what to do when a job candidate just reads answers from a script

A reader writes:

I work in higher education and one aspect of my job is hiring student workers within a department on campus.

Recently, I had an candidate came in with her written responses to the general questions I asked — i.e., “tell me about yourself,” “what are your strengths and weaknesses?” — those kind of questions, along with specific questions for the job that I am interviewing for. While the candidate did an okay job, I felt it was awkward when she read her responses.

What is your opinion on candidates bringing in written responses or possible responses to general questions? I felt it was too scripted and that the candidate should have all of this memorized. Or is it just me? Am I being too harsh?

No, it’s not just you — this is utterly bizarre.

If you wanted scripted answers read to you, you would have just conducted the interview over email. You wanted to have an actual conversation with at least somewhat natural answers. For all you know, someone else could have written those answers for her and she was just reading them.

(By the way, you also don’t want a candidate to have “memorized” her answers either. You want candidates to prepare, yes, absolutely — but you still want a real conversation, not a stilted exchange of pre-readied questions and answers.)

But … why didn’t you say something at the time? With the first answer she read, why not say, “I see you have answers written out there, but I’d actually like to talk with you, not hear written answers.”

In general, as an interviewer, if a candidate is handling the interview differently than you’d like, say something. You can say, “We have a lot of questions to get through, so I’d love to just hear about X” to a candidate who is rambling into tangents. You can say, “I don’t quite understand what your role was in that; can you clarify that?” to a candidate whose answers are vague or that leave you unsure of what she actually did on a particular project. You can say, “I’d love to hear more about that” to a candidate who is so concise that you’re not getting the information you need. And you can say, “Please just talk with me rather than reading what you’ve prepared” to a candidate reading a script.

Related: should I give my interviewer a typed list of my answers to likely questions?

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