how should I handle job candidates who cut me off, are long-winded, or answer the wrong question?

A reader writes:

I’ve just finished up *yet another* interview where I haven’t been able to get to all my questions because the candidates just. keep. talking.

I’m female and in a technical field. I am not, by any stretch, a shrinking violet. The candidates guilty of this behavior are all men.

At this point, I’ve experienced a few different versions of this. In some cases, it’s very obvious that what I’m seeing is unquestionably indicative of future behavior and I decline to hire them. However, sometimes it’s not as cut and dry. I get candidates who start answering questions before I’ve asked them and go off on some long-winded tangent, finally circling back to the answer they think I want, only for me to say “okay, but what I’m actually asking you is…” and then they go off on a tangent again.

The sense that I get is that these are candidates who have overprepared for interviews, have gotten terrible advice from somewhere about telling stories instead of answering questions, and think they can anticipate what I’m going to ask (they’re wrong). And so in that case, I don’t feel comfortable drawing conclusions about how they’d be on the job.

The interviews I conduct involve many open-ended questions because I’m hunting for depth and critical thought. So I don’t necessarily mind listening to a candidate wax analytic about the finer points of Third Party Teapot Authentication Frameworks for 10 minutes because that will tell me a lot about their experience level. But I do mind if I was planning to ask them about Fast Lookup Tea Storage Protocols instead. And on the rare occasions when I do ask a very precise question with a short answer, such as a self-assessment of a certain skill on a 1-10 scale, I need that answer, and not a long, roundabout explanation. I’ll ask plenty of follow-up questions to get more context about that number, but first I need the number.

Is there any graceful way for me to regain control of my interviews without making candidates even more nervous, and thus, less reflective of their work selves?

First, you’re smart to be thoughtful about whether what you’re seeing is indicative of what you can expect from the candidate in the future, or whether you’re just seeing weird interview behavior. But I think you might be putting people in the second category when they should more often be in the first one!

Someone who interrupts you, talks over you, avoids direct answers to direct questions, answers your question before you’re done asking it (and gets it wrong), or is generally long-winded — that’s all stuff you’re likely to see on the job if you hire them.

But you’re right that there’s interview advice out there telling people to tell a story as they’re answering questions. And it’s also true that people aren’t always great at judging how much detail an interviewer is looking for. And those people might be fine once they’re on the job.

So, a few things you can do:

* Give time cues when you first ask the question. If you’re asking a precise questions with a short answer, say something like, “Very briefly, can you tell me…” or “In a sentence or two, can you tell me…”

* If someone is on a very long tangent, it’s okay to interrupt and say, “I’m going to jump in here since we have a lot of questions to get through and I want to make sure we have time for all of them.”

* If someone is on a tangent that isn’t answering what you’re looking for, interrupt and say, “Let me jump in here and clarify what I’m looking for.”

You’re right that you don’t want any of this to make candidates more nervous — as much as possible, you want to see what people are like day-to-day, not what they’re like when they’re unusually nervous — but seeing how someone responds to being redirected is valuable info. And you really do need to manage the way time is used in interviews you’re running because you’ve got to ensure you get the info you need. It might make someone more nervous — but so might a particularly hard interview question or an unexpected intro to the CEO.

Ultimately you want candidates who can roll with hearing “oh, what I’m actually looking for is X” — that’s not a terribly high bar. Be warm and friendly, of course — you don’t want to glare at them during the interjection — but you are the one running the conversation and it’s okay to speak up when you’re not getting quite what you need.

{ 291 comments… read them below }

  1. LW*

    Thanks, Alison. Most times I see this, I recommend we not move forward with hiring. Your advice will help me be certain that I’m doing everything I can on my end to be confident in my decision.

    1. Czhorat*

      Not hiring is wise; if a guy behaves like that in an interview, in which they have the most at stake in impressing you and the power imbalance is against them, then how will they behave with peers? With subordinates? Clients?

      It’s a huge sign that they have serious issues in knowing when to listen, and very likely is indicative of unconscious sexism (at the very least).

      1. Jennifer Juniper*

        Thank you! You and I made the same observations about these guys’ listening skills. And if they yammer on and on at the job interview, you can bet they’re going to be the worst time-wasters on the job. They’ll not only waste their own time, but they’ll waste their coworkers’ and direct reports’ time with their endless blithering, which will decrease company productivity and profits.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Oh we had a candidate like that! He just would.not.quit. talking about how amazing in every way he was. I had the exact same thought, “oh crap, none of us would get any work done if he’s hired, he’ll just walk from desk to desk and talk at all of us all day”, followed by “oh but he just had another interview with the managers, and probably charmed the pants off all of them, being a confident, white, middle-aged guy in a suit who can speak in buzzwords. He’s as good as hired. I’m going to have to start looking for another job and I really don’t want to.” What saved us all from becoming the guy’s teammates was, by some kind of a fluke, at the management panel interview, someone asked him a very basic technical question and his answer was “What’s (very basic technical term he was being asked about, that we also used every day in our work)?” Done.

          1. Close Bracket*

            I’m glad you didn’t have to work with this guy, but I’ve been confronted with technical terms for things I have worked with extensively that I had never heard before.

            1. Avasarala*

              …that part of the story is not relevant to IWTITB’s main point and it’s weird that you’re focusing on it to defend the guy.

              1. tangerineRose*

                It might not be related to the main point, but I immediately thought of that too. I’m glad I Wrote This in the Bathroom doesn’t have to work with him.

            2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

              He asked “what is a select query?”

              The interview was for a senior software developer position.

              Hope this helps paint a clearer picture!

              1. Tidewater 4-1009*

                OMG, this was a man who has always gotten by by being a white guy who talks the talk and doesn’t actually know anything. Cannon- sized bullet dodged!
                I briefly worked for such a man who took over when my manager retired. He was too stupid to understand the technical work I was doing and fired ne.
                Doesn’t know what a select query is!
                That’s the first thing in every textbook or how-to article! Yes, that says it all about this guy.

                1. Jadelyn*

                  There’s a hilarious sketch by Kids In The Hall about a mediocre white guy who got to be a doctor by being charming instead of knowing what he’s doing. I think it’s called “Bad Doctor”, it might be on youtube.

              2. BenAdminGeek*

                OMG. That’s a pretty big gap. Select queries are super obvious, even to a largely non-tech person like myself. Here, I just wrote one: select * from tableiwant where lname = ‘bathroom’;

              3. Jadelyn*

                …dear dog. Yeah there’s no coming back from that. I’m vehemently NOT a developer or programmer or any of that, just vaguely tech-y and took a single intro to programming class 15 years ago…but even I know what the hell a select query is.

                1. Jadelyn*

                  It’s a command you send to a database to have it output records from that database into a table. You can append all kinds of other things to it to filter and sort the records, or you can just do a table dump with SELECT * FROM TableName which gets you all records and all columns.

                2. Tidewater 4-1009*

                  @Paloma Pigeon – it’s the first thing a person learns after learning what data is and how it’s stored in a table.
                  The select query is where you say what data you want and what table to look in. It’s a simple concept. I use MS Access and it’s very simple to do with the wizard or graphical interface.

              4. Erstewhile lurker*

                My colleague likes to imagine himself as a senior level Oracle developer, certainly that’s the impression he gives recruiters. He asked me how indexes work a while back.

                I actually feel sorry for people like this who are way out of their depth in their own given field.

                1. Tidewater 4-1009*

                  Don’t feel sorry for them. They take jobs from qualified people. Their lack of knowledge and expertise causes problems for their coworkers (and boss). The end result of what they do is destruction, and they need the integrity to understand what they don’t know and need to learn, like the rest of us.
                  Or they could just apply for jobs they’re qualified for!

        2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

          I think the yammering depends on the context. I tend to speak quickly and yammer on when I’m nervous, so that in and of itself is not necessarily a sign that they will be a time waster on the job. Now if what they’re yammering about is how awesome they are, then yes, it’s a definite red flag.

      2. snoopythedog*

        The other part of this is that if you need people in the job position to be self-aware and good listeners (rather than talk over people or what they think someone wants to hear when the person has very clearly delineated what they want to hear), then this person is a bad fit.

    2. Traveling Nerd*

      One tweak I’d suggest to modify in your interview process is not asking people for self-assessment ratings. I’m in software engineering and we’ve found that they are wildly inaccurate. The less experienced someone was in their career, the more often they would think they had expertise! Asking for their experience with X, while it can take longer, was much more accurate.

      1. LW*

        I understand your concern. However, I use this as a starting point for follow up questions. If you tell me you’re weak in a certain tech, I won’t dig. If you tell me you’re an expert, I will probe for that to see you’re lying.

        1. Editor Person*

          You might want to follow up either way. Dunning-Kruger isn’t just dumb people who think they’re smart, there are smart people who think they’re dumb. Some people might be giving themselves a much lower rating than an objective observer might.

          1. SarahTheEntwife*

            Agree! And there’s often a “what scale are you rating yourself on” problem if you’re not talking about things for which there are standardized certifications or something. If you ask me how my Excel skills are I need to know whether you’re comparing me to Joe Q. Officeworker (moderate to advanced and can usually pick new stuff up easily as needed) or Wizard McBookkeeper (I’m decent at basic stuff but I’m almost certainly not at the level you need and it’ll be a steep learning curve to get there).

          2. Tidewater 4-1009*

            I suspect I might be doing this. I’m looking for a job and I see listings for my title with requirements way beyond my experience… and the last thing I want is to be hired based on them thinking I can do things I’ve never heard of before. That would be a nightmare situation.
            So I’m trying to make my actual experience clear – applying for jobs that sound like something I can do – but some descriptions are so vague or full of buzzwords it’s hard to tell – haven’t had any interviews yet…

          3. Gazebo Slayer*

            Oh yes, “smart people who think they’re dumb” is definitely also a thing. Michelangelo thought he was a bad painter. Really.

            1. Erstewhile lurker*

              Impostor syndrome is a real thing, especially in software development where the field is vast. Reading up about frameworks or languages that you have never had to use can remind you that there’s so much you don’t know and dent the confidence if you aren’t careful.

        2. Brett*

          There’s a good chance you are missing real experts that way though, especially with a numerical rating. Like when I look at how I would do numerical ratings for python now, I would expect the best python person in most companies to be in the 3-5 range. An 8-9 puts you on the level of Kenneth Reitz (requests), the Toblerity team (shapely/rasterio/gdal), or Tom Christie (starlette). There’s maybe a dozen 10s in the world.

          As a person with 15+ years now of using python every work day, I would probably put myself at a 4. But when I run python workshops, most people evaluate themselves in the 7-9 range by the end of the day.

          1. LW*

            There are a lot of people expressing concerns about this particular interview question. However, I don’t ask it in a vacuum. There’s a lot more to it than what I describe here. And I have found, with an otherwise good candidate who gives me a chance to complete a sentence, that it gives me the information I need in an interview.

            I’m aware of Dunning-Kruger, I’m aware of confidence issues, and I take all of that into account.

            1. Lilyp*

              Yes, people are weirdly latching onto this. I also sometimes ask questions like this (give a numeric rating and a sentence or two to explain it) and it’s quite informative to see how people self-evaluate compared to their actual experience.

              1. tangerineRose*

                I think maybe others have the same thought I do – I have no idea how I’d answer, and I’d kind of want to try to give a word picture of what I know and don’t know instead of giving a number. But maybe it’s different within the context of the interview.

                1. Amy Sly*

                  Same. If you ask how good my Excel skills are, I’m really going to struggle to give a number. I’ll say something like “well, I know it can do much more than I know how to do, but when I want to learn more, I have to use the intermediate-advanced tutorials.” What number is that? I don’t know. In one context, that might make me the best person in the office at a 10; in another, that’s a 5.

                  Sometimes the problem is the interviewee; sometimes the problem is the question.

            2. Massmatt*

              It’s also very telling that you are asking for something very specific and brief, and getting long-winded stories etc in response.

              I think you are definitely right in factoring this in as indicative of the kind of behavior to expect when they are hired—or more likely, worse. Trust your instincts!

              I agree with Alison that if anything, you are being too kind to people that are acting terribly in interviews. Yes, the best interviews are conversational and relaxed in nature, but that requires BOTH parties converse, it sounds as though these interviewees are not doing this.

