When you’re nervous, as most people are in job interviews, you sometimes talk more than needed. But rather than getting you further than silence might, the words just pour out, tumbling all over themselves. And in effect, all those tumbling words may prove to be less effective than they might otherwise be – or worse yet work against you.
So here’s the thing: Sometimes silence, if used right, can be more powerful than all those space-filling words. But how and when do you use silence to your best advantage in your interview?
The scary sounds of silence
I think one of the things people fear most is not having enough “smart” things to say during a job interview. Or worse yet, responding in some way to the other person, and then being met with a cold stare and dreaded silence.
Silence feels scary. It’s a time when you can easily dredge up all the doubts and fears sitting inside. It often feels like you’re not doing enough of what you’re supposed to be doing – whatever that may be.
And it also feels like you’ve somehow ceded control and are allowing the other person time to be judging you. As if you’re giving them a chance to stare at you and for just that brief moment – the opening you create by not speaking – they can see see into the darkest parts of your soul.
But silence is not always a bad thing. Sometimes what feels like forever is really just a few seconds – time to catch your breath and your thoughts and also let ideas and impressions sink in.
Using silence in job interviews
Silence when looking for an answer: An employer might ask a question meant to make you think or even squirm a bit and then see how you handle it. The important thing isn’t always the exact words you use to answer, but the way you think things through and the clear-headedness of your response.
Don’t feel rushed. Yes … time is limited and you certainly don’t want to look slow-witted, but rushing to respond before brain is engaged is only going to work against you. No one wants to hire people who think AFTER they act!
So take a moment … maybe saying something like “That’s a great question. Hmmm … let me think.” And then give yourself a few extra seconds to do just that. It’s perfectly ok.
Silence in your response: When you’re nervous, it’s easy to start speaking quickly. And then there is that fear of leaving any empty spaces that we talked about. But sometimes silence … or more precisely a well-placed pause … can help you pace your answer so that the interviewer can take in your thoughts more completely. And so can you!
Pauses can be used for emphasis of important points. They also can help you connect with the other person, by taking a moment to look them in the eyes and smile for a few beats ( 2 or 3 seconds) after saying something you want them to remember. Connection is the key to a great interview.
Most importantly, it helps you stay in the moment, really remembering to answer what was asked – not some gush of thoughts you almost can’t control. And it helps you keep your answers at a pace that both you and the interviewer can feel comfortable with.
So don’t be afraid of silence. Learn to use to your advantage. Practice working with “the sounds of silence” during your interview preparation. Your interviews will be all the better for it!
And remember, your body language speaks even when you don’t:
More help with your interviews: