Plan a Pause

If you’ve been following our preparation guide for answering interview questions, you should be anticipating almost any question that comes your way in an interview.  You’ll have, on the edge of your tongue, a well-developed, structured answer.  But when you are presented with a question such as, “Why plastic surgery?” or a prompt like, “Tell me about a time you were on a team and there was a conflict“, should you respond immediately without hesitation to interviewers?

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One of my favorite tricks to use in interviews was a planned pause.  My brother taught me this interview trick when I was trying to refine and hone my interview skills during my application cycle.  The delivery of your response is just as important as the response itself.  The pause occurs just after the question has been asked or prompt has been given.  When the interviewer asks, “What are your plans after residency?”, before going immediately into your answer, you pause…one Mississippi…two Mississippi.  Then you start your answer.

What does pausing do? 

A momentary pause before answering a prompt provides the opportunity for multiple things to happen.  Particularly with more difficult or novel questions, it gives you a second or two to collect your thoughts so that when you speak, you answer with authority and clarity.  A silent pause is much better than stammering with “errrss” and “ummmms” while you collect your thoughts.  Because you are going to be so well prepared, you want to avoid the appearance of robotic, memorized responses.  This is especially true later in the interview season when you have already have been asked “What are your three biggest weaknesses?” so many times that you could give the answer in your sleep.  You want to make every interviewer feel that each of their questions is unique, stimulating, and requires your critical consideration.  The planned pause can help create this effect.  Pausing also puts you back in control of the flow of the interview.  

How to pause

Just as you don’t want your answers to seem too mechanical, you also don’t want your pause to appear forced or awkward.  Pay attention to someone next time you ask them a thought provoking question.  The spontaneous facial expressions and non-verbal communication cues that people often express when asked a thoughtful question are exactly what you want to emulate in your pause.  Look pensively up towards the ceiling or glance towards the wall for a split second while you collect your thoughts. Throw in a slight head nod or furrow your brow.  Move you hands into a power position (folded or interlocked on the table or in your lap).  Sit up straight.  Adjust your position in your seat.  Ancillary comments such as, “Hmmm”, “That’s a good question,” and “I haven’t thought about that before” can be useful banter.  Look the interviewers back in the eye before speaking, then begin your response.

When preparing for interviews, invest time in preparing your responses to the most common interview questions.  Accompany those preparations with critical review of your interview techniques.  Remember that when it comes to interviewing, your delivery is just as important as your message. 

What other interview technique tricks do you like to use?  Comment below or contact us directly with any questions.

Back to more interview techniques.

Carter J. Boyd, MD, MBA
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