          2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            That’s a good point – I bet everyone has their own version in their head of what the 1-to-10 scale means. “I am a 4” may very well met be “then why are you applying for a senior job if you are entry-level?” You just can’t win at these games, I swear.

            1. Spencer Hastings*

              “Can I ask something? Is a 1 a terrible pilot, or is it someone who’s never flown a plane at all?” -Cabin Pressure (paraphrasing)

        3. Aquawoman*

          I’m going to chime in that that was the one thing that hit me as an issue. It is completely understandable that people want to give you a description of their skills rather than answer the 1-to-10 question; I think that’s really putting people on the spot in a not-very-useful way. I wondered if maybe you had an outline in your mind of how you wanted the conversation to go that isn’t necessarily how conversation goes? In any event, for that question, I think “tell me about your teapot painting skills” would work as well as the 1-to-10 or just jumping into the more precise questions.

          1. The Shawnster*

            +1000 people can self assess in a far more accurate way through describing their work experience and some probing questions

          2. Hapless Bureaucrat*

            Agreed. I’m not a man and I do try to train myself to watch cues and not ramble in interviews but this is the kind of question that would absolutely trip me up. I’d want to make sure the interviewer understood how and why I was giving that number, because while the interviewer knows they’re going to follow up, I don’t.
            If the interviewees are all in a technical field that requires precision I’d expect this to be a stumbling block. I’d probably word it in some way that signals there will be a chance in a minute to go into detail.

          3. NotAnotherManager!*

            I agree with this – I find people’s own assessment (on a scale) of their skills is not a great gauge of actual performance. It’s like getting a resume that says someone is “highly proficient” in Excel – that has no real meaning, and I’m more interested in knowing if you can create pivot tables, use IF, VLOOKUP, and HYPERLINK correctly, and do full complement of basic arithmetic functions.

            1. Tidewater 4-1009*

              Yes, at my old job corporate used to send us spreadsheets full of basic arithmetic mistakes! One of my responsibilities was to check all their workbooks and tell them what to fix.

              1. TardyTardis*

                Shudders. I began with flint knives and bear skins, but by God everything adds up down at the bottom and to the sides accurately.

        4. Brett*

          Or if you are going to ask for a 1-10 scale, give clear markers of how you put the scale together.

          e.g if I would explain my personal scale for python like I did above, “I would expect the best python person in most companies to be in the 3-5 range. An 8-9 puts you on the level of Kenneth Reitz (requests), the Toblerity team (shapely/rasterio/gdal), or Tom Christie (starlette). There’s maybe a dozen 10s in the world.”
          In interviews though, I generally explain some variant of this scale (normally by directly asking them if they have done certain types of tasks instead of a number): “A 2-3 can routinely write and execute procedural scripts to automate processes. Someone at a 4-5 has moved beyond procedural scripting and can use object oriented python built around packages, classes, and functions. Someone at a 6-7 routinely uses logging, packaging, virtual environments, etc. An 8-9 is concerned about code coverage, package publishing, profiling, linting, and pythonic self-documenting code.”
          A 5 in the second scale is a 2 in the first scale. A 9 in the second scale is a 5 in the first scale.

          1. TechWorker*

            On this I make a solid 8 despite considering myself to be ‘not amazing at python’, lol. (I’d logging earlier pls, everyone should have logging and debug in their code!)

          2. AcademiaNut*

            Yeah, I’d have to ask for calibration before I could answer that question. In the first, I’d probably put myself at a 3 or 4, in the second, a 7 or an 8. Coworkers learning python come to me for help, I go to the expert coworkers when I can’t figure something out and can’t get the answer on stack exchange. Even for the first one – best pythoner in a company of 6 is a very different beast than the best pythoner in a company of 500. And are we talking a company that’s coding focussed, where the bar is high, or one where most of the employees are non coders?

            It’d be a good test for the interviewer on my part though. If I ask for calibration and they look at me blankly, I’m probably not going to enjoy working for them.

      2. Anax*

        Yeah, I recently experienced some of those numerical ratings in software engineering, and it was incredibly stressful and unhelpful from my end.

        What single number means, “I use SQL every day, I’m really proud of my query optimization and debugging skills, but I mostly use it via Linq to integrate with Visual Studio code and not independently, and I’m also self-taught so my memory for formal terminology is a little fuzzy (I google that as needed), and oh god why are you asking which version of SQL Server we used, that has never been relevant to my life.”

        It’s hard to ‘sell yourself’ while also trying to boil all that down, and then get interrogated because your best guess for a number doesn’t match theirs? (“No, a 7 doesn’t mean average-ish competence, like a C in school, it means you’re claiming to be an expert, so you’re lying to me and untrustworthy.”)

        Oy vey. Least favorite part, even more than the endless string manipulation puzzles.

    3. AKchic*

      It should also be okay to interrupt them with an “okay, maybe you should let me finish the actual question from now on” after they have interrupted you with long-winded and unnecessary non-answers more than once.

      They were being rude to you, the person interviewing them, who theoretically has the decision to hire them. If it’s about making the best impression and showing that they know what they are talking about, they should at least know what they need to be talking about, and should refrain from interrupting the person speaking.

    4. Drone8675309*

      I work in a government office and our interviews are very structured. One thing I like about them is that they typically say at the beginning of the interview – “We’ve got an hour scheduled to chat, and just so you’re aware- I have 5 questions I’d like to get through- so I’ll let you manage your answers and the timing accordingly.”

      1. old curmudgeon*

        This is SO useful! I tell folks who apply for jobs in the state government here to try to position themselves in the interview room so they can easily see the clock on the wall, and to keep an eye on the amount of time they take for each answer.

        From the perspective of the interview panel, that is a really good tell for who has good planning/organizational skills, as well as who has the ability to self-filter and not ramble on for 30 minutes on the first question.

        1. Scandinavian Vacationer*

          I’ve interviewed with MANY government group panels, and there are NEVER just 5 questions. More like 13, with half of them containing sub-questions, or 17. And invariably, the hour allotted is chewed up by the time walking into the conference room, introductions, and other random interruptions (off site video interviewer having trouble with the technology, for example). So best case = 45 minutes, worst case 30 minutes to cram in the answers to difficult, sometimes philosophical questions (example: what is your approach to community engagement?). It feels like such a performance, I have some sympathy for the interviewees described by LW. Putting the burden of time-keeping on the interviewee, who had no control of the questions, seems unfair.
          However, it may help to give the interviewee a written document of the interview questions (standard with government interviews.) That way, it will help clarify exactly what is being asked, and also may help with pacing the time available. At the end of the interview, the document is given back to the interviewers.

    5. Razzleberrie*

      I am also a woman who interviews in tech, and I run into this issue. For what it’s worth, I feel like it happens equally with female and male candidates. I attribute a lot of it to people talking through their nerves.

      When they’re off topic, I actually raise my hand to give an interruption signal. They typically pause, and then I break in with a clarification to the question. “I.e., what I’m actually looking for here is evidence that you … blah blah blah”. After a couple times of this, they usually figure out the pace of the interview and we get into a better back-and-forth.

    6. Sciencer*

      For the questions where you want a number answer, if there are a few of those and you always have follow-up questions, maybe it would be helpful to lay that out near the start of the interview. “I have a few question sets in here where I’ll start by asking you for a numerical response, then go through a few follow-up questions. It’s important for our records that we get that number before we move on to the follow-ups.” For me at least, I would find that helpful as an interviewee. I can definitely imagine feeling awkward answering a question with just a number, and no explanation! But if I knew that’s what was actually expected, it would help.

    7. Erstewhile lurker*

      In my experience there is a certain mentality that some software developers unfortunately fall victim to, in that their minds race ahead, they try to come up with a solution without listening to the problem first. Generally this means they wont sit pouring over documents and researching techniques for building sustainable, robust code and will instead dive right in and hack something together that ‘works’, but leaves a mess for the next person.

      This same mentality seems to have made itself manifest in these interviews, I don’t think they were looking down on you because of your gender, I just think they were just poor developers.

      as an aside, you could use a scale of 0-9 instead and see if it makes them laugh :-)

  2. stefanielaine*

    “but you are the one running the conversation and it’s okay to speak up when you’re not getting quite what you need”

    Great advice from Allison as always. Just wanted to reiterate the point that if in response to your redirection your interview candidate repeatedly doesn’t understand your question, doesn’t respond with a relevant scenario in the way they’re asked to, etc., you actually ARE getting what you need, and that’s strong data that this candidate is not the right person.

    1. Observer*

      Yes, to me anyone who jumps in before you are done – and with an answer to the wrong question! – more than once, that’s bad sign.

      1. Gort*

        This is a massive red flag. If it happens more than once in an interview, my assumption is that on the job, they will misunderstand what you ask them constantly.

    2. Nonprofit Nancy*

      Yeah this is clearly a situation where OP has the power. Don’t hesitate to use it to cut people off or redirect! If you can’t do it here, I’m not sure where else it is ever more possible!

    3. Is Butter a Carb?*

      I had this the other day. Got a very undetailed response “I just try to work quickly and be efficient”, so I asked two other times for specifics and got the same sort of answer. All questions were like that and I really did try to follow up, frame question in a different way, make myself more specific and clear. Not only did it not show me any of their skills, but I thought it shows a lack of detail and communication ability. I kind of checked out halfway through the interview (it was a panel)

  3. ProdMgr*

    Also in tech, and this is definitely a thing. Women rarely do it. People who do it to me generally don’t move forward because listening skills and reading the room are really important.

    If my first two attempts to interject don’t work, I sometimes just sit back and wait to see how long they will keep talking. Some people can really talk.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Not in tech but this would sink a candidate in my workplace, where listening to patrons/clients is a big deal.

    2. Evan Þ.*

      Thank you for trying to interject. I’ve misinterpreted interview questions before or mis-guessed what length the interviewer was asking for, and I’ve appreciated when interviewers brought me back on track.

      1. Well Then*

        Agreed! Some of this may be genuine misunderstanding or nerves (I ramble when I’m nervous), so it’s actually helpful to the candidate to gently steer them to where you want them to be. But yeah, if someone is not listening to the questions, or talking endlessly after being redirected, they’re probably just a poor candidate for the job.

    3. Willis*

      Yeah, if this was just the result of bad interview advice, I’d expect women to be just as likely to do it. But it doesn’t sound like that the case for the people OP interviews.

      Also, even though it may seem more awkward to interrupt people in the moment, in the long run that’s giving them a better chance to put their best foot forward than letting them drone on. Instead, you get the opportunity to see how they respond to being redirected and you actually get answers to the questions you need to make a decision.

    4. GrumbleBunny*

      Also in tech and I’ve seen it too – it’s a definite disqualifier for me. If I can’t stand you in a 30 minute interview I’m definitely going to hate you if I have to talk to you every day.

      1. TechWorker*

        +1 – the candidate who did this to me wasn’t near the top of the ‘to hire’ list for other reasons anyway.. but yes, interrupting your interviewer to respond to the question you *think* they’re about to ask… when they’re not.. is just really not a good look!

    5. Brett*

      I’m in a tech field which has a much higher percentage of women than most, and it seems to be more correlated with experience than gender in our field. In my experience, inexperienced men seem much more likely to do this than inexperienced women (maybe because they are overrating their experience?), but experienced women do this at just as great of a rate as experienced men. Going beyond binary cis genders, I have not had as many interviews and interactions with people of non-binary or trans genders (especially people entering the field), but I can think of some really clear cases where senior people of non-binary or trans genders were atrocious at reading the room and listening in professional situations,

      1. Avasarala*

        Your experience definitely supports my theory that people who feel comfortable/in power will ramble more and listen less. It’s that “Of course they should listen to me, I have a right to be heard” feeling. Often men feel “in power” in a 1-1 with a woman and will talk over her, but a senior exec of any gender would talk more than a newbie (who knows they’re a newbie).

        1. tangerineRose*

          I think it depends on the person. I’ve worked for some managers (usually tech experts with a lot of experience in tech) who dislike long meetings and try to keep things short and pay attention to what people say. And in some of those same meetings, a couple of the newer, less experienced developers would talk and talk and talk if they were allowed to.

