how to interview job candidates who won’t stop talking

A reader writes:

While I try to be understanding of job candidates who give five-minute responses to 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 put specific time limits on their answers, like by saying, “In 90 seconds or less, please tell us how your work experience relates to this position?”

I’ve tried a lot of tactics to trim down excessively long-winded responses, like instructing candidates to be thorough yet brief in their responses and providing them with the number of questions and time constraints at the beginning of an interview and advising them to monitor their time. Some of my hiring committee members have been more cutthroat and cut off the chatty ones with a rushed, “Okay, thank you” of finality when the candidate finally takes a pause for 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.

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 96 comments… read them below }

  1. DMLOKC*

    I like when there’s a clock in the interview room. It’s a little uncomfortable to be seen looking at it, but I just say I’m trying to respect the interviewers time. This helps the interviewer, as well, keep the long winded interviewee on track.

    1. CupcakeCounter*

      Same here – as someone who is a bit of a “chatty Cathy” the ability to keep myself in check really helps keep my answers a bit more concise. I have a habit of going off on tangents…

      1. Kendra*

        Same here, plus my time sense gets really distorted when I’m nervous, too, and I tend to talk much more quickly than usual (which I think is true for many people). Having an actual clock nearby gives you a way to calibrate your responses that isn’t affected by adrenaline or stress.

        1. Crystal*

          Yep. I’m a talker and when I’m nervous it gets worse. I once had a panelist say “keep in mind we only have 15 minutes left for the remaining 8 questions” and it really helped. I obviously didn’t get the job but it has helped me in interviews since!

  2. Jennifer*

    I agree with Alison about the 90 seconds or less thing. I don’t consider myself to be particularly long-winded in interviews, I’ve actually gotten the opposite feedback, and that would throw me off so much. It’s hard to mentally time yourself and I’d feel like the interviewer was sitting there with a stopwatch. It’s better to just tell them you have x number of questions and only an hour to get through them, so try to give detailed but brief answers. If they don’t do that, they either can’t handle following basic instructions or they think they are so important they don’t need to follow them.

  3. EddieSherbert*

    Does it matter if it’s a phone interview versus in-person? I have a much harder time with cues on the phone when I’m nervous than I do when I’m face-to-face with someone… I’m definitely guilty of getting lengthy during phone interviews (because I’m nervous), but I am actually very quiet normally (like I get comments at work about how quiet I am… I still banter with coworkers at least a couple times a day but it’s less frequently than others do, and I bow out if the conversation lasts more than a few minutes).

    1. Jennifer*

      I pay a lot of attention to body language too. One reason why I hate phone interviews. Tone can only convey so much.

    2. pcake*

      A long-winded person will suck up all the time and can also make it very hard to follow them on the phone as well as in-person.

      The question is probably just how long-winded someone is. I know someone who can literally take 10 to 20 very convoluted minutes to answer a single question. They’re good at research, and will include every source, what each source says about something, and will go into technical detail beyond most people’s ability to understand or remember as it gets longer and longer.

      That would be a problem on the phone.

      And being as much like your normal self as possible on interviews, phone or otherwise, will give the interviewer a better sense of you. But I can see where being really nervous makes that very difficult. I work hard these days to self-edit, because I find that the less I say to people – my doctors, co-workers, etc – the more they seem to understand and retain.

  4. Close Bracket*

    How many questions on this site can be summarized as “I’m using my body language and the person I’m talking to doesn’t pick up my cues?” If you find yourself regularly having this problem, perhaps looking into assertive communication training would be beneficial.

    1. Lance*

      Maybe, but I feel like it’s different in an interview environment, where both sides are there to make impressions… and where the interviewer may be constrained, as in this case, by what the powers that be allow. And besides, Alison is right: this is giving a valuable first impression of them, that their ability to be concise or pick up on cues isn’t what the company might be after.

    2. CreativeNameHere*

      In general, it seems like 80-90% of advice on all advice forums boils down to “have you tried saying it to this person outright?” (Not a knock against Alison. She gives terrific advice, and a good bit of her LWers have indeed had some level of communication. But it’s amazing how few people try just saying things out loud.)

      1. TootsNYC*

        I think often people don’t know how to say it.

        Maybe they wait a little too long, and now they’re annoyed, and they are afraid to say something because that will leak out.

