How long should your interview answers be?

Lately my clients have been asking me how long their answers to interview questions should be.

Good question. What length is the right length?

Your interview answers should be 1 to 2 minutes maximum

The right length for your interview answers

The right length for interview answers is one to two minutes.

The answers to factual questions should be the shortest. For instance, the answer to "Where did you get your Master's?" can be less than a minute.

On the other hand, the answer to more complicated questions like "What was your favorite project?" should be at least a minute and possibly up to two, because you need to add details that explain why it was your favorite.

Don't go past 2 minutes. It's hard to listen to someone for that long, so your interviewer may get bored.

Examples of the right length for "Tell me about yourself"

Here are real answers that two of my clients prepared for this question. Do you think they are the correct length?

"Tell me about yourself" sample answer #1

"I have over five years of experience in communications with French international companies creating and implementing internal and external communications plans aligned with corporate strategy. In particular, I organized events and conferences for these companies, from the definition of the program to logistical aspects and the development of content for diverse media, working closely with experts, partners, teams, and third-party vendors. I want to be a Communications Strategist at the IMF because I will be able to develop my skills doing work that I believe will help the community."

"Tell me about yourself" sample answer #2

"I’m an experienced business development, project management, and product management professional who has managed all aspects of business development and product management functions, such as identifying sales leads, developing new business opportunities, and closing business deals. For example, I have recently won US$30M worth of [car company]'s Smart Vehicle Program through [an electronics company]. To win the design, I identified the business opportunity, led a cross-functional team to build the product proposal, presented the business case to higher management to secure the budget, and finally closed the development contract with [electronics company] by negotiating the pricing and development schedules. Now I'm applying for this Senior Product Marketing Manager role because I feel like [company] is positioned to do well in it and I want to be part of your success."

Yes, these are both the perfect length. If spoken in a conversation tone with plenty of pauses and the correct intonation they will take about one minute to say. 

If you're wondering how to structure your answers, read this post. If you follow the correct structure, you'll create an answer that's the right length too.

Examples of the right length for "Why do you want this job?"

"Why do you want this job?" sample answer #1 (for a communications position at the WHO)

"Working for the World Health Organization would fulfill my personal goals, because I’m convinced that we need to reinvent our society to prevent extreme poverty and health problems. I believe in humans and their capacity to be resilient and innovative, and communities like yours are fundamental to give hope to populations and to engage stakeholders. That’s why I would like to be part of this great organization. Also, I love implementing conferences. To me, every event is different, and each one is particular and exciting. I like to be in touch with experts, to learn about their work, and be in touch with a lot of different people to shape a program. My career goal is to combine communication and events planning with a mission-directed organization like the WHO."

This answer is good because she talks about the company and its specific mission and then talks about the role and how the role is exactly what she is looking for and how her experience fits it. The combination of (1) company plus (2) role plus (3) her experience making her a good fit makes a winning answer, plus the obvious enthusiasm she shows.

It is also the perfect length. 

"Why do you want this job?" sample answer #2 (for a mid-level consultant role on the pharmaceutical industry team at PwC)

"Well, the PwC reputation is certainly a factor. I would be proud to work for a company with such a long history of leadership in the industry. I feel that my proven track record leading teams and my education in pharmacology makes me an excellent match for the job requirements. Also, the role excites me because I want to develop customer solutions for the pharmaceutical industry and I know I could start delivering results from Day 1."

Again, this answer talks about (1) company (2) role and (3) his experience/education. He does it in a shorter amount of time than the previous person did but he covers all of it.

Although it is shorter than the first answer it is also the perfect length. 

Example of the right length for "Why should we hire you?"

"Why should we hire you?" sample answer 

"I'm the best person for this job because I’m able to be reactive and to handle unexpected situations. For example, when I was working at [company]l, the CEO had a sudden airplane accident just few months before a big conference about energy and climate. We needed to change a part of the program that we had already planned, and we did. I had to change all the off-line and on-line presentations, tell all the speakers about the new program and the impact on their speech, and send new invitations, etc,. in a very short-term deadline.
I prefer to stay positive and to see the opportunity in the difficulty."

This answer is the right length. 

I hope this post helped you understand how long your answers should be. If you need help with your interview, ask me for some one-on-one interview prep. You can email me at jennifer@interviewgenie.com to schedule a consultation.

Interview Genie is an interview prep company. I specialize in coaching non-native English speakers. We'll work together on answers to questions you'll be asked in your interview. From communicating with your interviewer before the interview to greeting your interviewer and using the right body language in your interview, I'm focused on your interview success every step of the way.