          1. tangerineRose*

            And the experts were much more likely to be willing to say “I don’t know (but try this or ask this person)”. A couple of the newer people didn’t seem able to say “I don’t know”.

            I figured both things were about how secure they felt – the longtime experts were secure enough that they didn’t need to show power and/or ramble, and they didn’t need to know everything.

      2. Monokeros de Astris*

        Are you willing to accept a comment on your terminology? I am a woman, with a binary gender (female). *I* am transgender. But my gender is the same gender as other women’s; it’s not some other “transgender gender”.

        Please consider rephrasing to, for example, trans and nonbinary people (listing both because many but not all nonbinary people are trans). Also, if you’re going to talk first about cis people and then about non-cis people, please mark both; in your comment you speak of “men” and “women” unmarked, meaning cis men and cis women, but then talk about trans people as not covered by those remarks.

        I find the suggestion that my gender is a different gender that isn’t the same as “normal” (cis) women’s to be really othering and hurtful, and I respond very poorly to it, especially in the workplace. I doubt that you (consciously) meant that but it is very much how I read it.

        1. Brett*

          Thanks for the suggestions! That is helpful.

          Yeah, that was phrased awkwardly because I went back and edited after I wrote the first part to add non-binary gender, and then thought it made everything sound really cis-centric and went back and edited again to add trans.
          Would it be better phrasing to say “cis and non-cis women” and “cis and non-cis men” in the first paragraph (because that’s really what I mean, there is no difference between cis or non-cis)? Or maybe leave off any discussion of non-cis completely?

          1. Oranges*

            “Women” means both cis/trans women. Because trans women are women regardless of how society has (mis)placed them.

            Thank you for making steps in being inclusive. It’s hard. I’m a cis-woman and have been trying to be more inclusive for a decade now. I still mess up and have more to learn.

            I think the info is important based solely on social conditioning of men/women. However I might have put it as “in my experience, trans women do [insert thing] while cis women do [insert thing]” But only if there’s a difference. Otherwise trans and cis are covered under the umbrella of women.

    6. AnotherAlison*

      The other one that will sink a candidate for me is the guy who doesn’t look at me when answering my questions. We usually interview in pairs. Candidates usually address ALL the questions to my older, male co-interviewer. I’m there for a reason, and I’m far from being a junior employee or someone with no authority or influence.

      1. Brett*

        Be careful when interviewing people from other countries or distinctly different cultures. They may be following cultural norms of how to interact with strangers that are different from how they would interact with co-workers. One big tip off can be whether they are looking directly in your co-interviewers eyes when asking or answering, or if they are looking slightly off to one side.

      2. Peanut*

        Yes, and also neurodivergence. I can’t look people in the eyes when I’m thinking about something.

        1. LizB*

          This is a very good aspect for all interviewers to consider, but I’m genuinely curious: if you were being interviewed by two people, wouldn’t you look/not look at both of them about equal amounts, assuming they were taking turns asking questions? My sense is that AnotherAlison isn’t talking about people who don’t make much or any eye contact, she’s talking about people who make plenty of eye contact but only with the man in the room, even when she’s also posing questions.

          1. tangerineRose*

            “if you were being interviewed by two people, wouldn’t you look/not look at both of them about equal amounts, assuming they were taking turns asking questions?” I was wondering this too.

          2. Brett*

            For people who have the cultural issues though, you are coached to look directly at the right or left cheekbone of one person. That’s why I mention that if they seem to be looking slightly off to one side instead of making direct eye contact, it is because they are focusing on one person to prevent their eyes from dancing around the room. (For people from these cultures, it is common to be coached to do exactly this in interviews, which works great in one-to-one interviews.)

        2. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

          Guilty as charged. I know it’s offensive, but it’s super difficult to me (to the point my boss at OldJob got mad about it). I try really hard during interviews, though.

          1. Mimi*

            But it’s hard for you to look *anyone* in the face, right? There are definitely people (OldBoss case in point) who will be offended by that, but what annoys me is when someone is exclusively talking to/looking at my male coworker. Even when I’m taking the lead in the conversation.

            I wouldn’t dock a candidate points for not looking directly at anyone, but if Person A asks the question and the candidate consistently responds to Person B instead, especially if Person A is visibly marginalized and person B isn’t… you had better be EXEMPLARY to not drop to the bottom of my list of candidates.

            1. Former Employee*

              People mentioned other cultures, but then went off on other reasons.

              Very simply, a man from a more “traditional” background/culture might not look directly at a woman who is not his wife or a close female relative because it would be seen as improper.

              If he otherwise appeared to be a solid candidate, I would try to determine if this would have an impact on his ability to work with or, most importantly, for a woman.

      3. AnotherAlison*

        Well, the candidates I’ve interviewed were all (seemingly*) neurotypical, white men, generally born and raised in the local region. The particular field isn’t that diverse at that level, although my department does have more diversity in general, including a several young women of a different nationalities (one who recently won a woman-in-this-field award!). I’m the only woman at my level in my office of 1000+. (A handful above, many below, but no others with my particular role).

        *I know it’s probably incorrect to make personal assumptions about one’s brain biology, but if they can look my male coworker in the eyes, they can look ME in the eyes. I also do work with someone who has some differences in that area, so I do hope I would be sensitive to that.

        These guys are just standard sexists.

        1. KoiFeeder*

          I was about to type that I don’t have any discrimination with my eye contact issues, but actually, given a room full of strangers that I don’t know, it’s easier for me to make eye contact with children. And obviously it’s easier for people I know and like than for strangers or people I dislike. So, not really a gender thing.

        2. EinJungerLudendorff*

          Agreed. If they can interact normally with men, then they can do so with women and are choosing not to.

      4. Darren*

        When I’m the older male co-interviewer in question I try to obviously and visibly defer to my younger female interviewer colleague (let her run the interview and ask most of the questions, make sure I’m the one offering water to the candidate, things like that). Sure I am the more senior person there but she is competent and here for several reasons such as giving her own technical and behavioural assessment of the candidate.

        If they aren’t capable of treating my colleague that I’m treating as if she were my superior with respect (and I’m happy to accept looking at neither of us that’s fine and I do that from time to time myself) it’s a telling point in and of itself for their behavioural assessment.

  4. ItsAllFunAndGames*

    I thing a good deal of this comes from many have the notion that “there is no too little” when answering interview questions and that you will be nocked for brevity. And also the idea that is instilled in many that they have to seem really enthusiastic/knowlegeable/in love with/all about whatever the task/job/position/company is.

    Even though there are a lot of things that can be short answers, many get the notion that short(er) answers are bad and does not show that you really are all about Teapots and how you would be great with them.

    1. Jennifer Juniper*

      Maybe men and women get different job advice?

      I’m a woman and have never heard that being long-winded is a sign of enthusiasm. Instead, I’ve heard you’re supposed to display enthusiasm by smiling frequently, leaning forward when the interviewer is speaking, mirroring the interviewer’s body posture, and sprinkling your answers with phrases like “I have a passion for llama washing.”

      1. Zephy*

        I know the “llama washing” part of that sentence is a stand-in phrase for something related to the job, but I imagined someone dropping that phrase word-for-word in an interview apropos of nothing and now I’m giggling madly. So, you know, thanks for that.

    2. Elenna*

      Also a woman, and what I was told was to keep my answers to 1-2 minutes if not told otherwise. But then, I actually had a semi-decent career center at my university.

  5. Anonymous Poster*

    I’m not in the room and I have absolutely no way to know this, but something I have noticed is that sometimes interviewers think they’re asking brief succinct questions, but their question goes on for a minute or two. That’s a long time and a lot to pack into the question, and it’s very difficult to answer what the interviewer wants! Is there any possibility that the question is simply too long and hard to hold in one’s head, so the candidates are trying to answer what they can while they can? I’ve had interviewers like that, and I hated to do it, but I had to follow up with, “I’m sorry but I understood you’re asking after , is that right?”

    When they drone on, that’s certainly a huge problem and you need to cut them off politely. You’re in control of the interview.

    I agree that I’d be wary of those that drone on or cut you off or answer whatever question they prefer to answer, but maybe double check that you aren’t asking questions that candidates simply can’t hold in their head because they’re too long or complicated.

    1. Senor Montoya*

      It’s good to identify that before asking the question, and putting in sign-posting. “This question has two parts” or “Let’s talk about Llama Wrangling now. First we;d like to hear about your most successful experience in Llama Wrangling — what did you do and why was it successful.” [question answered, with prompts to get more detail/to follow up] “So now, could you tell us about a time when Llama Wrangling did not go well for you. What did you do, why do you think it happened, and what did you learn from that experience?
      [question answered, prompts to get more detail/follow up/remind them about part three of the question, etc]

    2. Jellyfish*

      I’ve had a couple interviews where the interviewers gave me a typed copy of the questions. They asked verbally and still asked clarifying questions when needed, but the base questions were in writing. That was helpful for me in not worrying about forgetting to answer a section of a long or complex question.

      Maybe that would encourage interrupting even more, but that would also tell you a lot about the candidate.

      1. Yarrow*

        I actually love this idea. I have trouble keeping up with verbal instructions/questions if there’s a lot of info packed in. Having something written to refer to helps keep me on track and I can ask for clarification if needed.

        1. Metadata Janktress*

          My most recent interview sent me the questions in advance and it was so helpful for this. It also gave me a chance to write out more thoughtful answers so I didn’t do the “so um, um, I worked at this place and I forget the exact project name, but it did involve this thing and, um…” thing.

      2. old curmudgeon*

        That’s standard in interviews for state government positions in the state where I live. Candidates are given 15 minutes to review the list of questions (which are the same for everyone interviewed for the position) and frame their replies before the interview actually begins. When I was the interviewee, I found that it really helped me to focus my thoughts on where I wanted to go and how I wanted to get there in the conversation.

        From the point of view of being on the interview panel, we had at least one candidate who read through the list of questions, handed the sheet back, stood up and left. No idea whether he wasn’t qualified at all or was way over qualified, but either way, we were glad not to waste his time or ours.

    3. Observer*

      Shrug. I doubt your scenario is likely given what the OP is asking. Sure, if it were just on the more open ended questions, and not happening multiple times with the SAME question it might just be someone with sub par communications capacity. But that doesn’t really make sense in the context of “On a scale of 1 t 10 what is your level of skill in lama grooming?” Also, on the second go round, it would just make more sense to try to just answer one part of the question rather something you came up with without hearing the whole question.

      1. fposte*

        And mysteriously the female candidates manage to keep the question in their heads enough to answer compactly.

    4. Close Bracket*

      “something I have noticed is that sometimes interviewers think they’re asking brief succinct questions, but their question goes on for a minute or two. ”

      I had a phone interview with 3 guys, and 1 guy would not stop asking his question long enough for me to answer it. It was a detailed technical question, so I had to listen to the whole thing and I needed a second to collect my thoughts before answering. I don’t know whether he was a complete blowhard or if he was unnerved by the second of silence and needed to fill it, but I would be just starting to process everything he said and he would start talking again, interrupting the processing and giving more information to process, leading to me needing more processing time, leading to him starting to talk again …. He didn’t even shut up long enough for me to make filler noises to indicate that I was thinking.

      This was a one off interviewer. Man, did he suck, though.

      1. Is Butter a Carb?*

        Not in an interview, but I have an employee who does this. Like they give me the info and I’m trying to think through the problem and they just keep talking! I have to cut them off so I can think.

          1. Nessun*

            I’ve found as a general rule people don’t deal well with silence (especially when it’s on the phone). It can be difficult not to throw in those “I’m listening” noises, which is itself problematic for me, as I’m trying NOT to use them in my daily conversations. Makes a minefield of a phone discussion, for sure.

        1. ceiswyn*

          I once worked with a project manager who would slowly and long-windedly add irrelevant details to his original point and at no point allow anyone to interrupt. He once did this in a conference call with an external agency for a project within my area, embroidering with ever more details something that seemed to him to be a major obstacle and shutting me down with ‘let me finish’ in a patronising tone every time I tried to interrupt.

          At length he did finish, and I was finally able to tell him that he had made an incorrect starting assumption about my work that made a nonsense of everything he had just been saying at such loving length.

          He went silent for a long time while the rest of us got on with our planning. At the end of the call he said that since he clearly wasn’t needed, the project could go ahead without him, and hung up in a snit.

