons listed above, this is understandable, but silence will serve them just as well. Silence too has its power. In silence, we can hear not only what has been said, but also what is not being said. In silence, it can be easier to seek the truth.
The best conversations are an even mix of listening and speaking, and even though a candidate has a particular message to convey during an interview, there is no reason why this should change. Your communication during your interview should not differ from your normal style in a working context. There is nothing more pleasurable than listening to an insightful speaker who choses their words carefully, speaks melodically and intersperses their thoughts with long pauses for reflection.
Of course, the interviewer has to play their part too.
If you interview a candidate who is thoughtful and reflective, give them the time and space to decide on exactly what it is they want to say. Don’t judge your success based on the quantity of insights, rather aim to tease out what is really important. It is in their interests to give this to you, but if you rush them, you will risk a garbled wall of somewhat relevant noise. Then you wonder why you couldn’t remember much about them afterwards….
In those micro-moments of silence, you take note of body language, you reflect on tone of voice and you think about context. You give each other permission to change tack, to make additional comments or simply to move on.
The nature of the recruitment process means that you will often have a second chance to expand on what has been said. There will be further interviews, phone chats and email correspondence. During that vital first interview (in particular), don’t feel the pressure to talk too much.
When you have a choice of what to say, nothing is always a valid option.