Interruption became a real topic of contention during my study, due to the wildly different views people had of what it said about a candidate.
Although the overall results show that the majority of participants found interruption to be significantly detrimental to a candidate’s prospects, the interesting response came from the people that didn’t find interruption to be detrimental and their reasoning, which the pure numbers can’t illustrate. A number of participants in fact went on to reveal that interruption for them was a very healthy sign in an interview and could be a huge positive.
Some of the interviewers viewed interruption as healthy interaction and an opportunity for the candidate to influence the conversation. To others, however, the urge to interrupt to get a point across demonstrated a lack of patience. To give you an idea of just how stark the contrast was, here are some of the views that participants shared on this area:
“If you’re interrupting, it’s showing an inability to listen – fine if you’re debating in the pub, not appropriate in an interview.”
“I want someone to be able to interrupt me if they are going into a client-facing role. That way I know they will do it with a client who might be going on and on, rather than just sitting there.”
“It tells me they are going to be disruptive in the company and in team meetings and will piss people off – I have had to turn people away for that before.”
“Unless they have finished listening to what I’m saying, how can they understand it and respond properly? Sometimes they interrupt but, if they had listened, they would have realised I was coming to the point they wanted to address.”
“Sometimes it’s a sign of enthusiasm. I actually trained myself to interrupt because I used to be told it was showing a lack of confidence when I didn’t. In company culture, we are trying to shift the way people interact, so it’s even more important.”
This poses a real challenge for the candidate. How are you going to know which side of the fence your interviewer sits on, and how to act accordingly? Clearly, there is no golden rule and sometimes you will have to rely on instinct in the interview and your own judgement of whether you feel the person will be receptive to some interruption or not. But there is certainly a conscious balance to be met between listening and interrupting.
Sometimes you may just have to ask the question. “Do you mind if I cut in there?” and then be observant to how they respond. One thing that most participants did acknowledge, regardless of their preference, was that it all depends on how you interrupt, what you interrupt with and its relevance and how much you interrupt throughout the course of the interview. One of my participants even talked about how he sometimes deliberately interrupts candidates to see how they deal with the situation!
There are going to be many areas in which interviewers sit on either side of the fence and you aren’t going to know beforehand which side that is. It is important to listen and be observant and then to ask direct questions to test the waters a little. As long as the way in which you respond then takes what you learn into account, you are more than likely to reach a more successful result.
The other piece of the puzzle is how we say what we respond with. When we speak, it is for the benefit of others and we can get better at it by revealing who we are and connecting with who someone is. Sometimes we can make assumptions about how we think someone wants to hear something, but if that isn’t authentic to who we are, it doesn’t work and people tend to read straight through it.
Being responsive in a meaningful way is important too. If you find yourself in a position where you have interrupted your interviewer and they haven’t taken kindly to it, slow down a bit and soften the tone to ensure you aren’t mistaken for being aggressive. If you do need to interrupt, ensure it isn’t abrupt, but then be assertive when making your point to demonstrate your confidence that the point is relevant and timely.
The key is to be aware. Be aware that the situation could be perceived in two very different ways. And be aware of how your response to it is mindful of that. Once you are aware, you can take more control over how you say things and this will influence how both parties ultimately feel about whether or not the interaction was a healthy one.