          Reader, the project was a resounding success :)

      2. Essess*

        I work with someone like this and I dread talking to them. They will ask a question, then without taking a breath they launch into a reworded version of the question and as I open my mouth to answer they launch into a detailed explanation of why they’re asking the question, then the full history of the possible answers to the question. It took about 6 minutes one time for me to break in and say that the answer they were looking for was “yes”. It was an incredibly basic question at the start and I could have answered it about 8 seconds in but I couldn’t get them to stop talking long enough to say it.

        1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

          I have, on occasion, replied to “in other words X, Y, Z” with, “those are the same words and I’ll give you the same answer if you let me finish.”
          Not my proudest moment, but I was fed up.

      3. Joielle*

        I have a coworker who does this and I hate it! The question is always like “How have we done [thing] before?” which has a simple answer, but before I can say anything she’s already going “Did we do this? Or that? Or a different thing? Or a fourth thing? Or have we never done it before?” and I’m dying to interrupt her.

        1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

          Honest question. How do you not interrupt this? I’m pretty conflict avoiding but I can’t take this. Not more than once from any individual.
          I do interrupt, more gracefully than my comment above indicates, but that was the result of “Please let me answer the question.” being ignored.

          1. Massmatt*

            I had a report like this, he would ask me a question and then sort of muse aloud to himself a possible answer. He would then not really listen to my answer, or confuse what I said (A) with his rambling monologue (B). Or worse, think I TOLD him B. Or ask “so is it A or B?”, as though I had told him two different things.

            It drove me nuts, and it was hard to break him of the bad habits. But tackling it in the moment and not relying on eye rolling or non-verbal cues was key.

    5. Faith*

      I was part of an interview team, and the length of the questions a couple of them wanted to ask was ridiculous. I tried to get them to streamline the questions so they could get the kind of answers they wanted. Unfortunately, they were so focused on making sure the candidate “had all the information” that they included way too much, and the end result was that no one answered those questions in a way that gave the interviewers the information they actually wanted.

      It was so frustrating. I mean, yes, context is important, but you’re not going to get all the info you want if your question has too many parts.

      I don’t think that’s what the LW is actually dealing with, but looking at the length of the questions is an important thing to do. Especially for phone interviews where the person doesn’t have the questions right in front of them.

  6. Long time Admin/Support guy*

    As a male in tech who has had the privilege of working with a few very knowledgeable women I have seen mansplaning far too often and it sounds like you are seeing it in all it’s glory. It can be a lot of fun to watch while some ID10T goes off after a knowledgeable woman starts in on something they think they know and then have the woman shut him down with the real scoop, but in an interview it would be really annoying.

    I like Allison’s advice, but I question if you want to work with people who talk over a woman when they should be on their best behavior. It is likely you will see more of the same if you hire them.

    1. LeahS*

      Your last sentence hit the nail on the head for me. I agree, this will not be the last of that behavior.

    2. Desdenova*

      As a woman in tech, I find it invaluable when a candidate gets all mansplain-y; it makes it easy to rule them out.

  7. Senor Montoya*

    Yep, just finished a round of interviewing and some candidates do. not. shut. up. Or go on tangents. That’s valuable info to me. I’m giving them feedback on that in the moment — I will do just what Alison says, both cuing (“Briefly” “In a sentence or two”), interrupting and redirecting (I literally say exactly what Alison has suggested), as well as nonverbals (looking at the clock, putting down my pencil and not taking notes, that sort of thing).

    I also start each piece of the process by going over their agenda for that piece: we have an hour for this interview with the committee, and we want you to have at least fifteen minutes to ask your own questions; this session includes your presentation which will be 15 minutes or less and then we will have 15 minutes to have a conversation about it, that sort of thing.

    If the candidate is really long-winded and/or off topic, I will interrupt and say, “I see you have more to say about Teapot Regulations, but we need to move on to several other areas/but we need to talk about quite a few other areas, so let’s do that right now”.

    If they seem thrown by any of these stop-statements and get nervous, especially if it’s for an entry level position, I;ll say something like, “Sorry for the interruption, I know that can throw a person off! Take a minute to regather your thoughts! Let me just restate the question so we’re all on the same page.” That does not count against a candidate, especially for entry level.

    If I do those things and the candidate is STILL taking too much time/second-guessing, I then let them proceed and don’t help them out any more, because it is telling me and my committee a lot. It’s a pretty strong count against them in that case, because for whatever reason, they are not listening and not following directions (can’t, won’t, don’t realize — doesn’t matter, what matters at that point is the behavior).

    Interrupting — If a candidate interrupts halfway through a question and starts to answer, I will politely state that the question has more parts (even if it doesn’t) and ask them to hold that thought for another minute. If they do it again, I don’t redirect them; if they’re interrupting at some other point, I don’t stop or redirect them. Because, again, that’s extremely useful information.

    1. LW*

      I like these strategies. I knew I wasn’t doing enough in the moment to guide candidates and give them opportunities to course correct. I’m stealing all of this.

      1. fposte*

        Do you ever do any phone interviews? Those can be a good place for an interviewer to hone that skill, because the visual cues that allow alert interviewees to realize it’s winding-up time are absent so you almost always have to get more directive.

        And if you’re worried about the sting of an interruption, it’s okay to say up front to the interviewee as you’re in opening credits mode that sometimes you may ask followups, redirect, or move the conversation on, so don’t be alarmed if that happens. Sometimes being clear about possibilities is a way of giving yourself permission, too.

        1. LW*

          I haven’t in a while. That’s good advice though. I’ll keep it in mind the next time I have the opportunity to test it out.

        2. Senor Montoya*

          Yes, that’s a good point, and it helps nervous candidates and people who are fairly new to the work world.

      2. Vemasi*

        I’ve also had interviews (usually for more entry level jobs, or at places with highly regulated interviews like public institutions) where the interviewer gives instructions for the interview at the beginning, including telling me to wait and listen to the whole question before answering. Often this is because they are reading off a standardized form and need to write down the answers, but it wouldn’t strike me oddly in any interview–I would just assume it’s because they have specific information they need from me.

    2. Senor Montoya*

      Additionally, candidates who are long winded and/or tangential a lot will often say more than they intend. The more they talk, the more you learn about them. Sometimes candidates will say things that make everyone on the committee freeze and then side-eye each other.

      1. Myrin*

        Oh god do I know this, only from the opposite side! I’m often lauded for my clear, precise, and engaging way of speaking, but in some situations, I turn into the world’s most persistent rambler. And the worst thing is that I realise I’m doing it as I’m doing it and yet I can’t stop. I think my mouth is literally too fast for my brain. And I’ve said quite a bit of stuff where I immediately wished I could’ve taken it back or just stopped beforehand, goddammit! (Nothing incriminating or bigoted or thelike but just… dumb stuff making you wonder where I left my brain that morning.)

        1. Senor Montoya*

          Haha, yeah, btdt! My mouth is moving and my brain is screaming Stooooooppppp! Shut up nooooooooooooww!

          Those are jobs I didn’t get.

          1. KoiFeeder*

            My dad always tells me to “engage brain before putting mouth into gear” and I always tell him that my brain is a really perverse braking system that cuts out on the iciest, steepest hills and laughs as I crash my train of thought into the rest of the highway.

    3. BRR*

      I feel like especially for the past few positions that I’ve helped hire for I’ve seen (or at least noticed) a lot more long-winded candidates. I love how you handle it and I want to adhere more strongly to the strategies you use. I will say that I’ve seen 0 overlap between talkative/interrupting candidates and top candidates. I don’t think it’s due to personal interactions, but they always seem to never answer the question.

    4. MissGirl*

      I was the rambler in an interview. The manager came off as somewhat adversarial from the start. This threw me and in my nervous state, I started rambling and asking way too many questions. She flat out said we only have X amount of time and I have a few more questions.

      I’ve never interviewed so badly but I’ve also never felt so disliked from the get-go.

      1. Senor Montoya*

        That’s tough! If you can, try to see “adversarial” as “no nonsense” or “to the point”. You may be right that they’re adversarial, but for yourself, you may perform better if you can reframe the behavior.

        Of course, adversarial behavior in an interview is good info for you! It’s an *inter*view.

  8. Elenia*

    I had an interviewee last year like this. Oh, the stories! What concerned me less than the stories, however, was the complete inability to read her interviewer’s body language – we were restless and bored as this lady was telling us all about her childhood in Michigan. I am hiring for a job that REQUIRES people to be able to read body language very well (working with volunteers), if you can’t even do it in the interview…

    Of course she ended up saying something really racist/classist, so she got put out of the running anyway.

  9. Archaeopteryx*

    How these dudes react to being course corrected by a female interviewer is pretty valuable data!

    1. Washi*

      Yep! In a bad way, but also it can be in a good way. I was once interviewing someone who was going on and on – but when I jumped in to cut short his answer so we could move on (not rudely, but not terribly gracefully either – I hate interrupting others) he immediately got the hint, and his answers to the remaining questions were of the appropriate length. We hired him and he was a great teammate!

      One other thing to look at is if you do hiring exercises, how they respond to your feedback. We always had candidates do a quick role play, give feedback, then do a second role play (it was a job that involved a lot of thinking on your feet.) We looked for whether they tried to incorporate our feedback just as much for the content. So if there’s a way to give feedback on their work and pay attention to how they respond, that could also be a valuable clue.

      1. mf*

        Yes! Some people (i.e. me) tend to ramble when they’re nervous but don’t mind being redirected when it happens. The fact that this guy got the hint and changed his approach means he’s got the ability to read the room, so to speak. That’s a great skill to have in an employer in any kind of roll.

  10. Anon for this*

    In my very limited interview experience, I once had a candidate talk himself out of being considered for my team (it was a 1:1, so my unilateral decision). He did not stop talking until he made a very weird racial comment that immediately took him off the list in my head.

    So I think sometimes it is good to let the person talk and tell you who they are. I used the same approach in dating when I did online dating. If you let the other person talk long enough, eventually they’ll tell you why you should not date them no matter what.

    1. tinybutfierce*

      Yuup. When I was in my mid-20s, I was involved in hiring for a now-previous job. Myself, my boss, and our lone HR rep (both of whom were visibly at least ten years older than me) interviewed one candidate I already didn’t think would be a good fit based on previous interactions. Despite it being made pretty clear that I’d be their immediate supervisor and they’d basically never see the other two as they worked in HQ two hours away, they practically never met my eyes the entire interview; after the third question I asked where they directed their answer to the other two present, I just sat back and watched them ignore me the rest of the interview. They did a pretty good job of letting me know they’d have an issue being managed by someone younger, on top of quickly making it clear they’d be a huge mismatch for our work culture and having obviously lied about their familiarity with us. All of which I’d told HR in the first place because I didn’t want to waste our time, but y’know.

  11. Mockingjay*

    LW, have you reviewed the job descriptions for clarity and depth? Maybe these need to be tweaked to get you better candidates. It’s hard to capture the breadth of work and skills required in a few paragraphs, especially in jobs that require a lot of analysis or independent thought. What are your top three elements for someone to be successful in the role? Make sure the job listing incorporates those so you can attract a better match of applicants.

    1. Nom de Plume*

      Honestly, I don’t think this is the problem of a poorly written job description. I hear what you are saying in that the candidate answers the question in the way they think the interviewer wants to hear, but she is describing situations where some candidates don’t even wait to listen to the question being asked. Even if the job ad was a perfect description and profiled the ideal candidate 100% accurately, a person who doesn’t wait to listen to the end of a question is going to be a problem in the workplace.

  12. IT But I Can't Fix Your Printer*

    Also a woman in tech and have also seen this! It sounds like you’re hiring for developer-ish positions. For the candidates who “start answering questions before I’ve asked them and go off on some long-winded tangent” only to arrive at the incorrect place, I shudder to think what their first drafts of code would be… If I have a developer colleague who listens to/reads only part of my requirements and goes off to build something not what I asked, that’s a huge waste of time for everyone. If my question/request is unclear in any way, I need them to be willing to ask clarifying questions rather than down the wrong path.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      Also a woman in Tech here, and I have encountered many, many “techs” that will tell a long winded story when they don’t know the answer to a question. They assume you are too dumb to realize the question wasn’t answered and will be wowed by their irrelevant story.
      It’s embarrassing how far up the ladder people can get with this technique.