        Or they make a negative judgment and get remove that from their brain, and they know “you’re wasting my time” and “I don’t care about that” are not the right things to say. But they haven’t identified the work/professional reason they should give feedback.
        (“I have limited time, so I’m going to ask you to be a little more concise.”)

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        A lot of it is needing validation that it’s acceptable to speak up and be assertive.

        So many people are just scared to offend each other by simply steering the conversation ship, even though the waters aren’t even that rough in reality.

    3. Jennifer*

      I think also more people need to learn how to interpret non-verbal communication. Most communication is non-verbal. I know it’s not possible for everyone, but for those that can learn, they should try.

    4. hbc*

      If we have about 1/10 candidates rambling on and not picking up on body language, that’s a lot of wasted time, and not necessarily an indication that the person sending those signals is being subtle. And everyone seems to agree that the more assertive communication (ex: “90 seconds or less for your answer”) isn’t better.

      1. Artemesia*

        It has been my experience that every long winded interviewee we have hired has been a long winded bore on the job; so I think their inability to be succinct if it repeats in the interview is information that will be important in deciding if they are someone you want to work with.

    5. MCMonkeyBean*

      Yeah, they seem to think that trying to intentionally look uninterested is somehow less “cutthroat” than people directly cutting them off but I think that’s really not true. If you truly need to stop and move on to another question than cutting them off is better for everyone than letting them go on and looking like you don’t care what they are saying. If they do notice, it’s not likely to make them realize they need to be more concise, it will probably just make them really nervous which could mean they get even more ramble-y.

      1. BuildMeUp*

        I agree! I think disinterested body language could signal many things, including, “This isn’t the answer I wanted, so you need to keep talking until you say the right thing and get my attention back.”

        1. Glitsy Gus*

          Yeah, this is definitely a thing I’ve dealt with. I’m not super long winded, but when I’m nervous I do talk a bit more than normal (I think a lot of people do this). There have been times when I knew I was going a bit long, but based on the person’s body language I kind of thought that maybe I was off track and tried to loop it back into something else, which made the answer go even longer. It’s hard to tell the difference between “You are not giving me information relevant to me” and “I have what I need, you can stop talking” when you’re really nervous.

        2. Jennifleurs*

          Yes! I know I’ve been guilty of being far too long-winded (and rambling, and probably incoherent) but this is basically why, I read their body language as “that’s not the right answer” and just frantically try to find a better one.

  5. Witchy Human*

    A polite way to move someone along is to interject something like “that actually leads to our next question.” It doesn’t really matter if it truly leads to the next question or not.

    1. Ra94*

      Better yet, if you have the flexibility that Alison mentions, actually asking related follow-ups and steering them where you need can make an interview much more conversational. Especially for ambiguous questions like, “Tell us about your relevant work experience”, I never know whether someone wants a detailed overview of everything, or a 30 second summary. Butting in with “So tell me a bit more about your llama wrangling duties at the Llama Institute” or “And where did you go after the Llama Management Centre?” can guide a candidate as to what level of detail you want.

  6. Captain Raymond Holt*

    I was on an interview once where the candidate answered “Tell me about yourself” for 13 minutes straight. We were on a web chat and I opened a newspaper on the other screen and missed nothing.

    I asked her about her management style and she said it was all about conversation and listening.


    1. hbc*

      Yeah, I had the “How did the interview with [Colleague] go?” turn into a detailed 10 minute recap of what they talked about. I had another colleague with me and I could see her doing full-body eye rolls from my peripheral vision, so I don’t know how this guy missed it. For a sales job, no less.

    2. Ra94*

      To be fair, if I had an interviewer ask a vague question like “Tell me about yourself” and listen silently…I’d have no idea if they expected me to list everything out in great detail or give a brief summary before they move on to the next question. I wouldn’t go on for 13 minutes, but I would feel anxious about stopping too quickly (and not getting any follow-up questions), or rambling on too long.

      1. Jedi Squirrel*

        It’s generally a cue to give your elevator pitch—how your experience, skill set, and aptitude makes you perfect for this position. 90 seconds, maximum.

        1. Ra94*

          Then I’d expect a question like, “Could you give a brief overview of your work experience?”, or something to communicate that they want an elevator pitch, and not a transition into a long back-and-forth conversation.

          1. Close Bracket*

            I guess this is a learned thing. When interviewers say, “Tell me about yourself,” as far as they are concerned, that communicates that they want you to give an elevator pitch about your work experience.

