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How Do I Get Long-Winded Job Candidates To Stop Talking During Interviews?

The interviewing process is about to get a lot less awkward.

How Do I Get Long-Winded Job Candidates To Stop Talking During Interviews?
[Photo: yulia yuwono/Getty Images]

Hiring can often be a frustrating and time-consuming process. It’s made even worse when a job candidate goes off on tangents or tells long, rambling stories during an interview.

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Career expert Alison Green (aka Ask A Manager) gives us a strategy for getting your interviewee to cut to the chase.

While I try to be understanding of job candidates who give five-minute responses to several interview questions that should never, ever take that long to answer, I just can’t get past it, and it makes me want to fidget uncomfortably.

Would it be rude to phrase the first question with, “In 90 seconds or less, please tell us how your work experience relates to the teapot inspector position?”

I’ve tried a lot of tactics to trim down excessive, long-winded responses. Some that have helped include instructing candidates to be thorough yet brief in their responses, providing them with the number of questions and time constraints at the beginning of an interview and advising them to monitor their time, and also starting some interview questions with the word briefly. Some of my committee members have been more cutthroat and often cut off the chatty ones with a rushed, “okay, thank you” of finality when the candidate finally takes a big enough breath. I’ve even gotten “meaner” over time by trying to convey with body language that I’m losing interest.

Unfortunately, first interviews with my employer have to be structured strictly by a script once the questions begin, so there isn’t a lot of leeway to help overly chatty candidates correct their course.

Long-windedness in interviews is my pet peeve. I really don’t like it. I have a certain amount of time set aside and a lot of questions to get through, and long-winded interviewees mean that I’m not going to be able to cover everything that I want to cover.

But you know what? Candidates who go on and on and on are giving me valuable information about themselves: They’re telling me that they’re not well-matched with roles that require them to be concise or require them to pick up on other people’s cues in conversation (because I make a point of giving cues about the amount of time we have, both at the start of the conversation and–if necessary–as we continue).

So as annoying as I find long-windedness, I’m glad to have the info now, rather than discovering after hiring them that every conversation will be three times as long as it needs to be. I want them to show that to me now, so that I can decide if it’s likely to be a problem in the job or not.

Of course, there are jobs and some work cultures where long-windedness doesn’t really matter. If that’s the case, then I hear you on needing a way to move the conversation along and get the info that you need.

But I wouldn’t say, “In 90 seconds or less, tell me . . . ” While that might get you shorter answers, it will turn off candidates who aren’t long-winded, because it will seem weirdly rigid and overly prescriptive. It’s not really conducive to having a conversational interview, which is the kind you want.

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What you can do (some of which you’re already trying):

Tell people at the start of the interview how much time you’ve set aside and roughly how many questions you’re hoping to get through in that time.

If you’re finding someone is still being long-winded, you can say, “I don’t want to cut you off, but I want to make sure that I’m able to get through all my questions and want to leave plenty of time for your own questions as well.”

If necessary, you can say directly, “We have about X more questions to get through and only Y minutes, so we might need to keep discussion of these next few items fairly brief.”

Also! If you’re interested in having the most useful interviews possible, truly the most important change you could make is to drop the prohibition on deviating from the interview script. That rule is weakening your interviews way more than the chattiest candidate could ever do. I realize that might be outside your control, but if you’re in any sort of position to push back on that, please do.

This article originally appeared on Ask A Manager and is reprinted with permission.

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