      1. andy*

        It is also a way to think and not be silent tho. In interview you have to start to talk instantly, whether you know the answer or not and figure it out while talking. So that interviewer can learn “how you think”.

        At least that is common advice. It is likely much less personal.

        1. anon for this*

          It is not personal, indeed, but often it is applied categorically.

          I’ll say that I interview for data sci/machine learning/ML engineer positions about once a week and I respect people who pause & think before answering more than I respect people who start talking instantly. And I definitely respect interviewees who pause & then ask a brief clarifying question themselves, if necessary.

        2. Jellyfish*

          It’s okay to say something along the lines of “that’s an interesting question, let me think for a second.” You can’t sit in silence for too long, but that lets them know you’re not zoned out and gives you a moment to gather your thoughts for a complex or unexpected question.
          Talking before thinking can be a dangerous tactic, especially in an interview.

          1. tangerineRose*

            Yeah, this. It is also ok to pause a bit, especially if you’re face to face. Give your brain a second or two to come up with something.

        3. Samwise*

          That’s bad advice though. Much better to say, Let think about that a minute. (And then pause briefly.). I’d rather see someone being thoughtful about our questions than talking just to answer right away.

          1. andy*

            When we are talking about difficult of far reaching technical questions, brief pause is not necessary enough. In whiteboards algorithmic coding, it can take 10 min to figure out answer if you are lucky. In open ended questions, it can take time to figure where the question is going, collect aspects of it and hit the checkbox she is looking for. You basically talk and hope to hit the answer interviewer is looking for.

            Also,it comes from people who do technical interviews which I assume this is. Their goal is to figure out what candidate knows or is able to learn. Silence gives no information to them. Our technical hiring people interpret “he did not knew framework x, but could at least tell a lot about caching” in more favorable way then “silence combined with buzzwords but no deep knowledge about anything”.

            1. EinJungerLudendorff*

              Then you tell them that you’d normally need x amount of time to answer that question. And propose to explain how you’d approach that problem instead of calculating it through all the way.

              You don’t just start rambling for 10 minutes when you don’t even know if you can answer the question.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        I had a family lawyer ( and several cohorts) do this to me.
        The context was a personal legal matter. This was a big meeting with about a dozen people including family members and other professionals. However, they rambled on and derailed etc. I had a legal tablet with my questions written out.
        I’d let them ramble and when they finished, I’d repeat the question: “So this form has been filed or no?” (A yes or no answer does not involve rambling on.) The derailments were so intense that i really needed to keep track on paper where we had been and where we were going with this conversation.

        It was a very long two hours for them because most of the work had NOT been done. Of course, the meeting would have been shorter if they had decided NOT to try to snow me and just said the truth that things were not completed yet.

        I totally lost respect for that law firm and it’s supposed to be a very prestigious firm in our area.

    2. LunaMei*

      Agreed, I participate in hiring for roles like BI analysts. They are going to be spending a large chunk of time talking with customers to gather and interpret requirements. If they are constantly interrupting, not letting me speak, or trying to guess the question and/or answer before I’m done – that’s definitely not going to work for the role.

    3. Serin*

      This is actually very clarifying, because in some IT positions, mediocre social skills wouldn’t necessarily make a person incompetent at the job — but inability to listen certainly would.

  13. Leela*

    OP – I feel you! Not just from the hiring side either. It is a huge pet peeve of mine when people think they know what I’m going to say and then jump right in, bringing us completely off topic and refusing to let me interject to stop them, wasting a bunch of my time while I sit there only half-listening because they answer is so far away from what I need I’m just listening for them to break for a breath so I can get us back on track. Unfortunately I find that the Venn Diagram of people who will jump ahead like this and the people who will absolutely NOT let you interject is a complete circle, it’s so frustrating!

    I think from an interview perspective, I definitely agree with Alison’s note about giving them some cues like “briefly tell me about X”. People will still biff this. However I think it will help you weed out who’s not a great interviewer and who has that type of personality and will be difficult to work with. A lot of times when I’m the interviewee you just have no context for what type of answer the interviewer wants, and the people you’re interviewing might have gotten previous feedback that their answers are too brief and they have no idea how to calibrate because you hold all the cards for what’s acceptable (question v. story, one or two sentences to two or three minutes, etc). Everyone’s afraid of being too brief and not fully answering the question so I think they tend to err on the side of caution, but most people who would be good to work with would be receptive to “briefly tell me” or “in one or two sentences can you tell me”.

    Good luck with this one, I know it’s really irritating!

  14. Nom de Plume*

    As a fellow woman (who works in the sciences), I think many of the ways girls are socialized do us a disservice when we are in positions of authority in the working world. We are taught to never interrupt, to be helpful, to “be nice”, etc. So it’s very hard to do things that we were conditioned to think of as rude. It’s difficult to (politely) cut off an interviewee who is droning on and on. Because wouldn’t that be interrupting? It is, but you have the power in the situation, and if a candidate reacts poorly to that, think how they would act day-to-day when they aren’t in a “best behavior” type of situation. I think you are on the right track, and it’s okay to professionally shut that behavior down.

      1. Anon for This*

        I’ve spent most of my adult life working with “aggressive” people (finance, then commercial real estate); I got to watch their interactions as well as learn how to make myself heard. Now working at an educational nonprofit (where people are conflict-averse) I am BY FAR the most direct and plain-spoken, to the point that I’ve been shoved into interviews and negotiations because I won’t be steamrolled. It’s definitely a skill worth developing.

        Recommended reading: “Men Explain Things To Me” by Rebecca Solnit. Very instructive.

      2. Well Then*

        It might feel easier if you reframe “interrupting” as guiding or steering. I said this in another thread, but really you are helping a good candidate out – anyone can get nervous and ramble, or mishear a question. It benefits everyone for you to lead the conversation – and as the interviewer, that’s your role, and the candidate should recognize and appreciate that.

      3. Filosofickle*

        For me the shift is from “interrupting is rude” to “we have limited time to cover valuable material so I must guide this conversation”. It’s actually a kindness to redirect, as it gives them the best chance if they’re fumbling.

      4. Lilyp*

        Try thinking of it this way– if someone interrupts you, they’re sending a social signal that they think interrupting is acceptable in the conversation you’re having, so it should be totally fine for you to interrupt them in turn. (Someone who interrupts you but gets annoyed when you interrupt them is absolutely a no-go.)

      5. DyneinWalking*

        People like to demonize behaviors, like interrupting, lying, or killing, when really the problem is that their results are bad most of the time. Think about it – lying is bad, but the people hiding Jews in Nazi Germany are heroes. Killing is bad, but most people feel very different about killing a killer.
        Saying “behavior x is bad” is really just a shortcut – it’s saying that, in the majority of situations, the result is bad so don’t do this. But there are always exceptions, because what really, truly matters in the end is the result.

        Interrupting is bad because it lets you hog a huge amount of time in a conservation. But when someone doesn’t give you an in, most people will feel differently because the conversation time is already unfairly distributed (the result that “not interrupting” is supposed to prevent), so now it’s just evening the scales.
        Interrupting someone you are interviewing when they’re rambling on forever or are answering the wrong question is kindness. Presumably they want to not annoy you and answer the correct question. Here, interrupting as a good result, one that benefits the interviewee.

  15. Heidi*

    Hi OP. I’m inclined to think that this is a “them” problem rather than a “you” problem. Even the worst job advisor in the world is not going to tell people to interrupt the interviewer with a long-winded ramble that doesn’t answer the question. Some people are better employees than their interviews would lead us to believe (as evidenced by that last post – wow), but I doubt that your interview style would cause a stellar employee to descend into bloviating inanity.

    1. Enough*

      It’s not so much that they are told they should ramble as they ramble when counseled to be thorough. It’s more about how the candidate applies the advice than the advice itself.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Affirming, you are not causing this, OP. Unfortunately, you do have to stop it even though it’s not your fault.

      So our group was hiring for a lead position. I was charged with that initial phone interview. I called three people.

      Note, I am a woman and so were these three people. One person distinguished themselves in the wrong way. They went on and on, Chatty Cathy style about everything under the sun . The derailments had derailments. She was very funny and she knew about lots of things. She had lots of life experience. I’d sit down and have a cuppa coffee with her any day.
      She had no concept of how to wisely use time. She could not stay on track with the current topic. She had no experience in the particular job but she had relevant parallel experience. And she let fly that she was not happy with a previous employer [lengthy explanation]. While I could see she was justified I also could see that she needed to work that through a little bit more before doing more interviews. Yeah, I let her ramble because it was informative to me.

      In the end the contrast was stark, the other two candidates spoke to me for about 15 minutes. The group interviewed all three. The Chatty One did not do better with the group interview. Actually this story gets worse and this candidate was quickly ruled out by the group. I cannot elaborate but we later learned that we were 100% correct in ruling her out.

  16. applesthatacquiesce*

    You know… depending on the industry this may just be a thing… like blue collar jobs, on average, tend to have less soft skills education, or education in general, and you seem pretty thoughtful and intelligent so I wouldn’t just go straight into “they look down on me because I’m female.” They might… but they might just also lack the self awareness to behave differently. I speak from someone who works on the office/support side of an industry where we work with highly skilled, blue collar subcontractors/vendors.

    1. LW*

      My read on this is it’s mostly a lack of self awareness, combined with the way I was socialized (don’t interrupt!) and the way they learned to behave (keep talking!).

      It’s definitely a thing in my industry where everyone feels they have to have blogs and twitter accounts and be known for thought leadership. Guess what: if you can’t write well, don’t start a blog.

      On the plus side, now when I’m in the candidate’s chair, I start out by telling the interviewer that I’ve been where they are and if they’re not getting what they need, please tell me.

      1. Veronica Mars*

        To play devil’s advocate a bit here, I think there is a generational thing where a lot of my younger peers learned that one should just keep talking until someone tells you you’ve provided enough information.

        1. applesthatacquiesce*

          I have never heard of this… it’s drilled into kids to be quick and concise. Twitter would not function otherwise with one 50 or so characters.

        2. Paulina*

          I’ve known people who did that, kept elaborating more and more until they got a sign that their answer was accepted as done. However, these people were looking for such a sign, so they weren’t difficult to stop. The LW seems to be dealing with interviewees who are very difficult to stop.

        3. Not So NewReader*

          This is what I saw in college. Excessive talking was encouraged. It even appeared to me that the amount of talking was more important than the quality of the content. As a returning student was I alternated between amused and scared for our society’s future.

        4. Vemasi*

          I think this is more of a “filling the silence” thing, and a person doing this would probably not interrupt the question at the beginning unless they were horrifically nervous. And, just speaking for myself (as someone who used to do this), I would also be desperately watching for nonverbal cues to tell me what I had said was enough. So unless the candidates are young and inexperienced, I wouldn’t necessarily attribute LW’s problem to this–particularly if the candidates are launching into stories, rather than giving an answer and then appending it with elaboration or more answers.

    2. Darcy Pennell*

      That’s not what she said. She said she’s a woman and all the people who do this are men. A factual statement. You’re assuming she’s making a generalization and assuming she’s wrong about it.

      1. applesthatacquiesce*

        Isn’t it possible that because she has this sort of perception, than that becomes all she sees? Perception is reality sort of thing. I am not assuming she’s wrong — I certainly qualified my statement with, “you might be right, but you might also be wrong.” “Might” being the operative word here.

        1. Oh No She Di'int*

          And I quote from the site’s commenting rules:

          “• Letter-writers are experts on their own situations. When a letter-writer reports a situation is giving them bad vibes, particularly in regard to safety, harassment, or discrimination, believe that person. Don’t search for ways to explain away the behavior or pressure them to ignore their instincts because you personally haven’t had the same experiences.”

          “might” is a bit of a weasel word. It’s an attempt to make a comment and not be held to account for having made that comment.

        2. BuildMeUp*

          The problem is that comments like yours pop up basically any time a woman says “this is happening because I’m a woman” or “this has to do with gender.” There are always people in the replies saying but but but what if it’s this instead?? What if you’re wrong? What if each individual man was just having a bad day????

