How to deliver interview answers without rambling.

One of the hardest aspects of interviewing  for a JMO to master seems to be in delivering concise, to the point, substantive interview answers.  Unfortunately some JMOs make the mistake of responding with long winded answers that are difficult for a recruiter to follow.  I wonder sometimes if the JMO candidate thinks an answer to an interview question is similar to answering an essay question on a college exam.  I remember when I took those tests. If I didn’t know the exact answer, I would write everything I knew about the subject hoping something would connect.  I would at least get partial credit.  Well, it doesn’t work that way with an interview answer.  That strategy will cause a pretty quick rule out.

The first key to avoid rambling and be able to deliver concise, to the point, substantive answers, starts with preparation.   Preparation steps include the following:

1) Take time to conduct self-analysis; understand your strengths, weaknesses, 3-4 significant accomplishments, 1-2 failures, and the key lessons you learned from the military.  You should also be able to explain your leadership style in less than 3 minutes.

2) Write out your answers to commonly asked interview questions.  When you get them down on paper,  study them to determine if there is anything that does not add value and cut out the extra verbage and “fluff.”

3) Practice your verbal delivery numerous times.  You do not want to memorize the answers but you want to be comfortable with the content.  The first time you deliver an answer should not be in your first interview.

You may have noticed these steps are similar to preparing for a speech.   We have all suffered through long winded speeches.  Typically they come from failing to research the subject, not writing out or outlining key points, and not practicing delivery with the intent of making  points that connect with the audience.  Interviewing is similar.

The second key is understanding how to connect your background and accomplishments to the position and the company.  Too often candidates do not take time to thoroughly analyze a position to determine the essence of it (the major responsibility and why it is important) and the key competencies and functional experience the company desires.  When the candidates don’t understand this, they go back to the strategy of, “I don’t completely understand what the recruiter wants, so like the essay test in college, I’ll give this answer and hope that something connects.”  With communication skills being so critical today, that is not the preferred methodology.  The keys to connecting your background to the position include the following::

1) Take a sheet of paper, draw a line down the middle, put “Company Recruiter Wants” on one side, and “What I Possess that Connects” on the other side.

2) Study the job description thoroughly.  Identify the essence of the job, the 3-4 key responsibilities and the key competencies and functional experience required.  Put those things on the “Company Recruiter Wants” side of your paper.

3) Go back to your self-analysis and your resume and evaluate what relates to this position.  Then write down your key strengths, significant accomplishments and functional military experiences on the ‘What I Possess that Connects” side of the paper. 

This becomes your plan on connecting your background and skill set to the requirements, ensuring you stay on point during the interview.

Once you are in the interview, I recommend using a technique to deliver answers that Roger Cameron taught me 10 years ago when I did my transition.

1) Listen to the recruiter’s question.  THE WHOLE QUESTION.  Do not mentally cut off the recruiter and start determining what you want to say.  You may miss part of the question. 

2) Reflect on what you want to say, think back to your sheet of paper, and determine the points you want to make.  Now this isn’t license to take 2-3 minutes or even 20-30 seconds.  If you have done your preparation properly, it should be a brief mental moment.

3) Deliver your answer – answer the question bottom line up front, support your points, AND once you have answered the question with good supporting content – STOP!

We all ramble.  I do it.  I did it today trying to explain something to Roger Cameron.  When he looked at me curiously half way through my explanation, I knew I was not connecting with him.  I was rambling and he didn’t understand my point.  The fix came in reading Roger’s body language and adjusting.  You have to do the same in your interview.  Read the recruiter’s body language and other verbal cues.  Do they give you the thousand yard stare?  Do they stop writing?  Do they put their pen down and lean back?  In their next question, do they preface with, “Now briefly…”  The cues will be there –  you need to listen and observe.

Joel Junker