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

Is Your LinkedIn The Cause Of Employers Ghosting You? 7 Techniques To Get Noticed On LinkedIn

Is Your LinkedIn The Cause Of Employers Ghosting You? 7 Techniques To Get Noticed On LinkedIn

By: Isaiah Hankel, PhD

I began my job search optimistic and determined. There was a job posting that seemed to be written specifically for me. I had all the qualifications, the work was extremely interesting. It was as if I had written exactly what I was looking for in a job and there it was on a job site. I spent all my time on the resume and did not touch my LinkedIn. I felt for sure I would get it, it was just too perfect. Finally, I hit “submit” and waited. For weeks, I heard nothing but I was patient. Then I got…

7 Steps To Take Before The “Second Wave” Of Hiring Freezes

7 Steps To Take Before The “Second Wave” Of Hiring Freezes

By: Sarah Smith, PhD

When I started writing my dissertation in September, I kept my head down. I was focused and determined. I ignored all social gatherings, all other responsibilities, this was my prime directive. 200 pages later, it was done, approved by my committee and my defense date was set, March 7th, 2020.  The defense went great, standing room only. For the first time in months, I could breathe.  Little did I know this would be the last in-person defense at my campus for the foreseeable future. Not even 10 days later, the world would shut down, the pandemic closed everything. I was…

3 Techniques To Climb Your Way To the Top of LinkedIn Keyword Searches

3 Techniques To Climb Your Way To the Top of LinkedIn Keyword Searches

By: Sarah Smith, PhD

When I told my labmates I was working on my LinkedIn profile, they said what for? In their eyes LinkedIn was not for academics. Obviously, since I was getting a PhD in academia, there was no place for me in industry, I had to stay in academia. And so, I stopped asking them to connect. I stopped asking other academics within my university to connect too, and soon I stopped asking everyone to connect. My LinkedIn profile laid dormant for several years while I went through grad school. As I neared the end of my PhD, I realized I wasn’t…

5 Ways To Protect Your Informational Interview And Get A Job Referral

5 Ways To Protect Your Informational Interview And Get A Job Referral

By: Aditya Sharma, PhD

The world is your canvas. What does that even mean? I was a PhD looking for an industry job, and that was the kind of advice I used to get. But this one I really struggled with: You’re a PhD – you can do anything. Hearing this sentiment over and over again was not empowering for me, but infuriating. Why? Because I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Sure, I could do anything…  But that still left me very lost. The tide shifted when I discovered informational interviews. An informational interview is when you contact a stranger and ask…

Follow These 5 Resume Rules For A Successful Job Search

Follow These 5 Resume Rules For A Successful Job Search

By: Aditya Sharma, PhD

Are you submitting your resume to online job postings? You might be surprised to learn that your resume is never even seen by a human being. 98% of Fortune 500 companies use applicant tracking software, according to Jobscan. Large-size firms (those that employ more than 500 individuals) receive many thousands of resumes every week. The only way their hiring departments can be functional is by using tracking software to weed out unqualified candidates. This puts applicants in kind of a tough spot - optimize your resume to get through the tracking software or get used to rejection. Even highly qualified…

Top 5 Reasons Your PhD LinkedIn Profile Is Not As Great As You Think It Is

Top 5 Reasons Your PhD LinkedIn Profile Is Not As Great As You Think It Is

By: Surayya Taranum

According to its parent company Microsoft, LinkedIn has 630 million professionals in over 200 countries registered as members.Over 30,000 companies in the US use LinkedIn for recruiting new hires, and over 3 million US jobs are posted on LinkedIn every month.Hiring trends in industry show that employers are increasingly factoring in the social media profiles of job candidates in their recruitment processes. That means, a professional LinkedIn profile and online engagement is a critical component of job search strategy for PhDs.What does your LinkedIn profile look like?

A Great LinkedIn Profile Isn't Enough - Networking Was The Key That Opened Doors For Me In Industry As A PhD

A Great LinkedIn Profile Isn't Enough - Networking Was The Key That Opened Doors For Me In Industry As A PhD

By: Natalie Fredrette, PhD

If you are using the internet as your main tool for learning about new job opportunities then you are missing out on the vast majority of available jobs. You’re seeing just the tip of the iceberg, as they say. For example, PayScale reported that between 70-80% of jobs are not advertised. Many companies do not advertise positions because the role will be filled through a referral faster than the advertisement can be made. Other companies incentivise employees and prefer candidates who come with a referral. The Association For Talent Development reported that you can expect to earn 6% more if…

7 Actionable Strategies To Build A Strong LinkedIn Network When You Are A PhD With No Industry Experience

7 Actionable Strategies To Build A Strong LinkedIn Network When You Are A PhD With No Industry Experience

By: Michael Pace, PhD

LinkedIn is a huge professional networking platform and it is growing. Hootsuite reported that 2 people join LinkedIn every second and, LinkedIn currently has more than 590 million users. This is an incredible resource for you to leverage. If you are not using LinkedIn you are missing out on a powerful resource. Plus, Forbes reported that 45% of the people on LinkedIn are in upper management. This is a place where you can connect with and learn from company leaders. Within the vast network of LinkedIn you will be able to find people in the companies and positions that you…

Highlight These 3 Transferable Skills To Get Hired In Industry As A PhD

Highlight These 3 Transferable Skills To Get Hired In Industry As A PhD

By: Olga Raguimova, PhD

As a PhD is it’s difficult to let go of thinking that your technical skills are the most valuable thing you will bring to an organization. But, you need to realize that your transferable skills are what will be the deciding factor in whether you get hired or not. A recent survey by Yoh, found that 75% of Americans would hire someone who had the right soft skills but lacked the technical skills required for the position. Companies are more concerned about how you will fit into the culture of the organization than they are about the technical skills you…

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.