Bald office worker reflecting with a hand over her mouthFrom my experience dealing with hundreds of candidates and interviews, foot in mouth disease is one of the most common problems in employment interviews. It’s a condition that too many well qualified applicants suffer from, and as a result, they lose their chance to secure that desired position. All too often they talk too much at the wrong time and talk too little at the right time.

The secret is to learn when to elaborate in answering a question and when not to over-explain. It’s so frustrating to realize after an interview that you blew it by talking too much about the wrong things.

In our current economic world, job displacement is a fact of life. Between 2009-2011, 6.1 million workers were displaced from jobs they held for at least 3 years. Of those workers, 26.7 percent remained unemployed in January of 2012. That causes intense competition for each vacancy. You have to prove in any interview that you’re the very best both technically and personally. If you are lucky enough to make it past the resume screening, you now have to tackle the live audition in order to make a memorable impression. Seasoned interviewers are always looking to prune down the long interview list in this live audition, often by provoking you to say too much, asking questions to steer that foot toward the mouth.

There are certain interview questions that cannot win you the interview, but can lose you the interview. Preparation in the true “art” of interviewing will help you recognize these peripheral questions, such as:

  • Why did you leave your last company?
  • What is your biggest weakness?
  • Tell me about an issue you had with a boss?

Be ready with brief, rock-solid replies because the interviewer’s goal with these questions is to probe for yellow flags in your answers, if there are any. Your aim is to answer them concisely, but without damage, paving the way for answering questions that you’re certain can win you the interview. Keep them honest but short and simple. Don’t ramble or add a lot of color commentary. Over-explaining here could draw unnecessary questions and importantly, will minimize the time left for you to describe why your experience and skills make you the perfect candidate.

On one recent interview, a candidate gave a prolonged answer when I asked “Why have you only worked one year in each of your last three companies?” Something confused me in his first answer so I probed with another question, which then led to another. That candidate had thus wasted 20 percent of our allotted time on trying to answer a conventional question every interviewer tends to use. As a result, he had lost time he could otherwise have applied to convincing me that he was the best candidate for the job. He should have recognized that there was no answer he could give me that would win him the interview, but in this case his answers clearly helped lose it for him.

Always be ready to strike the right balance between when to elaborate on an answer and when to keep it simple. Remember the importance of these essentials:


Short and Simple





Reasons for leaving/


Leadership competencies


Personal beliefs/past decisions

Elaborate your replies and compelling explanations to react to questions centered on 1) your work experience, accomplishments and skills, 2) your career progression, 3) your leadership competencies and 4) how you expect to benefit the business. Clear, illustrative and well-prepared answers to these questions will separate you from other candidates in a positive way.

Keep it simple on questions regarding 1) why you left your last position, 2) your personal beliefs and biases, and 3) past career and life decisions. Preparing your straightforward answers to such questions will have you confident and focused for a successful interview.

Your ultimate goal is to make a remarkable impression in your interview. Therefore, you must be an expert in the true “art” of the interview, confident of every response you give. Recognize which queries are “win” questions (those that can win me the interview), or “lose” questions (those that can’t). Use your limited time effectively, elaborating on the right questions. With practice and preparation, you can avoid your foot from going in your mouth, while accelerating yourself ahead of the competition for that coveted next job.

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