It happens to the best of us. You start to answer a question and then find yourself going on too many tangents and aren’t sure how to recover — you’re rambling. The issue with rambling is that it’s hard for your audience to follow your train of thought and figure out what your core message is. It takes effort for listeners to stay alert to the twists and turns in your story.
Therefore, if you are rambling in an interview or in a meeting, when you find yourself thinking, Where am I going with this? it’s important to know how to wrap up your thoughts and come to a clear conclusion. It’s that core message, or the phrase that you want people to recall, that you need to be direct about. Thankfully, that’s all you have to practice — ending with that take-home sentence that you want people to remember.
Unfortunately, instead of ending with a direct message, most people get embarrassed and end their answer with a trail-off phrase such as, “So ya…”. Or, they just end with a small detail about a story that has nothing to do with the question. Instead, practice ending with the sentence you want people to recall.
Let’s pretend you’re asked in an interview, “What is your greatest strength?” If you find yourself giving a long-winded answer, instead of trailing off, I’d bring it back to the original question and say something along the lines of, “And that’s why I think collaboration is one of my greatest strengths.” That way, if your answer was slightly disjointed, you still ended with the message that you want the interviewer to remember — that you are a great collaborator.
It takes some practice, but this technique can be used in all types of settings. If you’re in a meeting, talking about a project update, and you find yourself describing insignificant details, instead of ending with, “I know that was a lot of information,” I’d end with, “That’s why I believe we are on track with the latest design.” That way, even if the team got confused by some of the information you provided, there won’t be any questions on the current state of the project.
If you find yourself rambling, just take a breath, think about your core message and end your answer with that sentence. It’s a simple yet effective tool to help you and your audience communicate.
Questions are an integral part of any interview. But the way questions are commonly phrased can stop a lot of people. That’s why it’s important to think about not just what the interviewer is asking, but why they are asking. Rephrasing the interview question to yourself can be a useful tool to help you figure out what you should share. Below I’ve written out a few popular interview questions, and alternative ways to approach them.
Question One: Tell me about yourself.
Alternative: How are you putting your passion into action?
Question Two: Tell me about a mistake you’ve made.
Alternative: Can you own up to mistakes you’ve made in the past? What do you do differently because of what you’ve learned?
Question Three: What are your strengths?
Alternative: What areas do you excel in and how will that help us?
Question Four: What are your weaknesses?
Alternative: Are you aware of the areas you can improve in? What are you doing to work on those skills?
Question Five: Tell me a time where you had to think on your feet.
Alternative: Since surprises happen, give us an example of how you are able to adapt to unforeseen circumstances.
Sometimes rephrasing the questions you’re asked can help you think of answers. Figure out why they are asking this question and how knowing this information will help them hire you with more ease.
Click here for more interview questions to be prepared for.
Many people hate small talk. They’d rather engage in “meaningful" conversation. However, if you think about it, small talk can be quite meaningful. It allows people a safe environment to find common interests, engage with people they don’t know well, and connect with others outside their immediate bubble.
If you aren’t sure how to begin a new conversation, try categorizing small talk into these three categories:
1. Personal — plans, ideas for activities, things to watch, etc.
"Any plans for the holidays?"
"I love exploring the outdoors. Do you have any recommendations on places to visit?"
"I've been watching this great new show _______. Have you seen it?"
2. Professional -- work, research, news articles, etc.
"What do you do?"
"I've been working on this project lately where _______. What are you working on right now?"
"Did you read that article on _______? I found it interesting how _______."
3. Location and environment — things in the area, events, the weather, etc.
"Have you been to any farmer's markets around here?"
"I heard there is a fair coming into town. Have you been before?"
"I love this time of year when it gets a little colder. Do you have a favorite winter activity?"
Now once you start a conversation, the trick is to keep the dialogue going. If someone isn't familiar with the idea you bring up, don't just answer "yes" or "no" and leave it there. Instead, find a way to continue talking until you find common ground.
"Did you watch the baseball game last night?"
"No, I didn't see it. I was busy testing out a new risotto recipe. Do you enjoy cooking?"
It takes a while for people to feel safe enough to open up. Small talk can be an incredible tool to use. You never know who you will meet and where that one interaction can lead.
The video interview is an integral step in the hiring process. Before your next video interview, please read these tips:
1. Have a clean background
You want the interviewer to focus on you, not what is happening around you. You don’t want your weird poster to distract the interviewer. It's always better to have a clean background so that you are the most interesting thing on screen.
