How To Deal With The “Silent Pause”

How To Deal With The “Silent Pause”

Often when addressing groups of professionals concerning the job search process, the issue of the “silent pause” in a job interview often comes in the form of a question; “How do you deal with the silent pause?”  Those responsible for interviewing and assessing a candidate often have a specific question in mind that would be considered one to produce stress for the person being interviewed.

My practice is not to intentionally do that to present anxiety, because an answer might not easily come to mind for the responding interviewee.  I like to observe a person’s reaction to a question and their comfort level with a silent pause.  I have seen situations where an interviewee is not the only one who is uncomfortable with a silent pause.

Even a seasoned interviewer can be uncomfortable with the silent pause of a candidate who may pause to gain her/his thoughts before responding to a question.  An interviewer can learn much of the what is revealed through difficult questions and silent pauses.  Watch the candidate’s body language and facial expressions during these times. My experience suggests the more comfortable a person is with the silent pause and having limited visceral response or anxiety about the question, the more likely that candidate will be successful.

Acandidate’s success responding to an anxiety provoking question in the interview can reflect how they would deal with stressful situations in a work environment.  As an executive recruiter and skilled interviewer, I do have questions that are consistently responded to by “that is a very good question”, “I have not heard that one before”, or “I will have to think about this one”.  All these responses are ones with which I am comfortable.

The most successful candidates are also comfortable gathering their thoughts and sharing what challenged them about the question.  Much is revealed in the candidate beyond just a candidate’s technical knowledge or expertise in their chosen profession, but how a candidate handles difficult questions and the silent pause can provide relevant information to support a hiring decision by the person who watches for the subtle hints.

A final observation shared by multiple candidates when speaking of screening interviews conducted by in-house talent acquisition teams: When a list of questions is presented in rote by the interviewer and limited response time is allowed, the level of interest by the interviewer is questioned. The candidate interviewee is left with the impression the interviewer was not really interested in learning about them.

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