          It comes from a place of not believing women or trusting their own interpretation of situations they experienced. Even in this comment, you’re saying she could just be sooo obsessed with misogyny that she just sees it everywhere! But the majority of women out there know that things like this, unfortunately, happen all the time. She’s seeing it because it’s there and it’s real.

          1. applesthatacquiesce*

            A man could have written the same thing and my response wouldn’t differ. It’s about extending the benefit of the doubt that the way we read these experiences, might not always be accurate.

            1. Lance*

              The trouble with that is, a lot of times, something doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt when many, many others have seen very, very similar patterns. The devil does not always need advocates.

            2. Qwerty*

              Part the problem is that you are not giving the LW that same benefit of the doubt. Trust her to know about her situation and industry. Her question focused on how to keep the interview on track, not how should a woman deal with men. The genders seemed more as added context (otherwise the comments would be speculating) and helped narrow down on why she might not be as comfortable interrupting someone.

              Tech is notorious for this issue!!! Sure, some of the guys will be long-winded when talking to other dudes. But they still are generally way worse with women. I have coworkers who will “take one for the team” and rescue me at tech events when they see me stuck in these conversations because the dude only has to listen to some talk too long, whereas I get constantly interrupted and constantly told I’m wrong.

              I’ve tried the “ignore the facts and pretend it isn’t gender related” method you suggested and it is exhausting trying to contort yourself to avoid saying that dude is treating women differently. If a guy is doing a behavior that is generally done by sexist dudes, then that is the company he has chosen to keep. I’ve only found one guy who just as bad if not worse with men about talking too much and over people. Meanwhile I’ve probably found 100 who are way worse with women. When you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras.

              Finally, your counterpoint about other industries that aren’t known for soft skills is basically just another male dominated industry. Show me a female dominated industry where this problem runs rampant. It’s how we tend socialize people – men are more likely to grow up being encouraged to share their opinion, while women are under more pressure to be seen as polite and not interrupt.

            3. AK*

              “Might not be accurate” could be applied to just about anything anyone writes in about. Weird how whenever something related to prejudice comes up, someone always feels the need to remind everyone there are other possibilities. Never mind numerous data points, never mind that these things happen repeatedly in the same ways to the same types of people. Weird how when someone says their coworker is frequently late, or rude, or weird about the coffee machine most people can take that at face value. But if a letter writer says someone they encountered at work is racist, sexist etc. all of a sudden we must try their souls and acquit if there is the slightest bit of (reasonable or otherwise) doubt. Good old Occam’s Big Paisley Tie (

          2. Sleve McDichael*

            If you’re interested, some people have named this phenomenon Occam’s big paisley tie (the sort of anti Occam’s razor). It’s well discussed in certain parts of the internet.

    3. soon to be former fed really*

      What does the color of the collar have to do with anything? Lots of “blue collar” workers have college. What is soft-skills education? I have a masters degree and never got this. Your post is a bit off-point.

      1. applesthatacquiesce*

        I never said blue collar workers don’t “have college,” but a lot of “soft skills” (google would help you here) ARE picked up in educational settings, whatever they maybe whether it’s college or trade school.

        1. pope suburban*

          That’s wildly condescending. Perhaps reading this post’s advice again, more slowly, with time to digest, would be a good idea. The first pass doesn’t appear to have made much of an impression, and that’s unfortunate, because this is the exact kind of behavior that’s being addressed- and the exact kind of behavior that is unhelpful in any setting, from the professional to the recreational and beyond.

        2. AnotherAlison*

          I disagree. I don’t think you don’t learn a lot of soft skills in technical higher education (mech engineer here). I don’t think it’s a big focus in trade school, either. I think successful STEM or blue-collar folks ALL pick this up on the job, or you don’t advance your career. Either way, if the candidate is looking down on the interviewer because she is female OR because they haven’t learned the soft skills required for a job at that level, they need to be dealt with appropriately. The advice still applies.

        3. Avasarala*

          So your advice to LW is: Have you considered that maybe YOU’RE the problem? Or that it’s not a problem and you’re imagining things? Or that it’s not their fault they’re sexist because blue collar workers are too dumb to be self aware?


    4. Blueberry*

      I was going to say a thing or two but first I read your responses, especially to Oh No She Di’int*, so I think I’ll just mark the “But could you possibly be delusional about bigotry?” square on the Online Discussion Bingo Card.

  17. Elizabeth Proctor*

    I used to do phone organizations for an organization I was a part of and part of the intro script was to say something like, “I may cut you off if I feel like I have enough information or that we need to move on to a different question.”

    1. Sues*

      I also did phone interviews for the same organization (based on the wording you provided) and this was the most valuable thing I picked up from that process.

  18. Veronica Mars*

    I just wanted to re-share my embarrassing interview story from the other day because it seems highly relevant. I am a female in tech, so the gender thing isn’t there, and I genuinely blabbed on and on because I thought it was the right thing to do. But EVEN THEN I still don’t think I deserved the job, at all. Knowing how to interview is a life skill that anyone with a library and maybe a few interviews under their belt can learn.

    Sometimes people don’t click, and that’s ok. Some bosses are totally into waxing poetic. Some are into short, pointed, answers. Especially down toward the end of your letter when you write about how you’d rather ask more follow up questions – that’s really not true of all interviewers/bosses. Some want to hear you give one, longer, complete answer. That’s nothing against you, its just your preferred communication style. So find people that fit into that. Hiring someone who doesn’t click well with your management style isn’t doing yourself or them any favors.

    “I was interviewing for internships and fresh off of a college class on how to interview where we practiced interviewing each other for a semester straight. I was so prepped with all my AMAZING star interview responses. Long, drawn out, unique ones when one or two stories could have related to multiple questions, but alas. The poor interviewer had this long checklist of STAR questions they had to ask. I gave long, drawn out, unique answers to all of them. The interview went on for over an hour, at which point he interrupted and said “Maybe use an example you’ve already told to answer this question.” I… did not. I used a new story.”

  19. nm*

    If it’s due to sexism it’s a problem. If it’s not due to sexism it’s still a problem because that means they’re probably going to treat all their coworkers this way.

    1. Gort*

      Yup. Female interviewers very likely see it lots more than me, but I have, as a man, had candidates interrupt and answer what they thought I was asking, or worse, with their canned selling script that was irrelevant to the position.

      “No hire” and move on is the answer regardless.

  20. Abogado Avocado*

    OP, as a female lawyer who has tried many cases in court and dealt with male lawyers and male witnesses who thought it was their birthright to talk over women, I know where you’re coming from. So, allow me to give you — for free! — a tactic that works like a charm and will not cause the interviewee or onlookers to find you too aggressive, bitchy, demanding, etc. (all the things we women in leading roles fear being when we want to cut bad behavior off at the pass).

    When another person talks over you, immediately stop speaking and use both hands to make the “stop” gesture. Make your face blank or, if you want, raise your eyebrows as if to send a quizzical look. The stop gesture is universally known and the person will stop talking. Then, you say, in an even tone, “Let me finish,” or if you want, you can soften the interaction by making a joke, a la, “I’m big on tradition — as in, the interviewer finishes her question before the interviewee starts talking.” (When I’m in court, I say, “The court reporter can’t transcribe two people talking at the same time, so I’m going to finish my question and then you can speak.” but I suspect you don’t have a court reporter in your interviews.)

    In most cases, you only have to do this once for the other speaker to get it. In many cases, you’ll get an apology. And in those few cases where the clueless make you do this twice, you’ll have valuable information with regard to whether you want to hire those people.

    1. Observer*

      Great idea.

      And I TOTALLY agree that if you have to do this twice, that is REALLY valuable information.

  21. Oh No She Di'int*

    One bit of advice I would personally add: When you’re trying to get your questions out JUST. KEEP. F***ING. TALKING. Until you’re done. Even if the other person begins to speak, just keep plowing through right on top of them until you’re done with your question. It takes a bit of practice but you can learn to do this.

    This will not only get you better answers (because they will have heard the actual full question), it will do a lot for your personal sense of assertiveness. You’ll find that the behavior bleeds over into other conversations you may be having where you’re possibly allowing other people to talk over you. People simply just should not talk over you, at least when it’s *your* forum under *your* rules.

    And if it seems rude to them that you did not allow them to be rude to you, then you’ve got your answer right there.

    1. fposte*

      This is my favorite. Women tend to be socialized to cede the floor if somebody else wants it, and it’s kind of a rush to say “eff that noise” and keep going.

      1. Anononon*

        As a young female attorney who looks and sounds even younger (like college age, if that), I LOVE (not sarcasm) just continuing to talk over older male attorneys who try to interrupt me on the phone. It’s really fun and such a power trip.

    2. Myrin*

      Yeah, I do that naturally (my mum is an interrupter and you’d never get a word in edgewise if you didn’t just continue talking so I’m pretty sure I picked this up from her, although my sister isn’t like that at all) and it was kind of a weird revelation when I was in my late teens and one day seriously wondered about why this “interruption” thing never seems to happen to me and I suddenly realised that it’s because I don’t let them.
      That has led to some awkward interactions where I’m just barrelling on into the wrong direction because I didn’t allow the other person to course-correct me but overall, I think it’s served me well.
      (Although it also means that the very few times someone actually manages to interrupt me, I basically can’t deal with it at all. Happened for the first time in a long while recently and I just sat there gaping, having lost my train of thought completely and being unable to pick it up and to actually absorb what the other person was saying.)

    1. Mpls*

      Expected, maybe. But polite? Which ones are those?

      And if they are, then they aren’t very good at code-switching to understand that may still be times/places where it’s not a good idea to do it.

    2. Dezzi*

      I’m a female supervisor in a workplace where a large percentage of our staff are immigrants (super common in this field). Many of the male staff have grown up in places where men are not expected to take directions from women, and where it’s okay for men to be dismissive to and interrupt/talk over women. I’ve had staff repeatedly invade my personal space, interrupt me giving them instructions to loudly tell me why I’m wrong, and blow off every concern I raised/instruction I gave. Guess what? The fact that this is a “cultural difference” doesn’t matter. I’m under no obligation to allow that behavior in my office, and neither is the OP.

    3. Dust Bunny*

      Irrelevant. If you’re interviewing in a location where the culture is different, you learn the culture.

    4. Jennifer*

      I was joking. I should have specified. Yesterday, people were defending a woman who interrupts and talks over people in meetings because feminism. Today it’s bad again. I’m lost.

      1. Willis*

        I think it would be different if the candidates stopped once they realized the OP wasn’t done and said “sorry, please go ahead,” which is what the OP from yesterday described her boss doing when she and another person spoke at the same time on conference calls. It’s really not the same things at all.

      2. Oh No She Di'int*

        Are you referring to the “Bull in a China Shop” discussion?

        All behaviors have a context. The context for that discussion was whether a woman high in her company ought to alter her behaviors in a context where it’s possible that her behaviors are being judged more harshly because of her gender. I don’t think anyone in that discussion argued that interrupting and talking over people are–on their face–*positive*, desirable behaviors. Only that she was being more harshly penalized for her (admittedly negative) behavior than most men would.

        In today’s case, a woman clearly has the authority in a particular circumstance. She has noticed a gendered pattern of being interrupted. That behavior is not acceptable. And it wouldn’t be acceptable if women were interrupting her either. This is her forum and interrupting her is not acceptable.

        1. Autumnheart*

          In that context, the interrupter was interrupting and talking over people on conference calls, in addition to loudly sighing and yawning audibly in meetings. That’s rude behavior.

          1. Oh No She Di'int*

            Let me quote from my comment above. This may have gotten buried:

            “I don’t think anyone in that discussion argued that interrupting and talking over people are–on their face–*positive*, desirable behaviors.”

            1. Avasarala*

              No, there were definitely some people saying “I admire her behavior” and complaining that OP was too “judgmental” about her boss’s behaviors.

      3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        She talked out of turn on the phone, because she wasn’t picking up the cues on the phone. Further, the LW said that this habitually led to “you go” – “no, you” – “no you first” from which I assume she was one of the people saying “no, you first”. Meaning she would not barrel over others *and keep talking*. Completely different.

      4. Serin*

        Yesterday’s question was “Should I stop her? She’s my boss.”

        Today’s question is “Should I stop them? I’m their interviewer.”