      2. The New Wanderer*

        I had a similar situation happen during an interview. Interviewer asked me a pretty open-ended question but gave me zero feedback (verbal or non-verbal) during my response, so I started with a short high-level answer, no response, elaborated a little on a few points, no response, then got into a groove talking about one part of it and suddenly (to me) she was like, “Okay, that’s good enough, you covered it.” It was maybe 5 min total, not total rambling, but I had no idea what level of detail she was looking for and staring blankly at me while I spoke was off-putting.

        I know she was new to interviewing and to the company so I guess she was trying to be as neutral as possible, but … there should be a better way to give an idea what level of detail an interviewer is looking for, which helps to figure out how much to say.

  7. many bells down*

    It’s me, I am this person, I talk WAY too much when I’m nervous.
    I thought I came off as a babbling idiot in my last interview but they said I was “very impressive” when they offered me the position so maybe I’m not as bad as I think I am?
    (Pretty sure I am that bad though)

    1. mf*

      Me too–I totally babble when I’m nervous. I find it helps when interviewers ask questions that are *specific*. For example: “Tell me about one of your strengths and how you’ve leveraged that quality to improve your team’s work” is better than “What’s your greatest strength?”

  8. BethDH*

    For those of you who have had rules about using a set script, how much flexibility have you had to interject comments like the ones in Alison’s answer? I’ve been in some very stilted interviews (as the interviewee only) where I found out later that this scripting was the reason, and I’m curious whether those interviewers were being overly rigid in interpreting it or whether those rules really mean you can’t interrupt and move to the next question.
    If the goal is to collect the same information from all candidates with the least variation possible in conditions, it seems to me that it would be more important to make sure all questions get answered in the same time window than to avoid saying something about time, but maybe there’s something I’m missing?
    Funny about the resistance to saying “in about 90 seconds, tell me . . .” — I agree that I’d find it somehow offputting as the recipient of that phrase, and yet I love when written question prompts suggest an appropriate length! Does that seem different to others too or am I just strange?

    1. fposte*

      My understanding is that it varies. We’re restricted to the set script but we can absolutely utter other words and ask followup questions, but I’ve heard from other governmental institutions that there are no followups allowed (I dunno if they’d be forbidden from interjecting a “let’s move on,” though).

      1. always in email jail*

        I cut someone off once in a phone interview where I had stated at the beginning that we had a certain number of questions and a certain amount of time for them to answer. I waited for them to take a breath and said “I’m sorry to cut you off, but in the interest of time I would like to remind you that we have 5 questions left and only 6 minutes remaining in this interview”. They were VERY rude about it, which actually told me a lot about them.

        1. Drew*

          “Oh. Well, now there are no more questions and the interview is over. Thank you for your time and best of luck in your job search.” *click* “Because you’ll need it.”

        2. BethDH*

          Wow. Would love to see how that candidate would answer a question like “how do you handle feedback?”!

    2. always in email jail*

      When I was hiring in a government agency, we had strict rules about scripting. So, I had a scripted introduction that included something along the lines of “We will ask 10 scripted questions over the next 40 minutes. Please note that time management will be part of your evaluation. We will have additional time for you to ask questions about the organization and position at the end of the interview.”

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        I think that this is about the best way you could manage that sort of hard-and-fast rules around scripted interviews. I find that people tend to do better regulating their time if they know what they have to fit into it.

        But it’s also why I think scripting interviews that severely is absurd and not the best way to interview. I totally get asking all candidates the same set of questions, but that level of inflexibility has to lead to very stilted conversations, particularly for someone like me who likes to rephrase or ask follow-up questions when someone doesn’t answer the question I asked or address the point I was looking for. I should probably never work for a government entity as set scripts and scribing are the stuff of my interviewing nightmares.

        1. BethDH*

          Yeah, it seems like the scripting is intended to create equitable conditions, but it actually is more like standardized testing in that it works best if you are a “normal” candidate with all the societal and demographic expectations and hierarchies built into those systems. I hope I’m wrong about that, because it seems like scripted interviews are getting more common rather than less.

      1. College Career Counselor*

        Yeah, but people have different benchmarks for what “concise” entails. I feel that you need to give some objective parameters for people to gauge their responses. Alison’s “X questions in X minutes” is good if you’re unwilling to give a hard limit for each question (“in two minutes or less”).

