The art of silence in an interview: 3 things to not say

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Preparation for an interview should include preparing to be silent. An interview is a sales call, not a chat session. So you shouldn't answer every question you get. Sometimes, you need to give a non-answer. This might feel a little weird to you, especially if you're a genuinely honest person. But remember that in most cases, not answering is not dishonest, it's just smart. Here are three areas of questioning that you should skirt.

1. Don't talk about the hunt. Everyone wants to hire a superstar. And superstars do not have to go through a big job hunt — the jobs come to them. So you devalue yourself by discussing your exhaustive hunt, and how long it's taken, how sick of it you are, etc. Hunting for a job is not a position of power. It is situation of neediness.

A way around this topic is to focus on how many interesting things you are doing while you are unemployed. Or, if you still have a job, talk about how much you love your current job and that you only interviewed for this position because it is such an incredibly perfect match for you and the company. Goal: Keep the focus on how happy and involved you are. Those are the kind of people companies want to hire.

2. Don't give a number when negotiating salary. You will never gain anything by giving the first number in salary negotiations. If the person asks you how much you make, how much you want to make, what ballpark you expect, etc., your best response is a non-response. If you give a number that is lower than they expected, then that's what you'll get. If you give a number that's higher than they expected, they'll tell you.

In order to successfully avoid saying a number, you need to be ready with other things to say. A good start is saying you'd like to know the range the position pays. If they keep pressing you, say you think your salary history is not relevant because this is a different job. In the end, you might have to say flat out that you're not going to give a number. Someone who has pressed you very hard for a number will respect this answer — after all, no one presses this hard unless he understands that knowing a number gives them a huge advantage.

3. Don't say you want reasonable hours. Ninety percent of the world will tell you they respect that request. Twenty percent of the world will, in fact, be able to accommodate that. So instead of talking about reasonable hours, observe the office to see the hours people keep.

People who have no respect for reasonable hours will make that clear in an interview. Either by announcing it, or by doing something like scheduling the interview for the middle of the day on Saturday. If you have to make a point of reasonable hours in the interview then you're probably in trouble. If the office culture is long hours, then even if they tell you that you can go home at 6pm, you will be marginalized among workaholics.

But while you're concentrating on keeping your mouth shut, remember also that you have to talk in order to be likeable. It's important to be yourself in an interview. You need to trust that your true self is likeable, and you need to let that self show through. So don't talk about things that will make you look unemployable, but don't be so uptight about what you say that you can't be yourself. Being your likeable self is what will get you the job.

7 replies
  1. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    The best advice I ever got on how to avoid giving that magic number was this: Answer the first inquiry, as Penelope said, with a question back such as “What salary range are you thinking for this job.” If they decline to tell you, you can simply ask point blank “is there a reason the salary range for this is confidential?” They have a range. They know that you know that they have a range. Assuming there is no reason for them not to tell you the range will, more often than not, get you the information you are looking for.

  2. Alex Wu
    Alex Wu says:

    Interesting tips. Not talking about the hunt, that’s common sense, but people still make that mistake. As for 2nd point, in not mentioning about salary, I thought we should at least give a ballpark figure to use as the first anchor point for negotiation. As for reasonable hours, that depends on that individual definition of “reasonable hours”. In Silicon Valley, working past 11 pm is fairly normal, even on weekends, so that is pretty much implied, when a person takes such a job.

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