        1. Jennifer*

          Yes, but rude is rude whether you’re a superior or a low-level employee. Maybe some leeway can be given at first but there is a standard. People yesterday seemed to imply that there are no universal standards when it comes to manners and people who are non-white and/or not middle class shouldn’t be expected to have manners, which is wrong based on the responses above, not to mention a bit racist.

          1. Close Bracket*

            No. People yesterday were flat out saying, not implying, that there is a gender-based double-standard for some of the rude behaviors that the boss under discussion was exhibiting. Men, in general, are given a pass for those behaviors as they rise through the ranks while women, in general, and including white women, are not given a pass. The cheering was at seeing a women being held to the same standard as your typical mediocre white guy. Lowering the bar for women to where it is for men is a form of progress toward leveling the playing field.

            In an even better world, managers won’t develop a sense of entitlement that causes them to develop rude behaviors in the first place, but as long as capitalism is a thing, hierarchical work places will be a thing.

            1. Avasarala*

              No. People were also flat out saying that manners were invented by white people and forced on everyone else.

              Jennifer (and I) believe that no one should get a pass for rude behavior. And I do think it’s hypocritical to cheer for a woman getting away with being gross on Wednesday and then complain that a man is being gross on Thursday–either these behaviors are acceptable or they’re not. The only difference is that the LW today is in a position to do something about it.

              1. Arts Akimbo*

                That’s nice, and when our world is a level playing field for all genders and races, we can certainly hold everyone to the same standard. Right now, though, some people are disproportionately punished for behaviors that others get away with. The first step is to recognize when that is happening.

          2. andy*

            Yesterday it was about hierarchy primary – lesser people are not supposed to correct their betters. The manager is always right and always polite, even when he or she is absurdly rude. People down the hierarchy are not supposed to talk about problems, ever mention problems, disagree or show that something was rude to them. People up the hierarchy always have good reasons for what they do, even if they dont have it.

            So, you dont interrupt manager, even after he had an hour long monologue about tangent. You wait and nod. Or dont mention that licking fingers is not polite. You dont mention that technical theory they just build their plan on is just plain wrong.

            Today hierarchy is in the opposite.

      5. Chronic Overthinker*

        It’s all about context. In the case of yesterday’s issue it was an employee who was irritated by her bosses’ behaviors. Talking over one another during a conference call happens to everyone and is fairly unintentional. Interrupting an interviewer during an interview is rude and unprofessional, regardless of gender and it shows that the interviewee is not actively listening. They hear a buzzword and try to edge in and usually go off on a tangent to their detriment. Two completely different scenarios.

      6. Tau*

        Generally, the differences in responses is due to the position of the LW, what they can do about the situation, and the current perspective they have on it.

        Yesterday, LW was writing in about the behaviour of her boss, who was to all appearances successful at her job. LW had zero power to influence her behaviour, had already overstepped a little (in the phone training) and seemed more strongly bothered by the situation than was really warranted. Response from the commentariat: whoa there, dial it waaay back. Have you considered thinking about this in X different way? If the boss had written in, we’d probably have seen more “actually, this isn’t great behaviour, try to change it” but that advice wouldn’t have been helpful for the LW in her situation so it’s not what she got.

        Here it is the boss writing in! She has all the power in this situation and part of her job is to select people that can work well on her team. I do in fact see some ways the candidates’ behaviour could work in a specific office culture… but it’s irrelevant, because it’s not the LW’s office culture and the candidates are also proving they can’t adapt to a different one. So “have you considered that some cultures do conversational overlap” is not useful to the LW, and the commentariat doesn’t go there.

      7. Elsajeni*

        Part of the difference is that the issue here is not only whether the interviewees are being rude by interrupting, but also that they are missing the point of questions by interrupting before they’ve heard the whole thing. So whether or not they come from a background where more conversational overlap is expected, they’re making a mistake by jumping to conclusions about what the interviewer is going to say, and they’re wasting their interview time by giving long-winded answers to the wrong question and then having to re-answer it after the OP redirects them. The question isn’t about rudeness, so “it’s worth keeping in mind that what’s considered ‘rude,’ including stuff like under what circumstances it’s acceptable to interrupt someone, varies across cultures” isn’t really useful advice, as it was for the “bull in a china shop” OP (who was mainly concerned about rudeness).

    5. Junior Assistant Peon*

      I’d heard of parents getting into the habit of talking over a room full of chattering kids, then accidentally doing it in a work setting.

  22. Just a Thought*

    We recently – and successfully – hired a very big talker. But key to my decision was his ability in the interview to redirect himself when I interrupted AND volunteering that he can dominate conversations to everyone’s detriment — so he was aware of WHY I was interrupting.

    He is now experimenting with how he is in meetings — being the last to speak, giving a moment of silence before jumping in. He likes the idea of “experimenting” since it feels less daunting than “fix it immediately”! He is making progress.

    1. Loves Libraries*

      Glad you are succeeding with him. I too have known a big talker and at least he was aware of it and thanked people when he was told it was time to move on.

  23. Lily in NYC*

    I wonder if nerves play a part in any of this. I know I can babble a bit if I am really nervous.

    1. irene adler*

      Yes! Feedback I received was that I needed to give shorter answers.
      Okay, point taken.
      I realized though, sometimes the questions lacked specifics such that I was finding hard to give a brief response. What are they driving at? Did I cover what they needed? I wasn’t sure. So I talked. Yeah, bad move.

      So now, when I get a question, they get one right back. Let’s clarify the scope so that I have a fair shot at providing a brief response that gets the interviewer what they need.

      1. Senor Montoya*

        That’s excellent. I love it when a candidate asks a clarifying question. Shows they are listening and thinking.

  24. Loubelou*

    I have a follow up question – I had one of these recently and it was just so painful.. however after I wrote to say we wouldn’t be offering him the job, he replied asking for feedback.

    I can’t for the life of me figure out how to give polite, constructive feedback when the interview was just so very frustrating. Any suggestions?

    1. Oh No She Di'int*

      Yeah, don’t give any feedback. In no universe is this expected. If you really enjoy giving feedback for some reason, I’d do when it’s fast and easy. But other than that, chuck that request right in the trash and keep it moving.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        . . . okay, but if one wanted to give feedback, what are some suggestions for doing so constructively?

      2. Loubelou*

        I always give feedback to interviewees who request it, I consider it very much part of my role in the process. I doubt I’m alone in that!

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          How about this:

          “In interviews, you need to be more aware of the ebb and flow of the conversation. Please keep your replies in turn and concise. Do not interrupt before the question is completed or veer off on an unrelated tangent. Interviewers often have a series of required questions so that they can weigh candidates fairly, and excessive side tangents can derail this process.”

          1. tangerineRose*

            Nice! I was thinking of “You interrupted me regularly and then wouldn’t accept any cues to stop talking. I don’t want to work with someone who does that.”

    2. Snoop*

      Maybe something like, “I know everyone gets nervous in meetings, but your answers tended to go on too long and made it difficult to stay on the subject. In the future, I would suggest working on not interrupting (if that was an issue), limiting answers to 1 or 2 minutes, and taking a beat to think before answering.”

    3. Blueberry*

      Isn’t such a request for feedback often an attempt to re-litigate the decision? I would just ignore it.

      1. Sophie Hatter*

        I don’t think so. Alison advises asking for feedback sometimes, and I used her scripts when I’ve done it. When I was doing a bunch of interviews but not getting offers, I wanted to know if there was anything I could do better in my next interview, or if it was just a problem of math- too many good candidates, only one job. I was grateful when someone took me up on it (and guess what, she told me my answers were too long-winded!)

      2. andy*

        People don’t mind read. The only way to know what is wrong when you are bombing interviews or anything else is when someone gives you feedback.

        As such, people who give honest respectfull feedback are golden. Both as members of team, as employees and as bosses. Smiling at each other while saying those generalities is safer, but that means we should value her attempt to answer even more.

        She can cut relitigation when relitigation starts.

        1. Rosaline Montague*

          I would only add: “in interviews, AS IN THE WORKPLACE, …”

          A literal- minded person will miss the point that how they communicate in an interview is being used as a predictor of how they would communicate if hired.

          1. Loubelou*

            Oh this is helpful, thanks. Make the connection between poor interview and what that tells me about his work.
            To all- thanks for all suggestions. Turns out I was stuck in ‘you are too annoying, talkative’ which focuses on him as a person, but of course the issue is his particular behaviour in the interview, which I can address without getting personal.

      3. Shiri*

        Sometimes it is, but sometimes it isn’t. When you are interviewing for jobs, often employers are so worried about lawsuits that you never hear any feedback unless they are hiring you. It can be hard to determine if it is just a matter of numbers or if you are doing something wrong that you could actually fix. So if it seems like something where if they fixed it, you could see eventually hiring them for some other position and they don’t seem like a jerk, it can be worth giving some feedback. I distinctly recall one company that didn’t hire me but gave me some feedback. The feedback didn’t particularly make sense to me, but I was so grateful to know at least I wasn’t walking around with a “don’t hire me” sign on my back that I still remember exactly which company and am grateful they gave me some feedback. This is particularly for cases where you have had an in person interview. If someone has taken time off from work to go to an interview, which can be complicated for job seekers because they can’t tell their employers that is why they will be gone let alone have it count as part of their job, it can be hard to be told you won’t be given any feedback, at least if it happens repeatedly.

    4. Sunflower Sea Star*

      Choose three points, out of however many there were, and outline those. So you might say:
      1. You were so eager to answer my questions you didn’t wait until the end of the question, as a result some of your answers missed the mark.
      2. You interrupted me multiple times, which reflects badly on your ability to listen to others. This is important for working on our team.
      3. You spoke very harshly of previous employers and coworkers, which made me wonder if you can work well with a team.

      And you could leave out all the rest. Don’t get bogged down in the details, and don’t engage after the one feedback message. Let him figure out how to apply the feedback, don’t make it be an interviewing lesson.

  25. Jake*

    I love when interviewers give me time cues.

    It lets me know what level of detail they actually want.

    1. Jennifer Thneed*

      Right. It’s like in school, when the teacher says “2-page paper” or “10-page paper” — that’s a proxy for how much detail you should go into. We all need to learn to write at high level and low level, depending on audience.

  26. Rich*

    I am a recovering interrupter and blowhard. Particularly early in my career I was pretty bad, though I’ve improved with maturity and effort.

    I would LOVE queues like Alison recommends. It wasn’t always clear to me how much context or depth an interviewer wanted, and guidance around that expectation is very welcome.

  27. andy*

    I would give you long answer to 1-10 scale question, because self-assesment brings up all my insecurities. All numbers sound wrong.

    Also, people (including me) fear silence in interviews. Also, a lot of advice for technical people center on that – talk even if you don’t know answer so that “interviewer can guess how you think”. Or talk to show at least related knowledge. That is sort of advice I got both in person from people who do hiring and from online places where tech people go.

    Also, when I get open ended question I do freestyle trying to say everything I know and specifically parts I am most confident at. Normally I don’t have to have talks on general topics. While I do learn for interviews, not really in terms of how to give best talks.

    There is human component in programmers too. I happen to be female, but males are humans too.

    Lastly, I am relative old now and worked in tech whole life. Currently in team with majority women, in some I was only girl. Males are more likely to do certain things, but there was no communication issue exclusive to one gender. Every single one was displayed by both genders, sometimes in different rates.

  28. Brett*

    One thing not clear from the letter… are these technical interviews or behavioral interviews? Or both?

    I am asking, because _many_ tech companies have technical interviews that are open-ended quizzes. You get a strictly timeboxed amount of time to answer questions, and the interviewer is expected to cut you off as soon as they are satisfied, otherwise you have to keep working through the answer until you reach the right answer and don’t get to move on to the next question.
    The behavior you are talking about could be learned from those types of interviews, even though it is pretty inappropriate for behavioral interviews.

    We have “solved” this at my organization by strictly separating technical and behavioral interviews. We say up front which type of interview the candidate is going to have and lay out all the rules and expectations at the very beginning. Completely different people conduct the behavioral interviews and technical interviews.

  29. C*

    My brother (who is a software engineer) talks about his interviews running an hour over what they were projected to run and I am like, dude, that is almost certainly your answer to, “why do I get interviews but not job offers?”

