A reader writes:
I’ve been very selectively job hunting for the last year and have had a few interviews. I have found it difficult to get into the interviewing groove because I only have one about every four months due to the low number of applications I’ve submitted. I have a “big” interview coming up that I’m preparing for, and after an awkward impromptu interview for a club tonight, I was reminded about a problem I’ve been having during interviews.
When asked a multi-part question during an interview, I often find myself forgetting the question while I start giving the answer. This results in mild panic as I scramble to coherently try to finish my thoughts, and either ends up in an awkward situation where I have to ask the interviewers to repeat the question or they have to prompt me to continue or I worry that if I don’t ask and they don’t prompt me, I gave an incomplete answer which I will be penalized for. I already try to give myself a brief pause to collect my thoughts before I start answering a question, but between being nervous and then having my mind flood with ideas, I keep ending up lost mid-answer. Do you have any suggestions?
One trick to better lodge all the pieces of the question in your brain is to repeat it before you start answering. For instance: “I’ll answer the last part of that about X first, and then I’ll come back to Y.” Or, “Sure. I’ll tell you about X first, and then explain how Y has fit into that.” Sometimes just saying it out loud can help you remember it.
But if that doesn’t work, it’s also completely fine to say, “And you had a second part to that question too — you wanted to also know….?” in a tone that says “Please prompt me; I’ve forgotten the next part of your question.” It’s even fine to just come out and say, “And I’ve forgotten the second part of your question — can you remind me?” This is normal, and unless you’re applying for a job that requires remembering multi-part questions without writing them down, it’s unlikely to be held against you.
Speaking of writing things down, some people find it helpful to jot notes in situations like this. You don’t want to take lengthy notes that require you to pause the conversation or break eye contact for more than a few seconds, of course, but just really quick notes to keep you focused. For instance, let’s say that your interviewer said, “Tell me about the work you did at ABC Corporation and what your biggest accomplishment was there. And what led you to leave?” You might jot down these notes: “ABC, accomplishment, why left.” And if you feel weird about doing that, you can just say, “It’s ingrained in me to write everything down so I make sure I address everything.” In other words, you’ll convey, “I’m super organized!” not “I can’t remember anything you say.”
But really, I suspect a big part of what’s happening here is that you’re freaking yourself out by worrying that you won’t remember everything and that it will be a Horrible Disaster if you don’t, and so you panic, and panic is really effective at wiping our brains clean. So I’d also try just relaxing about it a little, and realizing that it’s completely fine to just say, “What was the second part of your question again?”
What other advice do people have?