How Long Should Interview Answers Be? (Examples and Tips)

Updated March 6, 2023

A person wearing glasses and a hijab speaks while wearing headphones for a virtual meeting or interview.

During an interview, it's important to monitor the length of your responses to keep the hiring manager's attention and show you're a strong communicator. Being aware of how long your answers are to interview questions can prevent you from rambling while still ensuring you share the information a hiring manager wants. Understanding when to limit your explanations and when to add more details to your responses can help you make a positive first impression on an employer.

In this article, we discuss how long should interview answers be, why it's important to correctly time your interview answers and provide examples and tips for delivering impactful replies.

How long should interview answers be?

Interview answers should be 30 seconds to four minutes, depending on the context of the questions.

  • Your response may be short (30 seconds to two minutes) if the question is simple. For example, if the hiring manager asks you to describe your strengths, you might speak for 90 seconds to explain where you're proficient.

  • Your response may be longer (two to four minutes) if the inquiry is complex, which is common for behavioral questions or in-depth questions about your experience. For instance, if you're asked to recall a time you made a mistake in the workplace, then your answer might last for two and a half minutes because you're describing the situation.

Consider the interviewer's expectations when forming your response. Components that include "why" and "how" can indicate the need for more elaborate answers. Consider using the STAR interview response technique to keep your answers to four minutes or lower and show the employer you can communicate your messages concisely and effectively.

Related: Top 20 Interview Questions (With Sample Answers)

Examples of interview answers with the right length

Examples of responses to interview questions with concise lengths include:

1. "Tell me about yourself" example answer

Here's an example answer that may take up to one minute to recite:

“I've been passionate about reading since I was a kid and have written short stories since I was 10 years old. I studied majored in literature and minored in technical writing at Holden University. I've worked at an independent publisher in Portland as an assistant production editor since graduating from college three years ago.

During my time there, I've been able to build my portfolio of published books, and have edited and published 20 nonfiction and fiction books to date. Moving forward, I would love to work at a prestigious publishing firm such as yours that specializes in the publication of books that educate, entertain and challenge readers. I believe my experience and passion for reading and storytelling will allow me to be a great asset to your editorial team."

Related: 6 Interview Questions About Experience (With Sample Answers)

2. "How do you stay informed about changes in your industry?" example answer

Here's a sample answer that may take up to 30 seconds to recite:

"I read blogs daily that discuss industry trends and tips to incorporate them in the workplace. I also purchase the latest installments of books to ensure I'm referencing the right information when I'm working on an assignment."

3. "As a leader, how would you build trust with the members of your team?" example answer

An example of a situational question that may require a lengthy answer includes:

"I'd schedule one-on-one meetings with every member. I can introduce myself personally and set the foundation for a positive relationship. I'd also discuss my background to show them I have experience in the field and am prepared to oversee our next project. During group meetings, I'd emphasize my accessibility so the employees feel comfortable approaching me with their questions and concerns. I'd also include their opinions in the decision-making process so they feel included when enforcing changes in the workplace. My goal is to show them I have their best interests in mind when I'm leading the team."

Related: 12 Tough Interview Questions and Answers

How long should you think about your interview answer?

Think about your interview answer for 10 seconds or fewer before speaking. You can have extra time to brainstorm the most effective response. Consider replying with a generic statement to show the interviewer you understood the request, but you need a brief period to respond. An example would be, "That's an excellent question."

You can also begin your answer by paraphrasing the question. For instance, if the employer asked you to recall the most complicated work project you've ever completed, your response can start with, "My most complicated work project was..."

Related: 19 Top Interview Questions in 2023 (With Sample Answers)

How to respond to a question if you don't have an answer

Follow these five steps to speak to the interviewer when you're unsure of a response to their question:

  1. Watch your reaction. Your nonverbal cues can display your confusion about the question before you can express yourself, so it can be helpful to keep your facial expressions neutral. You can also take a brief, silent pause to ponder what the employer asked of you.

  2. Make sure you heard the question correctly. Perhaps your confusion stems from the wording of the question. Kindly ask the interviewer to repeat or clarify the question, which may help you create an informed response.

  3. Ask for context. If the context of the question still puzzles you, then you can admit that you may need extra time to think about the answer. The interviewer may provide you with a particular topic, situation or problem that helps you understand the intent of the interview questions and answer it confidently.

  4. Discuss what you know. Follow up your admission by elaborating on a part of the question that you do understand. You can steer the topic in a positive direction while still delivering an answer.