        Then again, I work in academia with some people who think “concise” means 15 minutes of exposition when they’ve been asked to speak for two minutes. You signal that they need to wrap up, and they just start talking faster.

  9. so many resumes, so little time*

    I would rather have a slightly long-winded candidate that one who answers so briefly that interviewing becomes a chore. The last time I did second interviews with some candidates, one person gave the most basic bare-bones answers to questions; when I checked with the person who had done the first round, they had had an entirely different experience. I assume there was a mismatch between my style and the applicant’s, but it took them out of the running for the job.

    1. SheLooksFamiliar*

      Agreed. Worse still are the candidates who say, ‘That’s on my resume.’ Well, yes, it is, but I want to hear how you explain XYZ to a layperson.

  10. Heidi*

    If this is already being done, perhaps the OP can look at the order of her questions and put the most important ones first. Then, if the interviewee is long-winded, you’ve at least gotten the most important question out of the way. And then the OP could say, “We have ## additional questions to get through, so your answers to these questions should be half [or a quarter, or a tenth] as long as the first.” It’s on them to answer all the questions in the time allotted after that. If they can’t shorten those responses, that might be a sign.

    1. Swimmyfish*

      On a related note, if these long-winded answers are the rule rather than the exception, it might be worth looking at the questions themselves to make sure they’re clear about the information you’re looking for.

      1. bluesky*

        Absolutely! I am actively interviewing and am finding a lot of multipart questions. Those by their nature take longer to address, and I worry that I may be taking too long

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      I interview a lot (though my process does not involve scripts, scribing, or fixed time constraints), and I like to give the candidate a couple of softball questions at the outset to settle down the people who are incredibly nervous. The ones that are most important to me tend to require a bit more thought and connection to prior experience, so I’d hate to lead directly in with those, particularly for someone who seemed jumpy or uncomfortable.

      I would also not recommend that particular phrasing to a candidate who is already likely nervous. It sounds like a criticism of how long their earlier responses were, and, particularly if they are a nervous talker, it’s going to make the situation worse, particularly if there was no indication at the top of the interview that there is a firm time limit. I think telling them you have X questions left and Y time and that you’d like to make sure to leave time at the end for their questions would be more gracious phrasing.

      I also completely agree with Swimmyfish – if you’re routinely going over time and not getting the responses you’re expecting, it’s likely the questions, not the candidates. I tuned up a couple of my opening questions quite a bit when people kept going into way too much (and largely irrelevant) detail. It wasn’t their fault; my question wasn’t asking the right thing.

      1. Heidi*

        Great point. Based on the OP’s description, I wasn’t really picturing nervous talkers so much as expansive, friendly types who really like to talk (like my neighbor who wouldn’t stop rambling and almost made me miss the bus in junior high; I was carrying a really heavy instrument case too!). I often get the impression that a nervous talker recognizes that they’re talking too much, but stopping them also seems brusque and discouraging. I would probably say something like, “Great! Now I have a few short-answer type questions next.” Which is expecting them to take a hint instead of directly asking for what I want, but I’m willing to risk that.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          Ah, I see that difference. For the nervous talkers, I think bumping in with something positive and simple like that and then moving on is actually a relief for them. (For myself, equate nervous talking to those last few minutes before a car crash – you see it coming and there’s nothing to you can do to stop it and oh, god, why can’t I just shut up like an normal person?) :)

          I have less problem shutting down the chatters because (at least the one I encounter) tend to chat waaaayyy into left field, so I feel less bad about interjecting to bring the conversation back to the interview topics.

  11. Turquoisecow*

    I don’t know if you can necessarily conclude that a person who is long winded in an interview won’t be concise in general. An interview is a stressful situation and some people (like myself) tend to ramble when they’re in a stressful situation.

    I’ve never interviewed anyone, but I think I would set aside more time than I thought I needed if I was going to interview someone. Like say I had ten questions and estimated each one would take five minutes to answer. Add in a few minutes of introductions and pleasantries and you might think that an hour would be enough. Increase this. Not just because the person is long winded, but also because you never know how a conversation will play out, and maybe you end up discussing something interesting.

    Better to end earlier than expected than run too late.

    1. Lance*

      The trouble is, though, it makes the interview less meaningful if you don’t take the impressions you’re given. Sure, maybe someone’s having an off day, maybe it’s stress, maybe it’s any number of factors… but at the end of it all, what’s seen in the interview is what the interviewer has to go on. If someone’s being long-winded there, it’s not necessarily unfair to think they might be long-winded elsewhere; same goes for any other impressions made during the interview.

