job candidates who need to stop talking

There’s always at least one candidate in any hiring round who might otherwise have been qualified but who kills their chances by being way too long-winded. This is especially common in phone interviews (perhaps because candidates who do this don’t make it to the in-person stage).

I did a phone interview with a candidate last week who gave five-minute answers to quick, basic questions that should have taken 30 seconds or less to answer. For instance, at one point, I asked him if his work on a political campaign was paid or volunteer – an either/or question – and received a response so long I finally cut him off. Later, I told him directly that I only had a few more minutes to talk and wanted to get through some additional questions and it still didn’t cut short his long, rambling response.

You might think, “Well, some people are long-winded, but it doesn’t mean he wouldn’t do a good job.” The problem is that, at a minimum, it signals that you’re not good at picking up on conversational cues, and it raises doubts about your ability to organize your thoughts and convey needed information quickly.

If there’s any chance that you’re doing this, here’s some advice:

* If your interviewer tells you at the outset that the phone call will take 15 minutes, and part of that will be for your own questions, don’t spend five minutes answering a single question.

* If your interviewer starts giving you hints that she’d like brief answers — such as “really briefly, tell me what your role was at the job” — that’s a cue that your answers have been too long.

* If your interviewer cuts you off, that’s a glaring neon sign that you’re talking too much. It takes a lot for me to cut off a candidate — if I resort to it, it’s because I’m truly desperate to move on.

Instead, your answers should be direct and to-the-point. If there’s more to tell and you believe your interviewer would be fascinated, after giving your direct, concise (two minutes at the very most) response, you may ask, “Does that give you what you’re looking for, or would you like me to go more in depth about this?” If the interviewer wants more, she’ll say so.

Of course, don’t go to the other extreme and turn into your opposite, the candidate who barely talks and makes the interviewer pull information out painfully, sentence by sentence. The middle ground is around one to two minutes per answer, unless you get the signal for something longer.

{ 6 comments… read them below }

  1. de-liberatedmind*


    Thanks for your perspective/ideas regarding “long-windedness”.

    Indeed there are quite a few interview tips/techniques that job candidates can benefit by in an interview – phone and in-person.

    This is the first time I read one of your articles. I’m curious; do you have other articles on tips/techniquest for interviewers. Often candidates are left bewildered by the ineptitude of their interviewer.

    Linda Crockett

  2. Susan Walls*


    Nice brief synopsis on the impacts of long-windedness! Thanks. I have conducted interviews where the candidate could not answer succinctly, and even with multiple “hints”, went on and on. To me, it is an indication of how an individual will perform on the job.

  3. Peggy McKee*

    The ability to answer the question succinctly and then stop talking is a huge asset (or detriment if you can’t). This type of communication failure sometimes happens to good people that are nervous. Start with the short answer, ask if the answer you gave was what they were looking for and then you can clarify if necessary (or expand).

  4. HR Maven*

    Recently, we had a long winded candidate as at the END of the interview, “did I answer all your questions” to wit I replied, “oh yes.”

    He didn’t know it but he answered the most important question – He isn’t the person for the job – frankly ANY job -at my employer.

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