Interview Tip: The Silent Treatment

Interview Tip: The Silent Treatment

I just read this article in Inc. Magazine and it contains one of the best interview techniques I have heard this year.  It advocates asking less questions and particularly using a period of silence after more introspective questions.  Most people have an aversion to lulls or silence. So how do we use and confront this aversion in Interviews.

Interview Tips for Recruiters – How to use the “The Silent Treatment”: In an interview, candidates will fill the void with more information about the question, an additional example or another perspective on the question.  Too often we as interviewers are in such a rush to answer all of our prepared questions we forget to focus on what we are looking for with those questions.  When I am listening with a clear understanding of all of the attributes I am looking for in an interview, I find that I can omit some questions and take more time exploring a more nuanced example.   Leaving a period of silence after each question will allow candidates to give richer answers providing a wider window into their character allowing for a more informed decision.  Furthermore, candidates who are uncomfortable with silence will be more likely to give clues into areas where they typically would avoid exploring.

In addition to planning to use this technique in our interview processes, the article got me thinking – what are other areas where recruiters can use silence and where does our desire to speak and avoid silence inhibit performance?  Here are some quick thoughts:

  • When pitching jobs… All positions have aspects that are not so attractive. I have noticed that when recruiters are pitching jobs there is strong desire to continue speaking after the pitch has been made. Often we fill this void with more information to counter what we think is not attractive about the job. In the process we draw attention to it, adding more negative information about the job.  Remember people make decisions for their own reasons – not yours.  Provide the information about the job – the good, bad and indifferent (not in that order) and shut up. Seriously. Give the candidate time to process and then discuss what concerns arise.
  • When getting feedback on a job.  This is a real killer for recruiters making sure placements are going smoothly.  When asking how a placement is progressing, hearing something that resembles good news will stop asking questions.  Statements like “the assignment is fine…” are often followed by a qualifier.  Yet most recruiters stop at “the assignment is fine…” When we give candidates time to speak and really engage them about their answers we often find other critical information.  Candidates will report that the assignment is “fine” but that they are having an issue with a direct report or feel that the position is a mismatch for long term goals.  If we had stopped at “fine” we would miss out on the truth.  So give candidates time when debriefing about their job satisfaction – do rush to fill up silence and be prepared to ask probing questions.
  • When taking new jobs from clients – For most companies, describing organizational culture is impossible.  It is like a fish describing the water – it is such a part of our reality that we don’t even know it is there.  So when clients tell you what they are looking for don’t be so quick to ask the next question – let them have a moment for their thoughts to marinate and you will get better information.

Interview Tips for Job Seekers faced with “The Silent Treatment”: For job seekers, the trick is simple. Don’t fill up silent moments with jabber.  If you find yourself finishing an interview question and are met with silence use it to go over your answer and get a sense of what the interviewee is looking for.  Did you cover that concern?  Is there something you could elaborate on that would put you in a better light?  If not, resist the urge to speak.  Allow yourself to sit in the silence and if you need to break it simply ask “Did I cover all of your concerns?” Bottom line — be thoughtful and you will do fine.

By Peter Laughter, CEO at Wall Street Services