    2. fposte*

      Here’s the problem with that thought: you don’t want to hire somebody and assume they *won’t* be like they are during the application process, nervous or no. If you’re not okay with how they were in the interview, don’t hire them. Otherwise what’s the point of the interview?

      And I think it’s okay to have a shorter interview. The odds that you’ll learn something crucial at 62 minutes when you haven’t in the first 60 aren’t that great, and most workplace communication has to operate on a schedule anyway. (Plus hiring managers have a lot of other things to do, and it’s asking a lot for them to book an additional 30-60 minutes for every interview.)

    3. lemon*

      Depending on the role, observing how someone acts in one stressful situation (interview) can give you important information on how they will act in another stressful situation (say, a presentation to senior management or an important client).

      1. lemon*

        Also, I think a perceptive interviewer can often tell the difference between long-windedness due to nerves, and long-windedness due to an inability to pick up on social cues, and use that information accordingly.

        1. Anon for this*

          Agree – I have been in a couple of panel interviews where the candidate would talk talk talk at the interviewers and you could tell that it was not a case of the nerves – that it was a combination of seeing himself (it was always a middle-aged guy) as a gift to our company, and a misguided application of “fake it til you make it”, where, as an employee, this person would blather at teammates for hours in the hopes that it would obscure the fact that this person was not doing any work.

          Another odd case I saw once was when a (college junior/intern position) candidate literally talked themselves into a hole – this person talked and talked and talked until a weird racial statement came out of their mouth. The interview was for a tech position and had nothing to do with race. Thanks for showing me who you really are, bye, don’t call us, we’ll call you.

          I’ve got to say that sitting on the other side of the table for interviews was an eye-opening experience to me – I had not realized how much information about themselves, that we don’t really want our interviewer to know, we give away when we are interviewing. I’m probably as bad as any of the people I described, though probably in different ways.

    4. NotAnotherManager!*

      If you can’t draw conclusions from the behavior you see in an interview, there isn’t much point in doing them. The jobs I hire for are in a fast-paced, high-stress environment, so if an interview’s going to do someone in, an attorney breathing down their neck is probably not going to bring out their best either. Interviews are supposed to be when people are on their best and more prepared, so if that doesn’t go well, why would a hiring manager take a chance that they’ll hire that person and get different results?

      I am also not in favor of overestimating interview time. That’s great for one candidate, but when you have multiple open positions and multiple candidates for each one (on top of your actual job), you can’t continually bump out your interviewing time or it eats your who day. It is not unreasonable to say the interview will take an hour and stick to that. At one point in peak recruiting season, I had to call my HR recruiter and ask them not to schedule more than 2.5 hours worth of interviews per day because I was working 10-12 hour days to get my work done and interview effectively.

  12. Amethystmoon*

    I look at it as the difference between a speech and a table topic. Table topics are 1-2 minutes, while speeches are 5-7. Interview questions are meant to have table-topic like responses. Though I do have to say, that is a huge reason Toastmasters does table topics, to give people practice for situations like a job interview.

  13. metageeky*

    I think it’s important to consider the type of questions you’re asking. I’ve been in interviews on both sides where the questions were vague and unstructured enough that it took time to hone in on what sort of answers they were looking for. On one tech interview, the question was really about connecting an SQL database via a particular Java library. The question that was asked was about my experience with extensions to Java.

    I’d also push for making the interview more conversational. Interject a comment or question if something stands out. Or just do it anyhow to regain control.

  14. Thankful for AAM*

    I really like Alison’s advice about telling tje candidate the time and number of questions up front.

    Question: I mostly apply for local govt jobs (they are the main employer in my field) and the interviews are the kind where they ask all candidates a list of questions and don’t ask any probing questions. That means I worry I have to give longer and fuller answers as I know they won’t ask a follow up.

    Do any govt hiring managers have thoughts about how to balance answer length in govt interviews?

    1. Jellyfish*

      I can’t speak to government, but higher ed can be similar, and I’ve been on the interviewee side many times there. I found I got the best responses by giving about 3 minute answers. The first third of my reply would be fairly general – “yes, I might approach a situation like that with X and Y concepts in mind.” Then I’d describe a very specific job experience that somehow related.
      About the time I felt I was really honing that technique, I started getting job offers.