  5. Try to avoid rambling. If you notice you're rambling because you're unsure how to respond, try to quickly wrap up what you're saying. Rambling loses your credibility and makes the interviewer lose their engagement.

  6. Vow to answer the question at a later time. You can also tell the employer that you can take the proper measures to find an answer to their question, which can show your dedication and perseverance. Consider sending an email after the interview detailing your response.

Related: 5 Tips To Help You Stay Positive During an Interview

Benefits of using the right length for your interview answers

Here are reasons that illustrate the importance of keeping your interview answers to a certain length:

Keep the interviewer engaged 

While it can be essential for you to communicate your qualifications well, it's equally significant for the interviewer to hear and comprehend what you're saying. Their engagement can influence how much they remember about you as a candidate, which can affect their choice to advance you in the hiring process.

Emphasize your verbal communication skills

Insightful answers to interview questions can serve as a testament to your communication competence. The employer can learn that you can explain a concept in detail but also understand how to end the description with an impactful ending. A variety of roles require candidates to communicate well, making it important to demonstrate these skills during an interview.

Related: Communication Skills Interview Questions With Example Answers

Better manage time during the interview 

The hiring manager may have appointments scheduled with multiple candidates in one day, leaving you with limited time to influence their hiring decision. Answer the interview questions strategically to provide all the information the employer needs to understand that you're the right fit for the job.

Related: 14 Tips for Interview Inspiration

More tips for answering interview questions

Here are extra guidelines for forming concise responses to questions during an interview:

Research common interview questions

The interview questions the employer asks you may rely on the position you're applying to and the credentials you indicated on your resume. Conduct research to learn potential inquiries and read sample answers to visualize the right length you can emulate for your own interview strategies. Filter your search results by your industry to help you anticipate more technical questions. You can also prepare to answer general requests, such as, "Why do you want this job?" and "Where do you see yourself in five years?"

Related: Interview Question: "Tell Me About a Time You Made a Mistake"

Practice your responses in advance

Create answers to the typical interview questions that you researched. You can be more prepared to reply effectively if you encounter them during the actual interview, and you can think about how you want to represent yourself to the employer. It may be helpful to write your thoughts down to conceptualize what you want to say. 

Recite them aloud to determine if the language is specific enough and if your speech patterns have a steady rhythm. Use a timer to estimate the length of your answers and adjust your content accordingly. For example, if the response is under 30 seconds, then you can add more detail. If it's over four minutes, then you can evaluate how to make it shorter.

Related: Job Interview: Practicing Your Answers and Presentation

Participate in mock interviews

mock interview is an opportunity for you to rehearse your interview responses in front of another person. Contact your local career center to schedule an appointment, or ask a mentor or friend to pose as the hiring manager. You can receive constructive criticism on the pace of your voice, the clarity of your message and the brevity of your entire answer.

Related: 16 Tips for Overcoming Job Interview Anxiety

Prepare for different types of interviews

Be prepared for different types of interviews since some may be conversational and others may be more structured. If the interview is more structured with a back-and-forth question-and-answer approach, be mindful of how much time you're taking to answer the questions. If the interview is conversational then you can allow the discussion to unfold naturally, without paying as close attention to your answer times. 

Prioritize the important details

One way to avoid over-explaining is to only include the details that allow the hiring manager to understand your point of view. You can use this technique for behavioral questions, where you briefly describe what happened and dedicate most of your response to what you learned from the situation. Omit descriptions that don't contribute to your core message.

For example, the focus of your response to the question "Tell me about yourself" may be your direct qualifications for the job you're seeking. Strive to find a balance between actively participating in the conversation and being considerate of the hiring manager's time.

Anticipate the interviewer's expectations

Before delivering your response, think about what the interviewer is expecting you to say. Consider the context of the question to determine how much you can elaborate. It may be more beneficial to have a specific, concise answer than to speak for longer than necessary. You can also adapt your response time to the interviewer's feedback. 

Pay attention to their nonverbal cues, such as their facial expressions and body language, to gauge if they're still engaged in your discussion or ready to transition to the next topic. If you sense the latter, then you can ask, "Would you like me to continue, or does that answer your question?" You can show your willingness to include more details while giving the interviewer an opportunity to move on to another subject if needed.

Practice describing yourself and your credentials

It's a good idea to practice an elevator pitch that you can recite easily at the beginning of your interview since you can expect most interviews to start with some variation of the question "tell me about yourself." This helps to start off your interview strong because it can help you feel confident about what you're saying and since you've practiced it you can estimate how long your elevator pitch takes. It can also show an employer that you know the value you can bring to their company.

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