interviewer didn’t give me any time to ask my own questions

by Ask a Manager on December 29, 2010

A reader writes:

I am stumped about a telephone interview I had today.  I did my homework and researched the company as it is in a major city 5-7 hrs away.  The position is a professional position and I have the professional license for the position.  In talking to the manager of the the division, he told me at the start that they had 40 applicants for the position.

We talked for around 45 minutes with him asking me questions about my work history, what kind of experience I have supervising others, how I have worked budgeting of a project and my philosophy about project managing.  Here is the thing, during 45 minutes of talking to him, he never offered any additional information as to what the position was like, he never asked if I had any questions about the position, he did ask what I knew about the company but never fleshed out the company any to me.  Basically I am sitting here with the same knowledge of them as I had beforehand.  He said that the hiring system there is a process, and I think they did the telephone interview since I do live so far away (one state over).

Is it typical of a phone interview that they do not give you any details about them?  He said they would be getting back with me about the next step in the process.  Is this code for we like you or code for we are not interested, or am I just overanalyzing?  How do I send a thank you note on an interview like this, I think “Thanks for letting me talk for 45 minutes” would come across all wrong, but I do not know how to word it as I cannot really say how I think this or that would be a great opportunity for growth as they never really told me about the job.

At a minimum, he should have asked you at the end of the conversation what questions you had for him. The fact that he didn’t probably indicates that he’s either an inexperienced or not especially thoughtful interviewer. In either case, it would have been fine for you to have said as he was signaling that the conversation was wrapping up, “Before we end, I was hoping to ask you a few questions about the position.”

As far as your thank-you note, I would simply say that you enjoyed the opportunity to speak with him, appreciated the chance to tell him more about your background, and look forward to learning more about the role in the next stage of the process.

And last, I wouldn’t read too much into his statement that he’ll get back to you about the next step in the process. I say that at the end of almost every interview, and it really means just that. The next step could be an interview, or it could be a decision that I won’t be advancing the person to an interview.

In any case, if you do move forward in their process, don’t be shy about asking your own questions in the next interview, whether they explicitly ask you to or not.

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{ 11 comments }

Mike Emeigh December 29, 2010 at 7:46 pm

It could also be the case that the interviewer had already made up his mind not to advance the person forward, and thus didn’t see any reason to prolong the conversation – if we believe his statement that there were 40 applicants for the position that possibility appears to be to be the most likely.

My advice would be to move on to the next opportunity, unless you really, really want to work for this company.

Meredith December 30, 2010 at 1:49 am

Hmmm… I don’t know what is worse an interview where they talk all about the job and don’t ask you any questions -or- an interview like the OP had i.e. one that asks you everything and you learn nothing about the position.

I don’t think I would rule out the OP advancing to the next round just yet, Mike. If the interviewer wasn’t interested, I cannot imagine why they would have talked for 45 mins. In my mind that seems like a lengthy conversation for an employer who is not interested.

Anonymous December 30, 2010 at 9:00 am

I have been on interviewers where the potential employer was obviously not interested and didn’t try to cut it short. In my opinion, it’s a waste of my time if they aren’t interested. Let me talk with someone who is.

Mike Emeigh December 30, 2010 at 9:59 am

Meredith:

The interviewer may have been following a script provided by HR . I did several phone screens in that situation where I knew within 5 minutes that I was wasting my time, but I was obligated to ask all of the questions anyway because HR required a fully completed checklist.

I wouldn’t rule it out, but in my experience, an interviewer who doesn’t give the candidate a chance to ask questions usually does so because he’s not interested in the candidate.

De Minimis December 30, 2010 at 11:39 am

Interviewers have different styles, and this might be a case where they just don’t think of allowing time for questions. I wouldn’t necessarily consider it a bust. There are a lot of “not especially thoughtful” interviewers out there. I recently had one where I think they were pretty interested, but one of the interviewers was obviously just not good at interviewing and tended to go on and on about things without giving a lot of opportunity to interact.

Anonymous December 30, 2010 at 11:50 am

I sometimes use a one-sided technique for initial or screening interviews. If I’m going to do that, I let the applicant know in advance how the interview will be set up, and why it’s so one sided.

My explanation is that the first stage is all about the applicant – their goals, skills, character, attritubutes etc. I explain that I want to put the applicant front and centre (as opposed to the position) and learn about the applicant without without seeding the conversation whith my needs, my desires or my quirks.

Second (and in some cases third) inteviews follow a more natural give & take format.

Perhaps this is what this interviewer was doing? I would think it only reasonable that interviewer would explain it though. A one-sided approach can make applicants feel as though they were being grilled, or that there was something quite strange about the interviewer otherwise.

Anonymous December 30, 2010 at 1:08 pm

I’ve had the opposite problem at almost every interview. The interviewer talks at great length about the job/organization, and then asks if I have questions- asking me practically nothing about myself.

While this makes for an ‘easy’ interview, I don’t understand how the interviewer has any idea at the end whether I’m right for the position or not.

anonymous December 30, 2010 at 2:36 pm

I am currently operating under the thought frame that the interview was a prescreening. The industry this is in is regulated by the state with approx. 1400 individuals licensed currently. Of those, abt 25% live out of state. The position requires a license, which I have, and companies are required to be licensed. Since the state avg is 1.5 licensed individuals to a coa, and 500+ firms with a coa in state, my figures put the pool of minimally qualified apps to be 200-250 statewide. My guess is that more than a few of the 40 are currently unlicensed. They said the hiring process is multiple interviews, so for now I am believing and hoping that is true. I will post an update when I hear something. The HR department seems very friendly to applicants.

Anonymous December 30, 2010 at 2:49 pm

I haven’t seen this suggested yet, but perhaps the interviewer was running very long and just didn’t have time for questions. It wasn’t the most graceful way to handle it, but my phone interviews rarely run longer than a half hour. Either this person meets the minimum requirements or they don’t. If they do, I’ll bring them in for a face to face meeting…I don’t need to blow a full hour on the phone.

If my normal 20 – 30 minute phone screen ran 45+ minutes, I’d want to get off the phone as this person may have been very long winded (this happens from time to time). A skilled interviewer would have been able to more effectively lead the interview but a novice might give the candidate the floor for fear of cutting them off and just explained next steps to prevent another 20 minute time suck. I’d be interested to hear opinions on my take…

Ask a Manager December 31, 2010 at 2:28 pm

I definitely think it’s possible that the interview was just running long and the interviewer needed to wrap up the call, but I’d still put the blame on the interviewer here; I just don’t think it’s reasonable to ask someone to invest their time in a phone interview (including prep time) and then not give them at least some time to ask their own questions — unless you explicitly explain at the start that that’s going to be the case and why.

Anonymous January 8, 2011 at 7:40 pm

Here is the latest. Got an email from head of HR. I was asked if I was going to be in the area for personal reasons any time soon. I was told they have not finished phone screens yet, but she wanted to let the head of department know if I was available.

I think that means that things went well.

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