2. Different screen widths
Even if you have a clean background, you should remember that Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts, and FaceTime all have different screen widths. So, even if your background is clean on a FaceTime call, when you use Skype the blanket you have crumpled up in the corner of the room might be visible. Be sure your background is clean in all video mediums.
3. Put the computer at eye level
Most computer screens are below your chin, which is one of the most unflattering angles possible. Instead, raise your screen so that the camera is at eye level. You want to mimic an in-person conversation as much as possible. Real conversations happen at eye level.
4. Don’t wear stripes
Small stripes are hard to for a camera to capture. You don’t want to look like your shirt is vibrating on screen. Stick with solids or simple patterns over stripes or dynamic patterns. You want the interview to focus on you, not your wardrobe.
5. Plug in your laptop
Video streaming takes up a lot more battery than normal. The last thing you want is for your computer to die during your interview. Always make sure it is plugged in.
6. Have notes
Have your resume, information about the company, questions to ask the interviewer, and any other notes you need easily accessible. Be sure to take advantage of the fact that you can set up your interviewing space however it will benefit you the most.
7. Have water nearby
It’s always better to have water nearby. You don’t want to get a tickle in your throat during your interview and have to go into another room to get a drink of water.
8. Do a test run
Technology is amazing. It’s also notorious for breaking down just when you need it the most. Be sure to test your technology in the room (and in the clothes) you are planning on using for the interview.
9. Look friendly as the call connects
If you are staring at your screen and intensely watching as the call goes through, your face can look worried or frustrated. Instead, as soon as you go online, try smiling so that the first thing your interviewer sees is a friendly face.
10. Know how to share your screen
Sometimes people will ask you to share slides from a presentation. This means you will need to know how to give them access to your desktop. Know where this feature is, and how to use it. You also want to be sure that you minimize any tabs before sharing your screen.
I recently had the opportunity to sit in on 15 mock interviews for graduate students and postdocs. While a list of standard interview questions was provided as a resource, each interviewer was encouraged to bring their own spin to the interview process. I was able to take notes and compile the questions below. If you are a student who is about to go on the job market, hopefully these questions will help you prepare.
Questions About Previous Experience
Questions About Teams & Mentoring
Questions About Challenges
Questions About the Future
Before any interview, you want to feel prepared. Not only should you have all your materials ready (resume, notepad, outfit), but you should feel confident answering basic questions about your qualifications.
Click here to read my post on the Top 5 Interview Tips.
However, what many people forget to bring to an interview are stories. Stories allow people to demonstrate their qualifications through actions rather than statements.
Whenever I coach someone before an interview, I ask them if they have stories that demonstrate how they
Most people who are interviewed have 1 or 2 stories that instantly come to mind. But once they use up that story, they end up struggling later on in the interview. Or they end up having to use the same story to answer multiple questions. Of course, once they go home, another example might occur to them. If they had only taken the time to think about their history before coming to the interview, they could have impressed the interviewer on the spot.
I have my clients brainstorm 3-5 stories that showcase how they push through complications, think outside the box, and evolve in their job. That way they don’t miss an opportunity to demonstrate why they are the right candidate for the position.
Networking is critical in today’s world. However, in a networking environment, many people don't know how to start a conversation. I've written out a number of options to help you get the ball rolling.
Cold openers are often the most intimidating. My advice is to keep it simple. Some effective openers are:
— Hello, I'm _________.
— Hello, I'm _________ and I'm here for _________. What brought you here today?
— Hello, I don’t know many people here, so I thought I’d introduce myself.
When you are at an event, it gives you a unique opportunity to connect over the specifics that brought you two together. Try commenting on the event itself by asking:
— How’d you hear about this event?
— Did you hear _________ speak? What did you think?
— What a beautiful venue, have you been here before?
Think about commenting on the environment you are in. Look around you, what do you see? Bringing up your environment can help you identify an easy way to open up a conversation. For example, you can ask:
— Have you tried the mashed potato bar (or any of the food at the event)?
— I’m going to go and get a drink, care to join me?
— It’s packed in here, mind if I join you over here where it’s quieter?
Breaking into a group is easier than you think. Look for groups where the conversation seems relaxed. These are the ones that it is easy to step into. When you do come up you can ask:
— May I join you?
— Did you all come together, or did you meet here?
— You seem to be having a good time, mind if I join you?
Keep these phrases in mind when you are at your next networking event. You never know what connection you could make.