      It didn’t allow for a ton of detail, but I had enough time to explain that I understood the intent of the question and then describe some relevant, real world experience.

    2. Kiwiii*

      The way that OldJob and my job before that clued people into this was by giving the candidates fifteen minutes alone with the interview questions before the actual panel interview, they could write all over the paper and reference it in the interview if they wanted (I used to write a TON, most people would give themselves like 3-5 bullet points).

      I’ve never been the hiring manager, but I’ve helped coordinate the interviews for three different positions and interviewed for another half-dozen. Government interviews have answer keys to check off/grade if you’ve touched on all pieces of the thing that they’ve asked — so something to consider when speaking in an interview is to figure out if you’ve answered the what and the how of the question; they’re looking to give you credit, but can’t really if you don’t highlight all the parts of it.

    3. agnes*

      I think govt interviews are not well designed at all for many of the reasons outlined here–you don’t learn enough about a candidate. The interviews seem to be designed to avoid risk/litigation rather than to learn enough about the candidate to make an informed decision.

      I would suggest a relatively succinct answer (90 seconds?) with saying at the end–“that was a general overview–I can give you more details if that would be helpful?

  15. Marthooh*

    Saying “Okay, thank you” is cutthroat? Unenthusiastic body language is mean? Be mean and cutthroat, OP!

    1. mcr-red*

      Sometimes you have to be cutthroat with talkers then! And I think some talkers – not just people who can carry on a conversation but people who will talk talk talk to ANYONE on the street – cannot read unethusiastic body language.

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      If that’s cutthroat, I wonder how horribly my interrupting with, “Thanks for the thorough answer, but I’d like to make sure we have time to talk about X, Y, Z aspects of the job. So, [next question]?” must come off.

  16. Lauren*

    What about interviewers that do this? Seriously, by hour 4 I was ready to pass out. I was too young to even think I could leave early as it was 10pm at night and we were alone and I didn’t want to piss him off. I got there at 6p which would be fine if it was only an hour conversation. He just wouldn’t shut up,

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I get up and leave honestly since it’s a cue that it’s not a good fit. The one and only time it happened to me, I was even shut in a weird room where they were clearly reading a really long winded weird script. I was like “you know what, I’m sorry to interrupt but I can tell that I’m not the person for this role. Thank you so much for your time, may I show myself out or would you like to walk me?” That person just blinked at me at first and I smiled, stood up, reached my hand out to shake their hand and walked right to the door.

    2. RC Rascal*

      Out of college I went for an interview & the interviewer/ hiring manager did this. About 15 minutes in I decided I didn’t want the job and wanted to politely excuse myself. Except she wouldn’t let me get a word in edgewise. Not a peep. Not for three hours. The interview started at 1 and I didn’t escape until 4. Three hours of intense verbal masturbation while I desperately tried to leave. She talked so long I was late to my part time retail job.

        1. RC Rascal*

          I was 22, too young to think about that. It was a marketing coordinator position at a company that made trade show exhibits. The interviewer kept repeating , “I’m 26 years old and I run the company” every few minutes. After I heard the third lap of that I was ready to go; then she wouldn’t let me leave. At one point, after it was apparent I was in for a long ride, she did ask me a question, and I answered it, “Because you are 26 years old and you run the company?” and she exclaimed “Yes! That’s right!” She didn’t even get that I was making fun of her.

          1. Massmatt*

            This and the story above are definitely blurring the line between a job interview and a hostage situation.

            If memory serves, there was a letter or comment from a reader here that mentioned their interviewer was so obnoxious they quickly decided they would never take the job, she tried to excuse herself and the interviewer would NOT LET HER LEAVE! As in, blocked the exit!

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Was she conveniently placed between you and the door as well? What the heck, she sounds like a wreck.

        It reminds me of when I was new to a job and made the mistake of letting a Staples’ rep corner me in a conference room to try to do the hard sale. Me 6 months later would have destroyed them but I was in a weird transition phase and was just a captive audience until they finally wore themselves out.

        1. RC Rascal*

          Ha! The place was a maize with all these huge exhibits; you did need to be shown out. And she was most definitely on a power trip, as you can probably tell. After the interview I received a rejection letter from them ( those were the days) that said something to the effect that I didn’t have what it took to work for the company. It was a bizarre end to a strange experience.

