Win by Using Fewer Facts

Susan Hall
Slide Show

How Not to Follow Up After a Job Interview

A rogues' gallery of infamously inappropriate follow-ups.

Research from Yap, which provides speech-to-text transcription software, finds that people hate voicemail. That's not news, since voicemail has been declared dead long ago. But the Yap survey points to the aspect they hate most-long, rambling messages.


I'd have to argue that people hate long and rambling in any context. I've already advised job candidates to prepare, rehearse and get feedback on stories from their careers to prepare for behavioral interviews.


But I ran across a couple of posts on sticking to that old acronym for writers: KISS (keep it simple, Sam). But boy, that's hard. It's so much harder to make our case in three paragraphs instead of 30 or to speak for five minutes instead of 50. It takes extreme organization and clarity.


In the post "To Make a Strong Case, Don't Be a Data Dumper" on Harvard Business Review, John Kotter writes:

Throughout my career as a Harvard Business School professor, writing and reading textbooks, journal articles, papers and studies, it almost seemed that anyone who used one word when they could instead use five simply wasn't trying hard enough. But we professors are not longwinded and laborious simply to puff our own chests. Rather, it's because we've been conditioned to believe that making a case with lots of data and complex jargon wins us praise ... Basically, we think it is the best way to get buy-in for our work.

But in a world where everyone suffers from information overload, crystallizing your thoughts focuses more attention to the salient points. Writing for Business Insider, entrepreneur-turned-venture capitalist Mark Suster advocates for another writer's mantra: When in doubt, leave it out. In a resume, mention key accomplishments from your overall career rather than listing a few for each job. In VC pitches, make 10 slides the "main event," and 20 "the appendix" that's optional. In a 10-minute speech, make three big points.


Kotter argues that calling up every remotely related fact to press your argument only puts people to sleep. From researching his latest book, "Buy-In: Saving Your Good Idea from Getting Shot Down," Kotter advocates arguing with less data. He writes:

When you're defending an idea, my research of what works in the real world suggests that you should respond in ways that are simple, straightforward, and honest. ... most people respond to a critical question by arguing against the reasoning of whoever asked the question. They offer all of the evidence they can think of, hoping to make their case overwhelming. They shoot at an attack sixteen times with bullets of data to make sure it is dead. But in so doing, they are arguing not on their own but on the naysayer's territory ...
I have seen far more success when people offer a quick, direct, common sense answer that shows respect for the naysayer but moves the discussion along.

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