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How long should your interview answers be?

How long should your interview answers be?

September 7, 2021

Keeping your interview answers short and to the point, while still giving enough detail is a difficult line to walk. To make things more difficult, when the spotlight is on you, a second feels like an eternity. 

So, how long should your interview answers be? How do you know if you’ve been detailed enough? And how do you know when you’re rambling? 

These are all very common questions that plague job candidates when they are trying to prepare for interviews. In this guide, we will explore some of the steps you can take to make sure your answers are the ideal length. We’ll also explore some tips to help you determine if you’ve hit or missed the mark.

Practice makes perfect

Like with anything in life, you’ll get better at judging how long your answer should be with practice. Practising your interview answers beforehand will help you to develop a confident delivery and also determine if you’ve said everything you want to say. This can also help you to cut down your answers to make them more succinct.

How long should an interview answer be?

Your answer should be as long as it needs to be without rambling. It’s difficult to say how long this will be, but as a general rule, you shouldn’t be talking for more than 2 minutes at a time. 

It’s very easy to get distracted and go off on a tangent when answering questions, but try to keep focus so you can keep the interviewer’s attention. If you start rambling, you might find they start to lose focus and aren’t really listening to what you’re saying.

For factual questions, you should be able to answer quickly and without too much detail. If the interviewer wants more detail, they will ask. Examples of factual questions would be:

  • Where did you get your degree?
  • How long were you in your last role?
  • What is your current notice period?

These questions require quick answers with no padding. But if you are asked situational, behavioural or job-specific questions, you should aim to provide more detail. Examples of these types of questions would be:

  • Tell me about yourself
  • Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
  • Can you tell me about a time you faced conflict at work?

These questions require a structured answer to help you stay on track without rambling. For situational questions, the STAR method is very effective. This stands for situation, task, action, result. Following this structure in your answer will help you to stay focused and avoid rambling.

How long should your interview answers be? CMD Recruitment

How do I know if my answer is too long?

Most interviewers will cut you off or ask you to wrap up if your answer is going on for too long, but others will simply let you ramble. If you’ve practised your answers, you should have a good idea of how long it takes to say what you need to say. 

You might want to add more detail to your answer on the day of the interview, but make sure it is relevant to the question or the role.

Don’t feel you need to cut your answers short before you’ve said what you want to say. Some interviewers may not appear engaged with your answers because they are focused on taking notes, so don’t take this as a sign you should stop talking.

How long should your interview answers be? CMD Recruitment

How do I know if my answer is too short?

When you’ve finished answering the question, you might find that the interviewers are still writing notes, so they don’t immediately launch into the next question. Be patient, allow a moment of silence, and then ask a follow-up question.

If you’ve answered the question to the best of your ability but it feels like you haven’t said enough, simply ask the interviewer, “would you like me to elaborate?”.

If you’ve said all you can say on the topic, there will be no need to continue and provide more detail. But sometimes, an interviewer will prompt you to talk more about a specific point.

This is an excellent strategy to help you avoid rambling on to fill the silence. If you’ve delivered the perfect answer, you can avoid ruining this by rambling on.

Ask for feedback

If you are unsuccessful in your application, always ask for feedback from the hiring manager. If you are rambling on in your answers, this may become apparent in your feedback. And if you aren’t giving enough detail in your answers, this will also be obvious from the feedback.

Once you have this feedback, you can refine your answers to be more or less detailed as required. If a particular situation is too complex to explain in an interview setting, you might change the situation to one that is easier to explain.

You might also spot shortfalls in your answers that don’t accurately summarise your skills and experience as much as you would like. Try to take unsuccessful interviews as an opportunity to improve your skills so you can perform better next time.

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