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            I can imagine if this was now in the social media days and we could stalk that woman’s social media.


            Gurl, I ran a place at 22, thank you, next.

    3. Magpie*

      I once had an interview with a small company. Male boss, his female editorial director. He talked a lot in the interview, like a LOT. It had gone on for an hour and a half for an incredibly junior role. Then we got to the end and he asked if I had any questions. I asked some bland nonsense or other, and he just…went…off. He must have taked for TWENTY MINUTES without a break, just utter rambling, telling me about himself, his famous friends, an awards ceremony, his yacht–just this huge stream of bragging. I sat there, basically stunned and waiting for it to end. At one point I caught the editorial director’s eye and she gave me a tiny eye roll. And when he finally stopped talking he actually said, “Did that answer your question?”

      So I’m afraid I said, “Sorry, I’ve forgotten what the question was.” Which brought the interview to an abrupt and extremely welcome conclusion (and clearly made the editorial director’s day).

  17. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    When you put a time limit on it, those of us who aren’t long winded think we have to fill the entire time. Even though you said “or less” it still makes the person focus on how much time they’re taking. So I would wait until someone demonstrates rambling tendencies and redirect the conversation like Alison has suggested.

    In the end, as the interviewer, you’re the “host” and the one who should be in control in most situations. Being overly rigid will scare off good candidates. Interviewees spook easily given the tensions and power dynamics! So be careful to keep the atmosphere comfortable for both of you!

  18. Dragonfly*

    A general question such as”how does your experience relate to this set of duties” tends to give the impression that the interviewer is requiring a long, detailed, answer. A more specific question, e.g. “can you cite an example of how you have handled …. in the past” might just do the trick by narrowing the response down.

  19. blackcatlady*

    I think it’s also important to know if they are straying from the topic. That is, did the answer go down a rabbit hole on a totally unimportant side issue. If you job requires concentration and focus the overly verbal person is not for you. Some people just suffer from diarrhea of the mouth. I worked with a woman who literally could not give a yes or no answer. If you asked if she wanted coffee at the beginning of the interview you would have received a 5-10 minute answer. I wish I was joking.

  20. Marny*

    Honestly, the last paragraph of Alison’s answer is key. I’ve had several phone interviews lately where I’ll be asked an open question and the interviewer just sits there silently while I answer, with no attempt at all to turn the interview into a two-sided conversation. It results in candidates like me feeling like we need to keep talking in order to avoid awkward silence, or in hopes that the interviewer will respond or give some sort of sign that what I’m saying matters. And when I finish answering, all I get in response is an “Ok” before they ask the next question. It really makes the interview unnatural and weird. I get that the interviewer may be assessing whether I can answer questions concisely, but it’s in no way an example of what it’s like to have a real conversation with someone. In short, I hate it.

    1. Massmatt*

      I think this is usually a symptom of a nervous or inexperienced interviewer. The best interviews (both as interviewer and interviewee) are more conversational. Someone who reads from a list of questions and stares blankly as you answer and gives no clue whether she wants a brief or detailed response is not likely to get good info to decide between candidates.

      1. EH*

        Hahahah YES.

        I’ve only had to interview a candidate once, and I was… not great. It’s made me a lot more compassionate towards (and less freaked out by) weird/nervous/whatever interviewers.

  21. mcr-red*

    I am not a talker by nature, and I feel like telling me “you have 90 seconds to answer this” will make it worse. Instead of getting 90 seconds of info from me, you might 60 or less. And my daughter, who seems to have literally no concept of time except for “there’s not enough time to do this” when there’s hours of time in which to do it, would likely just freeze up and say nothing.

    Being naturally quiet, I seem to collect talkers in my life, and sometimes you need to dive in there when they take a breath or pause, and redirect them to where you need to go next in the conversation. “OK thank you, OK we’ve covered that, OK, we need to move on now” and ask the next question.

    I sometimes have to write up profiles of people for an organization I’m part of. I LOVE the talkers. I get information out of them. The people like me are exhausting to try to pry information out of.

  22. The Original Stellaaaaa*

    I find myself tempted to ramble when the interviewer isn’t giving me any indication that she’s ready to ask the next question. If she’s sitting back and appearing to still be in “listening” mode, I’m going to assume that she’s not yet satisfied with my response or that she’s interested in more information. Many candidates, especially relatively inexperienced ones, don’t just stop talking after one sentence and wait a few beats for the interviewer to ask the next question. In normal conversations, most people know when to stop speaking and let the other person talk. I wonder if the interviewer is the one who isn’t fluent in these cues.

