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I am not sure how I can phrase it better, but I feel I have an "afterthought" or "on the hindsight" approach of thinking.

I am, for most of the time, unable to think of appropriate things to say in an extempore manner, however as soon as the conversation is over and I reflect on it, I start getting back those thoughts and how I could have phrased them. This is, to say the least, utterly detrimental as I think that I often sound like a person who has no appropriate/best answer to provide at that moment.

Recently during a job interview, I was answering a question where I should have used the word "cloud-native" in my reply (in fact the interviewer clarified this herself later), but I didn't even utter that word once, despite the fact that I have been working in the cloud migration space since last 3 years.

"On the hindsight" I even thought that her expectation was wrong and that I could have said that "Cloud Native" is a target state however one could well migrate their workload even without any change, rewrites or refactoring (the 6Rs et al), say, by containerizing them and that various workloads will have various target state, some may need a re-write, some minor refactoring, some re-platforming, etc. What you decide for your applications depends on the budget, life-cycle state of the application, complexity and so on.

However, I missed the bus by not saying anything of that sort during the discussion.

Does anyone of you face a similar situation; that you are good with "prepared" answers but stumble when unprepared? How does one tackle this problem at the workplace or during interviews?

P.S: Despite of my worries it seems the interviewer still liked my answers and I have received a job offer :)

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Does anyone of you face a similar situation; that you are good with "prepared" answers but stumble when unprepared? How does one tackle this problem at the workplace or during interviews?

We've all stumbled in interviews at times. I know I certainly have.

For me, I try to be as prepared as I can, so as to minimize my stumbles.

  • I make sure I know exactly what my resume says. I read it over many times, and at least once just before I enter the interview
  • I make sure I understand as much as possible about the company. I read their website. I talk with others in my network. If using an agency, I get information from them.
  • I brush up on any technical knowledge that I feel might come up during the interview
  • In my head, and sometimes out loud in front of a mirror, I rehearse things I might say

And during the interview, I try hard to "stay in the moment". I listen carefully to what the interviewer is saying without trying to think ahead. I pause before many of my answers to consider what I am going to say before I say it. And I watch the interviewer to make sure what I am saying seems to be coming across correctly.

But whenever a stumble happens (and it often does), I don't worry about it. I realize that we all stumble and that the majority of my responses were good.

I usually leave an interview knowing I did the best I could, and I seldom worry about what I could have done differently, knowing that I can't change the past.

  • 4
    Love this statement Joe, "I usually leave an interview knowing I did the best I could, and I seldom worry about what I could have done differently, knowing that I can't change the past." Thanks so much for your great reply. – Dchucks Nov 12 '19 at 11:56
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Lacking a coherent reply happens to thoughtful, intelligent people. In his book Nautilus 90 North, the story of the first submarine to reach the North Pole, Captain Anderson recounted an interview for selecting captains of nuclear submarines. The admiral wanted not just competent captains but educated captains, and he asked Anderson what books he had read lately. On the spot, Anderson couldn't think of any, but he had actually read a lot, and he followed up with a list of books. And he got the job.

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Maybe an approach you could take is to not answer in the heat of the moment, if you have more specific situations, maybe can help you better, e.g.

  • If it's a team meeting to discuss which approach to take in a task or project, you could ask for an agenda or what the meeting is about before hand to prepare.

  • If it's something on the spot, you can always take a moment and ask for time to think like "I will think about it and give you my opinion in a couple of hours or tomorrow, I need to digest it better".

This approach is mostly crucial in tense situations when someone is taking things more personally and responding in the heat of the moment will only make it worse cause you are mostly responding not to generate the best idea but to defend/protect yourself and prove the other person wrong or their idea faulty.

In the worst case, if it happened and you responded and after the meeting, you realized you have better ideas, send an email/follow up/in-person chat and say "I gave it another thought and I have different ideas, can we regroup as I want to share them" or approach the strongest stakeholder in the group (let's say the project manager e.g.) and discuss your ideas in private with them, if they are good again, they will take care of regrouping and reconsidering your thoughts.

If you have more specific situations, maybe my answer could be more helpful! but hope the above helps.

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    Thanks so much, your suggestions make sense for meetings. Actually my specific situation is about Interviews in particular, where however prepared you are, it's probably impossible to predict the questions with accuracy to be prepared enough. – Dchucks Nov 12 '19 at 10:49
  • Ah ok, I didn't catch that part, maybe you could have opened your question with "I have a question about afterthoughts in interviews" ;) and I should read better as well :D – Boda Taljo Nov 12 '19 at 13:48
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    Agree @Boda Taljo. I edited the question later. – Dchucks Nov 13 '19 at 8:34
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One thing in interviews specifically that I have found useful, is when they ask you at the end if you have any questions, among the other questions you might have, is to also ask something along the lines of,

"Is there any questions that I have answered today that you feel that you require more information on, or have any concerns about"

This gives the interviewer the opportunity to seek clarification on any questions your answers gave concern on, and allows opportunity to add additional details that you missed when first answering the question. I have found it useful and has allowed me to be successful in interviews where the interviewer has specifically raised a concern, or felt that an answer lacked details, allowing me to improve the response.

Sure some interviewers might not respond to this, but I feel you have nothing to lose at this point (and it can be reassuring if they respond that they are happy with all your answers). I think it also demonstrates self-awareness - A good Interviewer knows that interviews can be stressful and its easy to forget answers. As Joe says in his excellent answer, it is important to feel like you gave your best in an interview and this technique has helped me to feel like I gave the best responses to questions that I could.

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Sounds to me like you may be a processor, I know cause I am too. I always wanted to be one of those spontaneous quick whitted people, with a quick answer for everything, Nada. Processors are people that need time to reflect on things, but we never stop thinking on things. Columbo was a professor, that's why he was always, "Just one more question" and he seemed slow, but he was actually brilliant. Either that, or we both suffer from poor processing speed, which could be a form of ADHD. Or a cognitive function disorder Did you have any learning disorders when you were younger? Even though everything I said about columbo was true. You should look up slow processor speed brain, and see if anything sounds familiar.

  • That's a new side to explore on Paul :) but I never had any ADHD, in fact I was a brilliant scholar all through. But extempore speaking and quick recall has never been my forte. But these matter sadly at workplace. – Dchucks Nov 13 '19 at 8:32

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