7 Surprising Moments To Use Silence During An Interview

I remember this interview as if it was yesterday. I was just a couple of months out of grad school and actively reaching out to potential clients to establish myself as a freelance medical writer. My biggest mistake was not using silence to my advantage. 

This was my third round of interview with this client – I had already made it through the phone screen and the writing test – and it was supposed to be the last. It was a virtual panel interview with the lead editor and fact checker. 

I had been preparing for this for weeks, researching the company, the types of text they wrote, and their specific audience. I really wanted to write for them and I felt ready to show them my value.

However, things started going south the minute the interview started. Even though I didn’t realize it at the time, I’m pretty sure I had lost that client before the actual interview had begun. 

The first question was the expected “tell me a bit about yourself” I was so excited to give my elevator pitch, I started telling them the whole story of my life. Even things that weren’t really relevant to the position.

I rambled for over 5 minutes talking about myself, completely forgetting interviews are supposed to be conversations. The interviewers even tried to comment on what I was saying a couple of times, but I didn’t even let them talk.

The interview only lasted 30 minutes, even though it was scheduled to be 45 minutes to an hour. It never really turned into a pleasant conversation.

I now know that the pace of the interview would have been different had I known when to remain silent and let my interviewers talk.

Lesson learned! I spent hours after that practicing for interviews, making sure to know when I should talk and when I should remain silent. Some weeks after that, I could have pleasant conversations with prospective clients and show them my value without overpowering the interview. 

The Interview Funnel

On average there are 525 applicants for every position,  which means you have a 1 in 525 chance to get hired.  We call this the interview funnel. As you move through the funnel your odds improve. 

The first, and biggest filtering step occurs between the number of applications received and the dozen or so people who get a phone screen. The pile is narrowed down even further to only about 4-5 candidates for a video screen. From here, there is the video panel or possibly a site visit. In these panel/site visits, candidates will meet with upwards of 10 people and they have to impress each of them. 

Even though the odds are not with you, they get significantly better each time you get through one step.  This also means that the mistakes become more costly. 

Being the 1 person to get hired out of possibly 525 is a huge accomplishment. You should be proud no matter where you are in the process. Each rejection is a unique learning opportunity to understand how you can improve for the next time.

When you make it to the final interview it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, fatigued, and even a little irritated, but that last interview is the most important. It will also likely be the longest interview, somewhere between 45 minutes to a few hours. However, most interviewers will decide whether or not they want to hire you in less than 7 minutes. Some interviewers will only give 90 seconds to impress them before they make their decision. 

To succeed during the hiring process you need to communicate clearly and concisely. 

While the words said during the hiring process are crucial. The moments you remain silent also define your character and candidacy. 

Don’t make a foolish mistake by rambling on and suffocating your interviewers with wasteful information and off the cuff answers. 

Here are 7 ways to seriously use silence to show your understanding of industry interviewing intricacies. 

1. When imposter syndrome sets in 

All PhDs face imposter syndrome at some point. Most face imposter syndrome more than they should. 

You made it through your PhD, you are now an expert in your field, a Doctor of Philosophy. Don’t let imposter syndrome talk you out of an opportunity. 

Not having industry experience is the number one reason PhDs don’t feel like they can transition into industry. If this is you, it is time to silence your inner critic, to silence your imposter syndrome. Industry experience is not necessary to transition into industry but clear, concise, and confident communication is. 

Imposter syndrome is also the cause of saying “yes” too much. When you finally get a phone screen after so many rejections it’s easy to think “I should say yes to whatever they ask me”. This doesn’t always make you a better candidate, it can sometimes sound like you are desperate. 

By silencing your inner critic, you will gain confidence, overcome imposter syndrome, and new unexpected opportunities will emerge.  

2. Right before the interview 

It can be both exciting and stressful when you finally get that interview. It’s very easy to feel overwhelmed and rushed which is why proper preparation is a must. Not only should you ensure your area is clean and comfortable, that you’re dressed professionally, that you are in a quiet spot, but you should also take a moment to sit in silence. To gather your thoughts, to review your notes on the company. This is a great time to congratulate yourself for getting this far. 

Taking a few breaths right before a stressful situation can do wonders for relieving stress and centering your mind. 

3. During introductions

Most interviewers will make their decisions within the first few minutes of the interview. Making the introduction a very crucial period. 

However, it’s not just about what you say or your elevator pitch. It’s also about listening and engaging with your interviewers particularly if it’s a video panel interview. During a panel interview you may have to present and answer questions from more than 10 people. Each of them you need to greet and engage with. 

The best way to do this throughout the interview is to be silent during the introductions. When each person introduces themselves, write down their name and a little description so you can easily recall each person throughout the interview. 

Remember, in a panel interview, all participants might have a say in who is hired. Forgetting one person’s name could be the reason you don’t get hired into the position. 