  23. GreenDoor*

    When I was in high school forensics and debate, our coach told us to practice our speeches aloud and guess how long we took…then do it again whiile timing ourselves. I thought mine was a four-minute speech. I actually too nine minutes! Some people honestly think they have concise answers to common on interview questions and truly don’t realize how long they take to verbalize them. I love the idea of just cutting someone off with a gentle reminder that you have other questions and you want to make sure they can have time for THEIR questions. It shows your cutting them off as a courtesy to them, too.

  24. atgo*

    I agree with Alison that this gives you important information… I once had a guy I was interviewing literally talk for 15 minutes as soon as we got connected (this was video call) without even allowing me to ask any questions. He didn’t make it to the next round.

    What I’ve done in the past that helps with this is not something so strict as “90 seconds” but for the first question, which is usually sort of a getting to know you/broad question to warm up the conversation, is say “in 2-3 minutes.”I deliver it warmly and nobody so far has been thrown by it, at least that I’ve been able to discern. It’s a bit more flexible, but still gives some direction and sees if they pay attention to or follow it at all. I’m usually hiring for roles that require a lot of liaising with folks from different professional and cultural backgrounds, so it’s important to me to see if they can pick up on the give/take of a conversation.

  25. Blue Horizon*

    One word: interrupt. Do it as politely as you can, but don’t be shy about it. It’s your interview and you get to set the agenda and control the pacing.

    Most people who are prone to this are used to being interrupted and won’t take it personally. If they do for some reason, well then (as Alison would say) that’s valuable information as well.

  26. Jaybeetee*

    Funny, I used to have the opposite issue – in another case of Bad Job Advice, I’d always been told to be concise in interviews and not ramble on. Which I internalized as “One-sentence answers.” Which was actually alright for student-type jobs, but once I was trying to get office jobs, became a problem. It was the Great Recession, but I was getting interview after interview, and no offers, and for the life of me didn’t know why. Finally, a friend of my then-bf, who was more successful in his career, sat me down for a mock interview and, no exaggeration, changed my life with his feedback.

    LW, if you’re running into this a lot, one option is to provide the questions ahead of the interview. I work in an industry that does this, gives you like 10 minutes to go over the questions on your own before the interview actually starts. It gives people time to organize their thoughts, and if they know the total time allotted for the interview and the number of questions, will be more intuitive about how long their answers should be.

    1. pleaset*

      Here’s the thing. In a typical business conversation, if someone asks you a question that involves a deep explanation, you answer for somewhere between 1 and 4 minutes.

      And if the conversation is one in which you are marketing or selling something, you should have a goal for your answer. The goal is both giving info that helps with the pitch, and also shows your competence in making a pitch – not rambling. Leaving space for a deep conversation, etc.

      So that’s the basis of conversation – being about to give meaningful, clear and rich answers. Not everyone can do that. With interns, some have no clue – and I give feedback in the moment. I once actaully stopped an intern and said “Look, you seem to want this internship but are not presenting yourself so strongly. Take a moment and think about a way to present what you just said in a more compelling way.” Which she did. And she joined us as an intern and was great – learned a lot and eventually contributed a lot too.

  27. GM*

    I’m tempted to respond like Jennifer Saunders in Friends – “I’m bored. I’m going to cut you off now” – in the finest British accent possible, but somehow I’ve never got around to it.

  28. agnes*

    I will interrupt. Don’t hesitate. You can do it politely but make it clear that you have to move on.

    I see much more of this now in interviews than I have in the past (and I have interviewed thousands of people in my career as a recruiter and HR person). . I wonder if it has something to do with how much of our communication is now “virtual” where you don’t learn how to read nonverbal cues and also where you don’t have the give and take of regular conversation?

  29. Cyrus*

    I almost want to say, “what’s the problem here?” Chatty people are annoying. The best way to deal with them I can imagine is to have a set script I’m required to get through and a limited amount of time. Realistically I’d warn them ahead of time, and if there was an otherwise-promising character for a role where long-windedness was MERELY annoying then I’d have a tough choice to make, but if we only got through eight of the 12 questions because they were so long-winded? They’re the job applicant here, not me; if their application comes in one-third blank, it’s their problem, not mine.

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