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 Making the Best of a “Bad” Interviewer

By Joe Stein

We have all been there, at one point or another, in our working career.  You are in an interview that you have been looking forward to “acing” and you find yourself in front of an Interviewer that you are just not connecting well with.

In this edition of HR Matters, we will examine how you can quickly identify the core issue with the Interviewer and then review what are some options for you to try to course correct the conversation.  It is possible to save an interview that is moving in the wrong direction if you are savvy enough to identify this occurring and quickly do something about it.

A key beyond everything is to stay composed and focused.  It can be easy to drop your guard if things do not appear to be going your way.  Do not get nervous or frustrated due to what is occurring.  Instead, keep your professional maturity and seek to assist the Interviewer and/or redirect the conversation. 

Below are some examples of “bad” Interviewers…do you recognize any?

• Unprepared Interviewer – I will admit that there have been times that I have started an interview and have not prepared as much as desired. This is especially true if I am part of a group of Interviewers, but not the Hiring Manager.  A key is not to become nervous if the Interviewer starts the interview by quickly reviewing your Resume, therefore, delaying the first question momentarily.  Likewise, do not become frustrated or show you are annoyed (even if you are!) if you have to provide a bit more background information for this person as they become up-to-speed.  You may even (very politely) offer to concisely walk the Interviewer through your background, to get the discussion started.  You may even encounter that the Interviewer does not have your Resume on-hand, so a simple backup plan is to always have extra copies. 

• Overextended Interviewer – Many Interviewers will with several candidates in a single day.  Very often an Interviewer can have these interviews scheduled back-to-back, causing little flexibility in a calendar day.  If an Interviewer is running behind, do not become frustrated.  Use this extra time to your advantage by doing a little extra preparation.  When you do start your interview, show understanding by recognizing how busy the Interviewer is and how you appreciate their time.  You may even offer to reschedule, if that will help the Interviewer manage their day (make sure you leave, however, with a committed reschedule!). 

• Talkative Interviewer – There are some Interviewers that just talk a lot.  Either they spend an inordinate amount of time framing the job and company on the front end, or ask long-winded questions.  Sometimes they just appear to really like to talk about themselves.  A Job Seeker only has a limited amount of time to cut through this “noise” and start the process of selling the Interviewer on how you are the best person for the position.  The key will be to redirect the conversation without being perceived as rude.  Listen to the Interviewer while waiting for a break to interject into the conversation.  You can interject by starting to answer the question that was asked, or by taking it upon yourself to tie your experience to whatever the Interview was talking about.

• Distracted Interviewer – This example is probably growing in “popularity”, as Interviewers have many more devices (computer, tablet, Smartphone, etc.) to become distracted by during the conversation.  It also just harder to “turn off” mentally what is occurring during the workday to focus solely on an interview.  This one is really tough for a course correction without coming across as rude.  Stay calm and continue to answer the questions presented.  If you feel it would be appropriate, you can ask if this time is still good, especially if the person was just physically interrupted with an issue.  If the person is just plain uninterested, and he or she will be your Manager, then you will have to determine how interested you plan to be in the position.

• Illegal Interviewer – I would like to think that this person is becoming more obsolete with each passing year, but I am sure there are still Interviewers that ask illegal questions.  The questions may be about your marital status, your religion, or your pregnancy plans. Whatever the subject, they are inappropriate or even illegal to ask.  You must first determine whether you want to continue with the interview. If so, then you can assume the question is being asked “innocently” and answer based on the core issue.  For example, if the question is about your number of children or a perceived disability, you can answer politely that you do not have restrictions that will prohibit you from performing the job.

• Obnoxious Interviewer – There are still some Interviewers whose style revolves around intimidation or belittling those in front of them.  This is not the best strategy for a number of reasons…bad for business (you could be a customer) and rarely results in the best candidate hired.  If you are facing this situation, you will need to determine what direction you will want to go in.  If the Interviewer will be your Manager, you will need to determine whether you can “live” with his or her personality and style.  If the Interviewer will not be your Manager, you may want to assess how much interaction you will have with this person, and how close this person is to the real culture of the organization.  During the course of the interview, I recommend taking the “high road” and not becoming combative with the Interviewer.  Remember, it is most likely not about you personally, it is just the way this person is.  Ultimately, you will have the last laugh…you don’t have to be this jerk.

You will most likely only have one opportunity to interview for a position and company.  Most Job Seekers do not want to write off a company or opportunity just because their Interviewer is not having their best day.  If you find yourself in front of a “bad” Interviewer, instead of giving up, attempt to identify the issue and try to course correct the situation.   Always focus on your skills and experiences, and how they match well with the position.  You may even find that your efforts result in that job offer you are hoping for!

As always, best of luck in your job search!