 

4. When someone else is talking

This one may seem obvious but this mistake is made too often to not be said. Perhaps the most important time to be silent during an interview is when someone else is talking. It doesn’t matter if there is something more to say, or if what they are saying is wrong. You should never interrupt the hiring manager, interviewer, or any panel participant while they are speaking. This is a sure way to get someone to feel uncomfortable and belittled. 

5. If you forget what you were saying

This one is very important and we’ve all seen it. Think back to a seminar or the end of a talk at a conference. There’s always someone who “asks” a question and 5 minutes later they are still talking and no one is really sure what they are trying to say. 

In academia, there’s a certain amount of prestige that is gained from asking overly convoluted questions that don’t really seem to be going anywhere. Because PhDs are around this so frequently it becomes a part of the culture. 

This is not a smart way to answer a question during an interview. If you feel like you are rambling or you’ve lost the train of thought do you best to wrap it up quickly. Don’t try to continue to fill up space by reiterating words and talking in circles until you think you’ve gotten to a conclusion. 

6. Right after a question is asked

When you are asked a question it’s important to answer it completely, truthfully, and strategically. This requires a moment of reflection. 

Don’t try to answer a question before the interviewer is done asking it. Listen to the entirety of the question. 

Think of an event in your life that embodies that question. Then, organize a response using the STAR method. 

STAR stands for situation, task, action, result. To answer an interview question first describe a situation, but be brief. You need just enough context to allow the listener to picture the situation. Then, state the problem, or task. Next, you want to communicate the action that you specifically took to solve the problem. Finally, state the results that transpired due to your actions. 

It is difficult to formulate and organize all these steps quickly. So it’s important to take a moment of silence to formulate an adequate response.

7. During salary negotiations

Once you get an offer it’s time for the salary negotiations. This is the quickest way you can earn extra money and your success in this process can be boiled down to silence. 

Generally speaking, the first offer extended by a company is less than they are willing to give. That first number is a test to assess your business acumen and your ability to negotiate. 

Moments of strategic silence are littered throughout the negotiations process. From the very beginning, you want to avoid discussing salary. Let them make the first offer. 

When they make an offer or a counter offer it’s also important to ask for some time. 

Although there are several moments when strategic silence can be used for a successful salary negotiation, not revealing your salary and taking time with an offer are two of the most important.

Concluding Remarks

Silence is often associated with stoicism, wisdom, and maturity. While those who do not know when to use silence are associated with giddiness, foolis, and childish behaviour. Those who do not know how to deal with silence can find it awkward and uncomfortable but harnessing silent moments during the interviewing process can be a very effective way to make your way to your first industry position. 

In conclusion, the 7 times to practice silence during the interviewing process are:

  1. When imposter syndrome sets in
  2. Right before the interview
  3. During introductions
  4. When someone else is talking
  5. If you forget what you are saying
  6. Immediately after a question is being asked
  7. During salary negotiations

To learn more about interviewing at the PhD level, including instant access to our exclusive training videos, case studies, industry insider documents, transition plan, and private online network, get on the wait list for the Cheeky Scientist Association.

Join Cheeky Scientist Association
Get Free Job Search Content Weekly
Alejandra Viviescas, PhD
Alejandra Viviescas, PhD

Alejandra holds a PhD in genetics. After finishing her graduate studies, she followed her passion for closing the communication gap between scientific researchers and the general public. Currently, as vice-president of development at Cheeky Scientist, she produces content that helps PhDs find success outside academia.

Similar Articles

Best Of Transition: PhD Jobs & Job Search Strategies, April 10th 2021

Best Of Transition: PhD Jobs & Job Search Strategies, April 10th 2021

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Every week, we at Cheeky Scientist scour the Internet for the best articles on topics that help in the search for the Best of Transition: PhD Job Search in the industry. Our two consultants independently search for the most informative articles in the categories of networking, CVs/resumes, interviews, transferable skills, academic blues, industry positions, and business acumen. Our consultants vote on a top article for each category and a top overall article for the week – if it’s a recent article that can help readers find and acquire PhD jobs, then we want to include it in this weekly digest.…

The (Revised) Fundamentals Of A PhD Job Search

The (Revised) Fundamentals Of A PhD Job Search

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

We’ve seen dramatic changes in the job market since the start of 2020; the fundamentals are changing. From the first wave of lockdowns to the mid-year hiring boom and then the second wave of lockdowns, and now –  the vaccine rollout.  We’ve observed the highest month of PhD hiring ever since we started tracking PhD hiring nearly a decade ago.  The month was November, 2020.  But this boom was followed by an 81% drop in PhD hiring.  And now, with a lot of uncertainty around future corporate tax rates in many countries, we are seeing PhD hiring stagnate in this…

Best Of Transition: PhD Jobs & Job Search Strategies, April 3rd 2021

Best Of Transition: PhD Jobs & Job Search Strategies, April 3rd 2021

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Every week, we at Cheeky Scientist scour the Internet for the best articles on topics that help in the search for the Best of Transition: PhD Job Search in the industry. Our two consultants independently search for the most informative articles in the categories of networking, CVs/resumes, interviews, transferable skills, academic blues, industry positions, and business acumen. Our consultants vote on a top article for each category and a top overall article for the week – if it’s a recent article that can help readers find and acquire PhD jobs, then we want to include it in this weekly digest.…

