March 29, 2023

A reader writes:

I recently had a job interview where I had a lot of questions I wanted to ask about the role and the firm that were going to be pretty important in my decision with whether to continue with the process.

The interview was booked for a 45-minute time slot, and the interviewer asked what questions I had right at the top. I asked my first question, and the interviewer took 20 minutes to answer it. She technically answered the question, but also then rambled about several different topics that were only tangentially related. It was clear that I wouldn’t have time to get through even close to all of the questions I had if she continued answering at that pace, especially since I needed to leave time for her to ask me questions too.

Is there a polite way to say, “I have a lot of questions I’d really like to get answered, so could you be more succinct” in situations like this?

It depends on the purpose of the interview.

If this meeting was framed as primarily for you to get your own questions answered, then one option was to say, “I want to be mindful of our time, and I have a bunch of other questions I was curious about — would you mind if I jumped to the next one?” You’d have to find the right moment to say that so you weren’t cutting her off mid-sentence. But if the rambling continued after that, probably all you could do was write off the meeting and try to get your questions answered by someone else later on. However, if this interviewer was the hiring manager, realize that you were getting a lot of information about what it would be like to work for her, even if it wasn’t the info you had intended to ask for.

But if the meeting was framed as a standard interview where she would be interviewing you, not the other way around, I’d be more worried that she wasn’t going to have any time to actually do that … which could put you at a real disadvantage (especially if different interviewers were talking with other candidates and could cite clear and compelling reasons for moving them forward, whereas she’d be less able to do that with you if she talked the whole time).

I know that you needed to ask your own questions to decide whether you wanted to continue in the hiring process or not … but you might not have even gotten the option to move forward if she never got around to interviewing you. So given that, I’d prioritize moving the conversation back to an actual interview so you could talk about what you’d bring to the role. And then if you were contacted to move to the next stage, you could say, “I did want to ask about X and Y before we move forward.” (And of course, you can always ask for time for your own questions if you get a job offer … but if you’re rejected there isn’t a way to say, “Hey, you didn’t ask anything about me! Can we set up another interview where you ask about my experience?”)

So if it was supposed to be an interview, then once the extent of the rambling became clear, ideally you would have jumped in and said something like:

* “Well, I know you have a lot of questions for me and I don’t want to take up all your time on my questions.”
* “I could ask questions about the role all day, but I know you have questions for me.”
* “That’s all great info, thank you. So what can I tell you to help you figure out if I’m the right match for what you need?”
* “Based on what you’ve said, why don’t I tell you a bit about similar work I’ve done and how I could help with the projects you’ve described?”

That said, some people are incorrigible ramblers and if your attempts to redirect didn’t work, there wasn’t a lot more you could do right in the moment, given the dynamics of interviews. But sometimes a well-timed “why don’t I tell you about…” can give you back some control.

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