There’s a brilliant Calvin and Hobbes comic where Calvin tells his dad he only wants ten second sound bites for all future communication as “a new policy in this house.” “I don’t want to hear any reasons, explanations, subtlety, or context.” Predictably, this is met with angry backlash from his dad, with Calvin concluding so much for that policy.
But let’s not dismiss sound bites – they are an incredibly effective tool when it comes to making a direct point, and there’s no shortage of instances where they can be leveraged with great results. Sound bites are takeaways – little bits of boiled and stripped down data that reveal powerful, memorable cores. They are succinct yet captivating, intentionally driving home a clear message.
See also: Elevator pitch, media training, literally everything on Twitter, quotations (I like to think of movie critics here), abstracts of abstracts, and dating profiles (ugh). They are built to grab attention, deliver a specific idea, and leave themselves etched in someone’s mind. And they are wildly useful for job interviews.
Attention spans keep falling, and you’re already in a high pressure situation when you’re doing a job interview because you have to sell yourself as the best candidate for a contested position. Politicians and other persons of influence and power have relied on this tactic for ages, generating a rallying cry that unites through simple and straightforward rhetoric. Even the great speeches of Shakespeare are frequently distilled down to singular lines and phrases against their majestic choirs of thoughtful composition.
Let’s take a look at some ways you can craft a worthy soundbite to give you an edge during your next job interview:
Vivid figures of speech and other literary devices: Similes, metaphors, and analogies all function as fancy comparisons between different elements. If possible, avoid overly used examples – “busy as a bee” – and instead substitute something a bit more organically derived. There’s no harm in using tried and true idioms, but putting your own personal spin – perhaps using another area of interest – can help here. Anyone can increase profits, but cleverly saying your impact causing meteoric rises paints a nice picture.
Triples: There’s an old law in comedy that you should do things in threes. Listen to any sitcom and you’ll hear this – characters will frequently list off several throwaway jokes rapidly to focus the audience. Talk about how your work did positives x, y, and z, as this helps provide background and illustrate how you succeed in multiple areas simultaneously.
Superlatives: This might be a bit more obvious, or perhaps seen as disingenuous, but it never hurts to put a stamp on your contributions as the peak of performance. Using -est words (strongest, best, etc.) or directly making comparisons where your work excelled may seem potentially hackneyed, but people will listen to these and remember that hey, this person was at the top of their game in a competitive environment.
Repetition: A powerful phrase that can link together your objectives, goals, and accomplishments can build a strong association. If you know you’re going to be the best in a particular area, try to emphasize that aspect of yourself frequently. It helps if you can link this to related duties for the position, as it shows consistency and dependability.
Clear Goals: Don’t walk into an interview unless you have practiced distinct and specific messaging that is built around goals you know will relate to the job at hand. You should always be building your case in a way that is relevant to the company, position, and – if you’re quick enough – to the interviewers. Knowing what you can bring and how this will help the company will always give you an edge.
Practice, practice, practice: I wrote it out three times, so you know it’s important. Once you’ve got your angle and how to present it in a catchy way, continue to practice it. It’s an extension of you, and it should never appear otherwise. You’ve got a powerful phrase to pepper in – don’t trip up on it!
While not directly related, know that no matter how intimidating an interview is, you are in control – the interviewer is there to listen to you and learn all about you.
I frequently tell people that this is the same as giving a speech – yes, it’s an incredibly scary thing, but the first step toward getting comfortable is to know that you are unquestionably able to control and maintain the situation. This isn’t meant to make someone anxious or nervous – it’s meant to instill a sense of hey, they have to listen to me and I’m going to exercise the freedom that comes with knowing I’m in charge.
Of course, if you think you need more help than just juicy bits, always know that there’s a lot of resources out there that can help you with your interviews. I don’t want to tell you to pin everything on a morsel of yourself – I’m just saying that sound bites are effective when used in tandem against a greater backdrop of tips, tricks, methods, and proven strategies.
Sound bites help you maximize the amount of time you have and elevate you above others. You want to walk into an interview with your prepared remarks and materials, and you want to leave the interview with the confidence that when your name comes back up in consideration, there’s a strong and immediate correlation in the interviewer’s head (and hopefully isn’t centered around “had a mustard stain on their shirt”).
Maybe a cynical take is that you’re reducing yourself down to a few words or a single sentence that can’t capture every facet of your abilities, personality, and experience. But that’s the beauty of the sound bite – you’re not so much minimizing yourself as you are revealing your absolute best traits, all polished up and shiny.
It’s like getting a song stuck in someone’s head, only it’s a song they really like and the lyrics are all about how great you are. Who wouldn’t want that kind of branding?