  30. No Name*

    If a candidate interrupted me a third time during an interview, I would be inclined to address it directly in the interview. “I don’t know if you’re aware, but you have interrupted me three times and misunderstood the questions I wasn’t able to finish. If, as your manager, I gave you feedback that you tend to interrupt, which causes you to miss important details in your job, how would you respond?”

    The interrupting would have likely already told me what I need to know about the candidate, but I’d be interested to hear how they address in-the-moment feedback.

  31. always in email jail*

    At the beginning of every interview, I tell the candidate something along the lines of “This interview will be 60 minutes long, and we have 10 questions to ask you. You will be evaluated on time management as well as your answers to the questions.” then indicate there will be time after the “formal” portion for more of a back and forth.

    1. Brett*

      Honestly, if an interview starts off that way I am far less likely to take the job. Even if you indicate that there will be time afterwards for more of a back and forth, what that signals to me as a candidate is, “we are evaluating if you are worthy of taking whatever job offer we give you, so don’t go off script and evaluate us or you will be penalized”.

      1. Vemasi*

        This is common in jobs for governmental or public institutions, where there is a requirement that interviews be as “fair” as possible (i.e., that all candidates receive the exact same questions and time to answer them, so they can be evaluated on an equal basis).

      2. Brett*

        Ah, it is all so clear to me now….
        I worked government for 8 years and did dozens of interviews. Yep, totally normal in government unfortunately. (And I would expect it in that situation.)

  32. voyager1*

    What jumped out at me was this:
    “The interviews I conduct involve many open-ended questions…”

    With all due respect, you are getting long winded answers probably because your questions may not be as clear as you think they are.

    I know when I have been interviewed I don’t want to say “can you be more specific” too many times.

    1. Willis*

      Literally the next sentence of the OP’s letter says she doesn’t mind long-winded answers. The problem is that they’re not on topic and waste interview time because candidates interrupt before she’s even finished the question! It’s not bad to clarify what someone’s asking to make sure you understand, but at least let them get the whole question out first.

  33. Chronic Overthinker*

    I usually run into the problem of nerves and either go long-winded or answer the wrong question. If I’m aware that my answer isn’t going over how I’d hoped I ask if I can start over or ask if I can give a better example. It can be a struggle to recover, but I’ve done it successfully and gotten a job because of it.

    I do agree with Alison’s advice. LW, you have all the power to shift the focus to what/where you need. Long winded answers with no acknowledgment of attempted brevity is usually bravado and ego. Long winded answers with acknowledgment could just be nerves. I would start with “in a few words describe…” or “If you had just three sentences to tell me about…”

    1. Senor Montoya*

      Maybe instead of asking if you can start over or give a better example, just stop yourself, say, “you know, that is not the best example. A better example is…”. Shows you are self aware, able to admit a flub, stay calm when you make a mistake, think on your feet, and move forward confidently.

  34. Blarg*

    I have this long-answer issue (and I’m female and I do it to everyone). I also tend to be a good interviewer despite my verbosity and have rarely not been offered a job for which I interviewed — but I’ve also had to rush through the last couple questions more than once. What I’ve found helpful is asking how long the interview is supposed to be (candidates get told “2pm” not “we blocked 2:00-2:30”) and how many questions there are. With that framing (10 questions in 30 min is very different than 10 in 60 min), I can better understand the level of detail someone wants in “tell us about a time when…”.

    I feel like some places have rules about how many questions they are supposed to ask so they cram in multiple scenarios into one. The situational questions I’ve encountered lately have so many provisions: tell us about a time when you successfully spearheaded a quality improvement project using multiple data sources and engaging external stakeholders and what went well and what didn’t?” And I could tell you about that example over an hour with delightful detail … or sum up in 60 seconds. But the 60 second version isn’t going to include all the components. And that will make me anxious that the thing I didn’t explicitly say was the thing you were looking for. If I know you only expect a 2-3 min answer, I can give a more appropriate answer.

    1. Senor Montoya*

      Yes, about cramming in questions. This has been a real problem with our search process and it means we are not able to dig deep or to have some back and forth with the candidates and so that they can ask questions — I don’t want us to hire someone who didn’t have enough info on issues that they care about, because then they may be unhappy when they start working here.

      I cut the number of questions way back in both the search committee interview, and the shorter meet-the-staff session. I would like to go to zero questions for that session, but a number of our staff were very anxious about that option — they want structure and no ambiguity.

  35. LQ*

    I think that you can give a little control to the people you are interviewing by telling them how long the time is and if you have a set of questions, how many questions you have. I was in an interview recently and they did that, while it was a little nerve-wracking, I think it was helpful.

    And I’ve done this before (mostly with vendors and especially PMs) who I would expect to bring some time management skills to the table. You have an hour, we have 5 questions. If they ramble through the first one for 45 minutes? They don’t get the job.

  36. Ruthie*

    When I was in college, I worked as an admissions tour guide. At the end of my very first tour, which I was incredibly anxious about, I was saying my goodbyes and the group and I were all standing in a half-circle around the entrance of the admissions building. Suddenly a bird flew into a window, fell down in the middle of the group, had a seizure, and died. We all watched on devastated. I didn’t know what else to do except more the group over a little bit and remind them to fill out their feedback form…

  37. Rosaline Montague*

    I don’t know if this is common practice but in our interviews we frame the time for the candidate, too, and place a clock where they can see it easily. “We have 10 questions and about 40 minutes to leave time for you to ask questions. We’re going to stick to that schedule to be respectful of other candidates. I’ll try not to cut you off, but I may jump in as needed just to make sure I get through the full list to get the best sense of your fit for the position.”

    Then if they tangent and interrupt or go on too long, you can be more confident in your concern. Time management is super important in all jobs, and if they’re like this in an interview, what are they going to do in your first staff meeting?!

  38. Jdc*

    I’m wondering why it wasn’t mentioned that often people talk a lot when they are nervous.

    Also If this happens so often to LW I’m wondering if she’s talking enough. Perhaps she making them feel awkward and the silence is making them talk more.

    To just universally not hire people who talk more than she wants sounds harsh to me.

    1. New Jack Karyn*

      If she notices that it’s only men who do this, it’s probably not down to her general approach.
      She’s saying that they talk over her, start their answers before she’s finished the questions. Is it really silence that’s the problem, here?

      1. andy*

        She however does not mention ratio of males vs females she interviews. Given gender ration among programmers, she might have tons of males on interviews and only few women.

        According to both studies and my experience, the gender of target influence how much people interrupt, but both males and females do it. Both males and females tend to assume lesser technical competence in women. The biggest difference I experienced is that males are more likely to assume they are geniuses due to their gender and women are more likely to project their inferiority complex on me.

  39. The Shawnster*

    I think providing your questions 15 minutes or so in advance will help a interviewee.
    Some of the inherent nerves will dissipate, they’ll know if they need to answer, 2, 6 or 25 questions in an hour and can self pace.
    They’ll also be able ask questions to clarify questions they’re unsure of, saving you both time and frustration.

    I’ve been providing questions in advance for about 8 years and the comfort in the room as well as the quality of responses are both 100 fold better.

  40. Vermont Green*

    I suggest you start the interview by saying something like “I have twelve questions to ask in the next hour, and its important for me to hear your response to all of them.”

  41. vmuzyka*

    Personally, I believe it is fine to start off the interviewing process stipulating the time vs. the amount of questions being covered for response – if there will be several. Reminding candidates at the onset to be as brief as possible, while also ensuring they provide a clear answer to the question. If the interviewer wants to hear more, they will ask for additional information or say ‘go on’.
    Communicating the expectations up front will provide the direction and comfort level for all concerned. The interviewer ‘takes the wheel’ right from the beginning and helps to keep the interview on track – ensuring all questions receive responses.
    Sometimes, candidates have NO idea of how many questions will be asked and are not aware that if they don’t respond to ALL questions, it may take them out of the running.

  42. RocketScientist*

    Another young woman in a technical field here. I find that men are especially bad at following cues as to what you are looking for. I have a distinct memory of myself and another young female engineer interviewing a young, but slightly older than us, male engineer. He went on a 20 minute explanation of his senior design project, that had nothing to do with the question we asked him, and when I tried to jump in to redirect the conversation, he said “Sorry, I didn’t mean to lose you with the technicalities of my work.” UGH. You didn’t lose us, but you didn’t answer the question either!

    We did not hire him.

  43. Tomalak*

    * If someone is on a very long tangent, it’s okay to interrupt and say, “I’m going to jump in here since we have a lot of questions to get through and I want to make sure we have time for all of them.”
    * If someone is on a tangent that isn’t answering what you’re looking for, interrupt and say, “Let me jump in here and clarify what I’m looking for.”

    I strongly agree. Interrupting isn’t always and everywhere rude – and in this case you’re doing the candidates a big favour: by allowing them more time to show how they are qualified for the job than they would otherwise get (because they’d use it saying irrelevant things).

  44. AhC*

    I was once coached that, when interviewing someone, you should deliberately interrupt them once or twice while they’re speaking, just to see how they’ll respond. It’s not my style, but it could be an interesting tool in this scenario, to see how these men might react to being interrupted/cut off by you.

  45. Meißner Porcelain Teapot*

    So from what I can tell, there are two different issues you’re seeing with interviewees:

    1) Interviewees who don’t answer the question you asked, sometimes even answering before you finish asking:
    For these people, I recommend cutting in as soon as it becomes apparent that they are going off track. Just a short and friendly “Please let me stop you right here–as intersting as X may be,my question is/was about Y. Please tell me about Y.” If your stopping them makes them react nervously and flustered, chances are good that it was just interview nerves. If they react with indignation or anger, that’s a red flag.

    2) Interviewees who give you long answers when you need a short one:
    I am not entirely sure how you are wording those questions, but in my own experience this scenario usually happens when the question contains undefined/fuzzy parameters. For example “on a scale of 1 to 10, how good are you at working with Excel” is the bane of my existence. It’s like someone in an ER asking you how bad your pain is without handing you a standardized pain scale. Does 1 mean “What is Excel? lol” or “I am very proficient at 2 or 3 specific Exel things and nothing else”? Does 10 mean “I know every single function of Excel and I could reverse-engineer this program on the spot if you asked me to” or does it mean “I am capable of doing everything someone in this position needs to be doing in Excel without any help or hesitation. The fact that I know nothing about Function X Which Is Never Needed In This Job is irrelevant”? You can save everyone a lot of trouble here by being very clear about how you define the parameters (“On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 means “I know what this program is and how to save and load a file, but that’s all” and 10 means “I have never once in my similar job at company X needed to look up how to do anything in this program”, how would you rate your experience in using program A?” or “On average, how many hours in total does it usually take you to complete task B, assuming no unexpected hiccups such as hardware failures, conflicting directions from management, etc.?”)

  46. Shiri*

    Just in terms of the less obvious cases or cases where they aren’t interrupting you but are giving long answers to short questions, they might be thinking that the question IS one of those questions where you want to see how they think and they might be worried that they are missing something about the question that they should be talking about longer so they are throwing stuff at the wall in Hope’s that something will stick. This would be more for cases where they are generally respectful, though. And for a self assessment on a scale from 1 to 10, I can see how it is hard to get a straight answer on that. Personally, I have trouble giving a doctor a pain rating on a scale from 1 to 10, so in an interview I doubt I would be able to answer that succinctly. So if there are questions where a significant number of people are not responding the way you are suggesting, that might mean you need to rethink the question or expect that you will get long answers. It might help to be explicit about some of this stuff.

    That said, I am a woman in a technical field and I’m explaining why I might do this. You probably are getting cases where people are showing their sexism, and I am sure you are accurate about those cases because that can be pretty obvious. But it is possible you are also just getting some nervous interviewers who would respond to a similar question very differently if it weren’t a job interview. You might want to try to keep track of whether there are particular questions where this issue comes up more. But if your gut is telling you that it is because you are a woman, trust your gut. This might also be a good excuse to try to get to a place where at least your initial interviews are close to 50% women and 50% men (or 30% women, 30% women, and 40% nonbinary. My point is not 70% male) so you can hopefully get a better read on who does these things.

  47. Lefty*

    As a woman in tech who has interviewed candidates…
    Are these folks acting this way when men are interviewing them too? Or is this also a clue that they might be kind of sexist?

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