Simplify your job interview answers to get the job

By Scot Herrick | Job Search

Nov 22

Recently I attended a two-day course in presentation skills. Since I did that whole debate thing in high school — and went to nationals in oratory — I didn’t think I would get much out of the course. Most of it, I knew.

But there were two important things I learned: how to correctly work with slides as part of the presentation and the maximum that should be on a slide is seven things with at most seven words per thing.

It was the ultimate in bullet-point slide building.

Then there was the email training session. What were the most important points? No more than three paragraphs long. Put what you are asking for as the first sentence, not at the end. People’s attention spans — especially executives — are as short as a gnat.

And, yes, bullet points in emails are awesome.

You know what else I learned?

We now make multi-million (billion) dollar decisions based on incomplete sentences that consist of 7-word bullets.

That any reasoned email longer than three paragraphs won’t get read.

That your requests will be ignored unless it is right up at the top. And since I’ve been doing that, not even then.

Papers and research are both important, but the only thing that will get read will be the Executive Summary. Nuance is NOT in.

Then there are interview answers

Then there was the media training I went to. One of the important messages in this one was short sound bites that are to the point make for a great interview. The poster boy for this message was my own CEO at the time. Easily recorded answers from real interviews — and compared to answers of other CEO’s from other companies.

My guy was preeeety good. Actually, he was. So good that one interviewer ran out of questions during the 3-minute interview because he was so used to CEO’s going on and on and on about stuff. My guy didn’t. Short, single point sound bites. Asked and answered. Done.

And, yes, there’s that whole “no nuance” thing again. And, yes, there is that “people make decisions based on bullet point” thing again as well.

We forget all this when we get into job interviews

We get into those job interviews and blab on and on. Sometimes, on some more. Whether it is nerves, or wanting to get everything out for this one chance at getting a job, or wanting so hard to shine, we forget that bullet points rule.

That Executive Summaries are all that is read.

That the conclusion must be the first sentence or no one will wait for the conclusion. That three paragraphs in an email are all anyone pays attention to.

Decide what one thing you want to say to answer the question. Then answer it. Then stop.

Listen carefully to what the question is really asking. Then create a short 2-3 paragraph story that demonstrates your awesomeness. Then stop and wait for the next question.

People have become so utterly distracted in the name of multi-tasking, busy-ness, overworked — or all three — that any answer longer than that of a gnat’s attention span risks having the interviewer miss your message. Think about what message you want to send, make it concise, deliver it, and then wait. You’ll be surprised by what you get back from the interviewer.

Also, the same applies to resumes. That’s why getting the first page of your resume right is critical to getting the interview in the first place. Sign up for my 4-part series on building the first page of your resume below. It’s the Executive Summary people will want to read.

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About the Author

Scot Herrick is the author of “I’ve Landed My Dream Job–Now What???” and owner of Cube Rules, LLC. Scot has a long history of management and individual contribution in multiple Fortune 100 corporations.