recovering from nervous rambling in interviews

A reader writes:

I enjoyed — and got some great suggestions from — your post on talking too much during an interview. Do you have any ideas on what to do if the damage has already been done? An obviously nervous, but exceptionally well-qualified candidate, who doesn’t interview well but gets the job done and has a history of many successes and fabulous references?

I do! And I am grateful for the opportunity to be nice to someone after that last post.

Here’s what I’d do: Send a follow-up email to the person who interviewed you and acknowledge it. Say something like, “I’m really excited about this job and I think my nerves and excitement got the better of me — I realize I was talking way too much. I’d really like to get the chance to show you that I’m not generally like that and that I’m interested in listening as much as talking!” But be more charming than that. And probably only do this if you’re sure it was a big deal, since otherwise you risk that they weren’t even bothered by it.

Alternately, you can address it while you’re in the interview itself. Last week, a candidate who was indeed rambling on said to me, “Please cut me off if I’m talking too much — I sometimes do.” A small part of me was alarmed to hear him characterize himself as a rambler, but of course I was already thinking that on my own anyway — and I was glad he acknowledged it and gave me permission to interrupt when I wanted to. After that, I did cut him off a few times, his second interview went extremely well, and we ended up hiring him.

All that said, there’s a bigger picture solution you should strive for, and that’s to figure out a different way to think about interviews so that you’re not so nervous in them. One tip is to think of the interview as just a conversation — which is truly what the best interviews are. You are discussing the possibility of working together, and you’re both interested in seeing if it seems like a good fit — it’s not just them interrogating you. Good luck!

{ 3 comments… read them below }

  1. HR Wench*

    After the interviewer finishes asking a question take a breath. Inhale and exhale. Then begin your answer. This gives you a chance to collect your thoughts before you begin rambling. It also gives the appearance of actually “thinking” about the question before you answer. It will help cut down the rambling. At least it works for me (but took practice I do admit!)

  2. Rah*

    What about interviews that do resemble more of an interrogation than a conversation? Not all interviewers treat you as an equal and that can be intimidating, thus leading to nerves on occasion for me. I had an interview recently in which the 4 interviewers essentially quizzed me on the issues they work on, rather than asking about my experiences and skills. I’m not an expert on all of their issues but have worked on about half of the same issues for years and meet all the other qualifications of the position (above and beyond). I realized I may not have answered many of their questions to their satisfaction, but it seems to me that some of the knowledge of the issues can be learned on the job too and that transferable skills & experiences should be equally important. Anyway it made me wonder if/how to address this in a post-interview thank you email… While my nervousness didn’t make me ramble, I ended up not speaking terribly articulately. Seems like in this case the damage has been done but it would be nice if there was a way to save face a little too :)

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