Interviewers often eliminate a candidate from consideration because he or she "talked too much" during the job interview. Indeed, excessive talkers irritate potential employers.

Quiet people often have a major advantage in job interview situations, and especially if they know how to use silence to their financial advantage!

Some people feel uncomfortable with silence - particularly when we are with people we do not know very well. This is exactly the situation you find yourself in when being interviewed for a job. If you are afraid of silence, you are likely to rush to fill the void with chatter.

This could be your undoing. If you can become comfortable with silence, or at least mentally accept that it is okay, it will work to your advantage.

Don't Jump in Too Soon or Talk Too Much

The interviewer asks you a question. Although you do not want to pause for so long that the interviewer becomes uncomfortable, you should feel free to take a few moments to think how to respond.

Be careful that you don't jump in too soon with your response. A moment's pause to organize your thoughts will work to your advantage.

Be careful not to talk too much. Some applicants talk on and on because they are afraid of silence.

In a common scenario the candidate finishes his thought and pauses waiting for the interviewer to assume the lead, but the interviewer says nothing.

The applicant then begins to feel uncomfortable after a minute or two, so he decides he had better say something more. The "something more" may tell the interviewer far more than the well composed comments the candidate offered initially.

The interviewer may simply be formulating his next comment or question, but he may be purposely confronting you with silence. Why?

First, he may want to see how well you handle yourself under the pressure to keep the flow of the interview going by speaking. Resist that pressure.

Second, he may wish to see whether you will modify or retract what you have said. Maybe you will provide more information that will help him eliminate you from consideration for the job.

A good interviewer will leave silence at the end of your answer. If you ramble on incoherently in order to fill the silence you will be rising to his bait.

Of course, silence can be uncomfortable. But when you are confronted with silence at the end of your answer, resist the temptation to talk too much. Fools may jump in, but you shouldn't!

If the silence drags on for too long a time, you have three options which can reflect positively on you.
  1. You could ask the interviewer whether you have answered his question. This puts the ball back in his court and at least you should get a sense of what you should do next.

    If he asks you to explain something, then by all means do so - taking a moment first to organize your thoughts again. You may need to ask him to what additional information he is requesting.

    Don't be afraid to ask questions that will help you what the interviewer is focused on. Of course, if the interviewer was just trying to see how you would handle the uncomfortable silence, you have shown your ability to remain composed and handle the situation in a positive manner.

  2. Suggest another question the interviewer might be interested in hearing about - "Perhaps you'd like to hear about ...."

    The question you suggest should relate in some way to the question you have just answered and be one of your strengths that you would like to have an opportunity to talk about.

  3. You could take the opportunity to ask the interviewer a question. Ideally the question you ask should be related to the things you two have been discussing. And do not ask self-centered questions at this point; no question about salary or benefits, please!

Focused Silence in Salary Negotiations Can Add $$$

If you can train yourself to be comfortable with silence, you may be able to add dollars to the salary the employer was initially planning to offer you.

When the employer indicates the dollar amount of the starting salary in the job interview, or the raise you are being offered during your performance review, your natural inclination is to respond. Don't jump in too fast. Be silent. Wait.

You may be surprised how often the employer will feel uncomfortable with the silence at this point and offer a higher amount - without your having to say anything! And believe it or not, if you still remain silent, the employer may raise the amount yet again!

After the employer has increased your salary as a result of your silence, you still have the option of using whatever supports you may have gathered for negotiating a higher salary, but at this point your starting figure may be several thousand dollars higher before you even begin negotiating!

Selected pauses of silence can work for you. If you find it impossible to sit there and say nothing as you look into the eyes of the employer, try taking out your notepad and pen and begin jotting numbers down on the notepad.

This will give you something to do that will help you feel less uneasy and may further make the employer assume you are not satisfied with his offer and are working with numbers that are an increase in the salary.

For further information on strategies - both verbal and nonverbal - for negotiating the best possible salary during the job interview, see Ron and Caryl Krannich's Dynamite Salary Negotiations.

If you recognize how you can make use of silence in positive ways in the moments after you have answered a question when the interviewer says nothing, and after the employer indicates the amount of salary or salary increase he is offering, you will have become a more savvy interviewee.

SOURCE: Adapted from Caryl and Ron Krannich, Ph.D.s, Savvy Interviewing: The Nonverbal Advantage (Manassas Park: Impact Publications), pages 109-112. Copyright 2000. All rights reserved.