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Answers in an interview – The Mini-skirt style.

Nobody will ever tell you this and this may probably be the first time you will hear this kind of expert analysis and angle of thought. Have you ever thought how long should an interview answer be? You know the people interviewing you are human beings with feelings just like you. The first thing you should do before answering a question is to put yourself in the interviewers shoes and think about what he will have wanted to hear. When you are in a group of students or job seekers, just try a prank interview or a dummy panel. Interview one of you and listen to the way he answers questions. Be very frank and tell him how interesting or boring they were when responding to them. The longer the responses the more boring it is but don’t be certain about this though because some questions may require long answers like those that may require technical expertise.


Scientists in psychology estimate that a good interview should last 28 minutes because this is enough time to know and evaluate someone’s character and capabilities. If it takes less or more don’t worry, there is an allowance for the interviewer to write down specific strengths and weaknesses that he notes from an interviewee or time to jot down ratings of the interviewee in different areas. Just as a point to note, when an interviewer is bending to write, don’t de-concentrate and pause, just keep answering a question because it may be a diversionary activity. A standard question though should take 2-3 minutes to respond although these figures will depend on the kind of question asked as we see here below. To avoid surpassing this time, let your answers be like a mini-skirt, too long to cover the whole area and short enough to remain interesting -   Mini-skirt style.
When a question is thrown at you there is a basic analysis that should go through your mind very fast before answering:
1.       Is it a close ended question? If yes then the answer is short and brief. Two seconds and these questions don’t really require a lot of thought so don’t start by hamming first. A close ended requires just two responses: Yes or No. If in an interview you are asked about sensitive matters be brief. A question like, ‘Is your father alive?’ can be asked by an interviewer in order to prepare for a question surrounding that subject: your father. So in responding to it, say yes or no. Maybe a panelist wants to know if he is alive and ask you what he does for a living because if he went straight to the question, ‘what does your father do for a leaving?’ and he happened to have died the response will be, ‘ my father passed on around three years ago.’ which may bring tension in the room. In responding to the earlier question just say, ‘yes, he is alive.’ or ‘no, he is not.’ rather than saying yes and then going into the details of how much you love him and how well he treats you. This kills time, may bore the listeners, and have very bad effects on your chances of making it through.
2.       Is it a character question? These are the kind of questions that have very long answers in your mind but interviewers do not want to hear the long answer. Imagine a question like, ‘tell us about yourself’ or ‘how your university life was?’ These are questions that you will have very long answers for because like the first question may tempt you to start from the day you were born, your childhood, your primary life, secondary and university. This is a whole lot of biography that no one is ready to listen to whether interesting or not. I will not divulge into advising you how to answer it but how long to answer it. Character questions tempt the interviewee to think that the interviewers have a lot of time for you. This a three minute question because all that these questions require is that you show what in your past can prove that you are fit for the job you applied for.
3.       Is it an observatory question? These will be instances when you have been given the opportunity to also ask questions, comment, observe, and issue your view or discussion on topical issues. It is very easy at this point to divert to things that don’t matter or stray far away from the topic. Be very careful because that will take time. What then happens when your answers are very short in these kinds of questions? You will look stupid and without knowledge. If an interviewer told you, for example, to choose a topic of discussion and then you do not have content on it, seriously, you will seem very meager. In observatory questions, take time between 5-7 minutes so that you can easily throw a question to the interviewers to avoid making the topic or note a one person affair.
4.       Is it a technical question? Be very careful with these kinds of questions because they require your knowledge in a given field of study. I remember some time back when in ‘Apprentice Africa’ was being aired in KTN, there was a lady contestant from Nigeria who felt like she knew a lot about interviews. During the interview, she claimed to be comfortable with economics till she was asked, ‘what is stratification?’ This is a very simple question to any economist who has studied depression but because she was in an interview room with tension, she blipped around with economic jargon with a definition that required one minute answering. The interviewer said to her, ‘Do you realize how long you are taking in answering such a simple question?’ This was because she was not sure on something she claims to know very well. Even technical questions have those that require very few minutes to respond to.
What if my answers are long than the expected time?
1.       You will obviously be boring.
2.       You may stray from the facts and drift away from the right answer.
3.       You may list answers that are irrelevant with the hope of making the answer long.
4.       It may cause confusion on your part.
5.       You may de-concentrate the interviewers.
What if my answers are too short?
1.       The perception that you were not prepared may crop in.
2.       You may appear that you do not have enough facts.
3.       It may affect your ratings especially in questions that require content.

This we hope will help you in making the right decision on how long your answer should be in an interview. All you need to do is to put yourself in the interviewers’ shoes and all will be well.

We at HCC wish you all the best in your future endeavors and any job search.

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