Interviewing for any position is nerve-wracking. You are entering an environment where your abilities are evaluated, analyzed and scrutinized. However, it is important to not let that pressure affect you. Here are some ways to overcome the stress of an interview and showcase your confidence:
When you don’t breathe normally, your nervous system kicks in because your body isn’t getting enough oxygen. This causes your heart to beat faster which can make you feel nervous. That is why proper breathing is so critical. Before you enter the interview room, take long deep breaths. Stay as calm as possible. Continue this awareness in the interview room. When you are asked a question, don’t hold your breath as you listen. Breathe the whole time. If you notice you are running out of breath when answering questions, slow down. Proper breathing is the first step to staying calm and looking confident in an interview.
You don’t have to speak to communicate. Body language is often much louder than words and body tension is often read as insecurity. Before you enter the room, stretch your shoulders, neck and back. When you enter the room, imagine you are taller and wider than you are. During the interview, don’t collapse down into a small ball. Stay relaxed and open. When you leave the room, stand tall, smile and look them in the eye as you thank them. Let your body tell the interviewer that you are ready and excited about this opportunity.
Many people enter “defending mode” in an interview. They feel they have to justify their history, experiences and goals. You don’t have to defend anything. You need to own it. You are there to give your qualifications a voice. If you get an interview, they are already interested in knowing more about you. You’ve done everything you can to prepare. Now enjoy the chance to share your thoughts with a potential colleague. This is the time to bring your ideas and passion to life.
When you breathe normally, have open and relaxed body language and own your ideas, you can show the interviewer how confident and excited you are about this opportunity.
Students are busy. Their schedules are packed and they are constantly struggling to meet deadlines. Due to this hectic lifestyle, many times job searches, professional development training and networking is put on the back burner. While this is understandable, it is also a mistake. Students need to realize that they can’t just be focused on their immediate projects — they have to focus on finding internships and jobs. Networking is a big part of this. It is critical in today's competitive job market. However, many people don't realize that it doesn’t have to be a huge undertaking.
Here are three easy ways students can start networking before they need a job:
1) Connect with Previous Mentors
Your mentors are already invested in your journey. They care about your career, your well-being and your goals. Far too often people only reach out to mentors when they need something. While asking a favor is perfectly fine, it shouldn’t be the only time your mentor hears from you. Instead you should:
2) Engage in Social Media
Interact with people who are invested in the same topics you are. Even if you aren’t looking for a job at the moment, you never know who you might meet and what opportunities will present themselves down the road. There are numerous ways to connect with others over social media:
3) Attend Events
While social media is incredibly useful, it isn’t a substitute for connecting with people in person. There are so many ways to meet people with similar interests. You can:
As a student it is easy to get overwhelmed and overlook opportunities. By taking some time to connect with mentors, engage on social media and attend events, you can easily expand your network. That way when you do need an internship or a job, opportunities will be much easier to find.
Once you go through the arduous process of applying for a job, you wait and hope for that glorious email or phone call informing you of one fact — you have an interview! Then, almost instantly, your excitement is replaced by sheer panic. Will they pick you? What if you get a question wrong? How are you going to get ready for this? Instead of feeling overwhelmed, take a moment and step outside of the powerless position that interviewees feel. In fact, the best way to prepare for an interview is to adopt the opposite role — become the interviewer.
Figure out where the interviewers are coming from. What are they looking for from each candidate? If the tables were turned and you were interviewing yourself for this position, what would you want to know? Go online and research questions companies ask people interviewing for this type of position. Take the time to brainstorm questions you would have for a future employee. Write them down.
Taking on the role of the interviewer answer the following:
Once you approach it from the interviewer side, you can then practice as an interviewee. Questions to help you prepare:
Practice answering them the way you would in the actual interview – say your responses out loud. Don’t just think about the answers, practice articulating your thoughts. Knowing the answers is not enough. You need to hear yourself saying them. Practice being succinct and to the point. Get comfortable answering questions in a clear and concise way.
Once you’ve come up with questions and practiced answering them, the next step is to let it all go. Don’t over-rehearse or become too obsessed with your preparation. As an interviewer, you want the person you are talking with to be genuine and honest. You don’t want to just listen to rehearsed statements. You want to get a sense of who that person is and if they will be a good fit with the team.
If you want to prepare for an interview, you have to think about the situation from the interviewer’s perspective. Put yourself in a position of power and think about the questions they will ask. Practice your answers and then let everything go. When you enter the interview, don’t think about the preparation. Pay attention to what is actually happening in front of you. Actively listen, be genuine and enjoy this opportunity to showcase what makes you stand out from the crowd.
Bri McWhorter is the Founder and CEO of Activate to Captivate.