Best Of Transition: PhD Jobs & Job Search Strategies, March 27th 2021

Best Of Transition: PhD Jobs & Job Search Strategies, March 27th 2021

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Every week, we at Cheeky Scientist scour the Internet for the best articles on topics that help in the search for the Best of Transition: PhD Job Search in the industry. Our two consultants independently search for the most informative articles in the categories of networking, CVs/resumes, interviews, transferable skills, academic blues, industry positions, and business acumen. Our consultants vote on a top article for each category and a top overall article for the week – if it’s a recent article that can help readers find and acquire PhD jobs, then we want to include it in this weekly digest.…

Best Of Transition: PhD Jobs & Job Search Strategies, March 20th 2021

Best Of Transition: PhD Jobs & Job Search Strategies, March 20th 2021

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Every week, we at Cheeky Scientist scour the Internet for the best articles on topics that help in the search for the Best of Transition: PhD Job Search in the industry. Our two consultants independently search for the most informative articles in the categories of networking, CVs/resumes, interviews, transferable skills, academic blues, industry positions, and business acumen. Our consultants vote on a top article for each category and a top overall article for the week – if it’s a recent article that can help readers find and acquire PhD jobs, then we want to include it in this weekly digest.…

Best Of Transition: PhD Jobs & Job Search Strategies, March 13th 2021

Best Of Transition: PhD Jobs & Job Search Strategies, March 13th 2021

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Every week, we at Cheeky Scientist scour the Internet for the best articles on topics that help in the search for the Best of Transition: PhD Job Search in the industry. Our two consultants independently search for the most informative articles in the categories of networking, CVs/resumes, interviews, transferable skills, academic blues, industry positions, and business acumen. Our consultants vote on a top article for each category and a top overall article for the week – if it’s a recent article that can help readers find and acquire PhD jobs, then we want to include it in this weekly digest.…

If Your Resume’s Been Rejected 20 Times Or More It’s Probably Missing these 5 Things

If Your Resume’s Been Rejected 20 Times Or More It’s Probably Missing these 5 Things

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Here is the funny thing that most PhDs don’t understand - your PhD is incredibly valuable and so are you, BUT you are not above the job search process. You and your PhD don’t give you a free pass to not have to learn to speak the language of industry, to not have to follow up, to not have to learn industry buzzwords and transferable skills; to not have to practice behavioral questions, on and on. Being smart, proven, or successful in one area does not make you any of those things in another area. Get over yourself. Otherwise, you…

Best Of Transition: PhD Jobs & Job Search Strategies, March 6th 2021

Best Of Transition: PhD Jobs & Job Search Strategies, March 6th 2021

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Every week, we at Cheeky Scientist scour the Internet for the best articles on topics that help in the search for the Best of Transition: PhD Job Search in the industry. Our two consultants independently search for the most informative articles in the categories of networking, CVs/resumes, interviews, transferable skills, academic blues, industry positions, and business acumen. Our consultants vote on a top article for each category and a top overall article for the week – if it’s a recent article that can help readers find and acquire PhD jobs, then we want to include it in this weekly digest.…

Best Of Transition: PhD Jobs & Job Search Strategies, February 27th 2021

Best Of Transition: PhD Jobs & Job Search Strategies, February 27th 2021

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Every week, we at Cheeky Scientist scour the Internet for the best articles on topics that help in the search for the Best of Transition: PhD Job Search in the industry. Our two consultants independently search for the most informative articles in the categories of networking, CVs/resumes, interviews, transferable skills, academic blues, industry positions, and business acumen. Our consultants vote on a top article for each category and a top overall article for the week – if it’s a recent article that can help readers find and acquire PhD jobs, then we want to include it in this weekly digest.…

Top Industry Career eBooks

Complete LinkedIn Guide For PhDs

Complete LinkedIn Guide For PhDs

Isaiah Hankel

The LinkedIn tips & strategies within have helped PhDs from every background get hired into top industry careers.

20 Most Popular Industry Career Tracks For PhDs

20 Most Popular Industry Career Tracks For PhDs

Isaiah Hankel, PhD & Arunodoy Sur, PhD

Learn about the top 20 industry careers for PhDs (regardless of your academic background). In this eBook, you will gain insight into the most popular, highest-paying jobs for PhDs – all of which will allow you to do meaningful work AND get paid well for it.

Industry Resume Guide for PhDs

Industry Resume Guide for PhDs

Isaiah Hankel, PhD

Learn how to craft the perfect industry resume to attract employers. In this eBook for PhDs, you will get access to proven resume templates, learn how to structure your bullet points, and discover which keywords industry employers want to see most on PhD resumes.