There are two effective methods to respond to interview questions: the short variation and the long variation. When a question is open-ended, I always suggest to candidates that they say, “Let me give you the short variation. If we need to explore some aspect of the answer more fully, I’d be happy to go into greater depth, and give you the long variation.”
The reason you should respond this way is because it’s often difficult to know what type of answer each question will need. A question like, “What was your most challenging project?” might take anywhere from thirty seconds to thirty minutes to answer, dependant on the detail you choose to give.
Therefore, you must always bear in mind that the interviewer’s the one who asked the question. So you should adapt your answer to what he or she needs to know, without a lot of irrelevant rambling or redundant explanation. Why burn time and develop a negative impression by giving a sermon when a short prayer would do just fine?
Let’s assume that you were interviewing for a sales management position, and the interviewer asked you, “What sort of sales experience have you had in the past?”
Well, that’s exactly the sort of question that can get you into complication if you don’t use the short version/long version method. Most people would just start rattling off everything in their remembrance that pertains to their sales experience. Though the information could possibly be useful to the interviewer, your answer could get pretty complex and extended unless it’s neatly packaged.
One way to address the question might be, “I’ve held sales positions with three different instrumentation companies over a nine-year period. Where would you like me to start?”
Or, you might simply say, “Let me give you the short version first, and you can tell me where you want to go into more depth. I’ve had nine years experience in instrumentation product sales with three different companies, and held the titles of district, regional, and national sales manager. What feature of my experience would you like to focus on?”
By using this method, you telegraph to the interviewer that your thoughts are well organized, and that you want to grasp the intent of the question before you journey too far in a direction neither of you wants to go. After you get the green light, you can spend your interviewing time regarding in detail the things that are essential, not whatever transpires into your thoughts.