Basics in Brevity for Your Next Big Interview


People all get nervous when job interviewing. It’s normal, whether it’s your first one or a few decades into your career. Though there are many tips to follow to make the best impression, you may overlook a blind spot: brevity.

Nerves have a magical power to transform normal people into talkative types that can’t resist the temptation to say a little bit too much. Maybe it’s an extra few words, a random comment or a meandering story with no clear point. The tendency to transfer nerves into inadvertent noise can have disastrous results.

In my book Brief: Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less (Wiley & Sons, 2014), I highlight the need for today’s professionals to master the art of brevity. The world we live in demands it: people are drowning in information, constantly interrupted and highly inattentive. Decision makers expect you to be clear and concise and get annoyed when it’s missing.

Here are three things you can do to make brevity your best weapon against nervousness and over enthusiasm:

1. Think before speaking: take a millisecond to think of your answer before opening your mouth. Pick a word or short phrase that captures the essence of your answer mostly closely. Avoid the temptation to say anything else that might to come to mind that doesn’t coincide or support that singular idea; that will only derail the answer and make you ramble.

2. Know when to end: while you’re talking you should use some mental bandwidth to monitor the time you’re taking. Don’t rush. Just like in a TV or radio interview, be ready to wrap it up and get ready for the next question. When you have a strong ending, notice the next question and how well it connects to the one you just answered. If it’s very disconnected, it might be a sign that you’re not being clear or concise enough.

3. Make it a conversation, not an interrogation: you’re trying to build rapport and determine if there’s a good fit. If you provide lengthy answers that feel like you are being put to the test, all balance and chemistry will be lost. An even conversation where nobody is tipping the word count ensures you are both getting to know each other better.

The best interviews are the ones that feel short – both people present would love it to last longer. In a field of competitive candidates, you need to leave the immediate and lasting impression that you are a confident, clear, and concise candidate. The sense of enjoyment and relief that you provide will be noticeable – and so rare.

Think of brevity as your way to stand out from the crowd.

Joe McCormack is recognized for his work in narrative messaging and corporate storytelling. He is managing director and founder of the Sheffield Company. An experienced marketing leader and author, he founded The BRIEF Lab in 2013 after years dedicated to developing and delivering a unique curriculum on strategic narratives for U.S. Army Special Operations Command (Ft. Bragg, NC). He actively counsels military leaders and senior executives on key messaging and strategy initiatives.


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