How to Stop Rambling in Interviews by Telling Concise Stories

Stories are powerful in interviews, but if your stories are too long, you’ve got a problem. The interviewer may become impatient (they do have a list of questions they want to ask!), Or even bored. Here’s how to stop rambling in interviews.

In this post I’ll show you how to shorten your interview stories while keeping them effective. I’ll also touch on other causes of rambling, giving you several different ways to be concise in interviews.

To make a long story short. . .

Most interview stories should be about a minute long. Why are yours running too long? There are several possible reasons.

Maybe you’re not sure what belongs in the story.

You may find yourself rambling around the story like a shopper who roams a grocery store without a shopping list, tossing things into their basket at random. Get organized in advance by using a storytelling model such as STAR or SOAR to plan your stories.

Maybe you’re very detail-oriented and feel a need to be very complete.

Pat yourself on the back for your thoroughness and attention to detail. Those are useful qualities. But can you ever really tell all of the details of a story? Of course not. You have to pick and choose. So try planning a concise story this way:

Specify the situation (aka, problem or challenge) as briefly as possible. This is only the starting point. The interviewer is less interested in the problem than in how you solved it, so Keep It Simple, Sweetheart, and move right along.

Now tell one action you took to resolve the situation. (Yes, just one–At least for now.) “The most crucial thing I did in order to achieve this was…” Telling only one action may not be enough, but try it, just for practice.

Now consider mentioning one obstacle you overcame. “The biggest obstacle I faced was. . . and I overcame that by. . .

Now describe the results. How did your action benefit the team, customer, department and / or company? Don’t be brief about this part. Results are the best part, they’re what the company is hiring for! Here’s where you can put your thoroughness to use.

In the next step, you’ll time this story. That’s when you find out whether you need to tell two or three actions you took, instead of just one.

Stop rambling in interviews by practicing with a timer.

Tell your story out loud, and time it using a stopwatch app on your phone or a free stopwatch website. If your story takes about a minute, it’s probably ideal.

If it feels a little too short, end by asking if they’d like more detail. If they say yes, don’t get carried away at that point. Give them a little at a time. If they have questions, let it develop into a conversation, not a monologue.

If your story is much shorter than a minute, great – that was good practice. Now try it again, adding a bit more about how you got those great results. You already included the most crucial action you took, so what was the second most important? Or maybe, add a step you took that was innovative or very clever.

Not all stories should be epic.

Unless you’re answering a question about “the largest, most complex project you’ve ever managed,” you can use the “stories within stories” method to mine your major accomplishments for smaller, simpler stories. After all, most major accomplishments involve overcoming several obstacles. Each of those triumphs is likely to yield an effective little anecdote.

Now that you know how to stop rambling in interviews through concise storytelling, check out my more general post How to Be Concise in Job Interviews for additional helpful tips.


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