Short interview can stop you in your tracks

Q: Of all the various things that can happen in a job interview, what worries you most? What’s the worst sign of all? I’ve had some funny experiences myself lately on the interview trail and I’m just trying to put them into context. Thank you. (DC, email ).

A: It is difficult to generalise, but I will try: the one thing that consistently worries me is the short interview. Whenever I hear of a client getting a short interview, I tend to conclude that the job is already gone and just hope that my client is the favoured one, writes Liam Horan, Career Coach, Sli Nua Careers.

A short interview tends to prove very little. A candidate needs a chance to get into their stride. In a short interview, there is very little opportunity for the interview panel to develop or probe your answers – it strikes me that all they can do is ask a series of prepared questions that they ask everybody.

It does not conform to what I like to call a knowledgeable chat, where you, and the other people on the other side of the table, engage in a real discussion about the job, your experience and how all of this might fit together. If you find yourself in a short interview, there is very little you can do, because it will be all over before you know it.

However, you should still focus on trying to score as much as you can. This is through the first minute, the tenth minute and the last minute of an interview: so regardless of how long it goes on for, you should try to make every minute pay. It’s all you can do.

Let’s get technical

Something that arises in many job interviews is the whole area of technical questions.

It can be difficult to anticipate whether or not they will even be asked, but it is important for candidates to brush up on their technical knowledge before a job interview. This is particularly true of newly qualified people who have built up the base of experience in the workplace.

Sometimes interviewers ask you to explain difficult concepts to lay people. In Google, for example, candidates have been asked the following: “How would you explain the importance of HTML5 to Larry Page and then to my Grandma?”

There are two levels to this question. They want to see if you know it fully in the first place and if you can interpret for non-specialists. So they are checking your technical knowledge and your communication skills. For a one-line question it is incredibly powerful.

If you are a specialist, there is always the danger of going too deeply into your speciality. It is good to attempt to make things simple even to other specialists, as esoteric language can confuse a great deal.

Thus you need to prepare at those two levels for any interview. In my experience, it is best to suggest a level of expertise or speciality, even if a technical question is not asked, and to ask the panel if they would like further detail.

This is a balancing act, a judgement call, but you need to be ready to show your expertise in some way in the interview.

Sli Nua Careers ( ) have offices in Galway (Patricia Maloney, 091 528883 ), Mayo (Ballinrobe and Claremorris ), Limerick, Tullamore, Sligo, Tralee and Cork. Their services include CV preparation, interview training, job-searching strategies, public speaking and presentation skills, and career direction. For more details, visit



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