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are short interviews always a bad sign?

A reader writes:

I’m a recently barred attorney working on fellowship right now, but I’m in the process of interviewing for more permanent and long-term entry-level attorney positions.

I’ve had several interviews at this point that didn’t pan out (either because they decided I wasn’t the right fit, or I decided they weren’t). But I just had my second interview with an office that I’m very excited about! My first interview was with the attorney who’s the head of the department that I’d potentially be working in. It was a typical first interview — about 30 minutes, maybe a bit longer, and I felt like the interviewing attorney and I had a good rapport. I knew I had plenty of competition, because the attorney interviewing me had a stack of 20+ resumes underneath mine. Nevertheless, I walked away from the interview with a good gut feeling.

Apparently my good gut feeling was right, because I was contacted for a second interview, this time with the head attorney over all the legal departments in the office. The interview was scheduled for a full hour. I prepared rigorously — outlined bullet points for answers to both typical and “tough” interview questions and came up with some stories to demonstrate my work skills. I was fully prepared to talk to this attorney, intelligently, for an hour.

On the day of the interview, the attorney walked into the conference room and proceeded to interview me. She asked a few questions about my current position, past experience, and my recent move to a new state. I tried to answer her questions fully and intelligently, using the material I’d prepared. She did a lot of head-nodding, “mmm hmmming,” and positive commenting as I answered. She then asked if I had any questions. I know this is typical for interviews, and I had prepared thoughtful questions beforehand. I asked them, and she answered them fully, in a way that portrayed the office positively. She spoke highly of the team I’d potentially be working with. I used her answers to my questions as a method to engage in meaningful dialogue and highlight my skills and my enthusiasm for the position. She asked when I’d be available to start, if hired, and gave me a business card. Overall, I got a really positive impression of our interaction. I felt like we had a good conversation that involved balanced back-and-forth, and I felt like the interviewer opened up and became more relaxed as the interview progressed (which I typically take to be a good sign). Here’s the thing though: the interview, which was scheduled for a full hour, lasted only 15 minutes. Maybe 20.

That typically sets off every alarm bell in my head. I’ve always heard that short interviews are bad news. But, like I said, I genuinely felt like it was a good interview (and like I mentioned earlier, I’ve been to several interviews lately — I know when an interview isn’t going great). When I mentioned this to a friend, she suggested that maybe they’d already made the tentative decision to hire me, and they just had to have me meet with the head attorney to comply with some internal hiring procedure. I think in some situations that’s possible, but I know for certain that there were other finalists called back for this position (when I contacted the appropriate staff member to set up my interview, I was told that my first time slot preference had been filled by anther interviewee).

So my question for you, and any others who may chime in, is this: are short interviews always bad news? Am I completely misreading this as a good interaction? I understand that her seemingly positive behavior towards me does not mean that I’ll be hired, or even that I’ll progress in the hiring process. I’m just wondering if you, or others, have any insight related to whether a short interview always means you didn’t impress?

Short interviews aren’t always bad news, but they are usually ineffective interviews.

Here are some of the things a short interview can mean:

* The interviewer isn’t a primary decision-maker and isn’t highly invested in the process.
* The interviewer is just signing off on a decision that’s mostly been made already. She’s just getting a general feel for you and looking for any obvious red flags.
* The interviewer is a weak interviewer and doesn’t actually know how to rigorously evaluate candidates.
* It’s a courtesy interview; you’re being interviewed as a courtesy to someone who recommended you, but you’re not considered a strong candidate.
* The interviewer concluded partway through that you’re not a strong candidate and therefore wraps things up early.
* The interviewer is overbooked that day and is rushing through your interview so she can get to another appointment. (Not fair to you, and certainly not good hiring, but it happens.)

So there are lots of reasons that could explain why the interview was so short — some of them bad, yes, but plenty that aren’t.

In general, you’re much better off not trying to read into things like this in an attempt to figure out your chances. You can have an interview that you think went great and still not get the job. And you can walk out of an interview thinking you blew it and then get an offer. It’s just very, very hard to predict.

One caution about short interviews though: Remember that the point of the interview isn’t just for them to assess you, but also for you to assess them. Are you getting enough of a chance in the two short interviews you’ve had so far to gather the information that you need? Are you getting enough of a feel for the work, how your success would be measured in the role, what challenges to expect, what the culture is like, how likely you are to excel at the job, and whether it’s a job and a company you’d be happy in?

If you don’t feel like you’ve been given a chance to explore those things and you get an offer, it’s totally okay to ask to set up some time with the hiring manager to run through your own questions. Just because they do short interviews, that doesn’t mean you have to make your own choice based on short interactions.

are short interviews always a bad sign? was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

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