When the interviewer behaves badly

As long as I’ve been a career coach, I’ve insisted that interviewing strategies far outweigh interviewing skills. Yet precious few candidates develop clear strategies, and then, despite thinking the interview went well, wonder why they haven’t moved ahead.

Think through your strategies or a skilled interviewer will turn you into toast. There are distinct strategies for before, during, and after the interview; for the 12 types of interviews; for being interviewed by line managers, HR, or outside consultants; for gaining a certain amount of control; for preparing; and for how you’ll answer certain questions, tell stories, and cover your key points.

That’s nothing new; I’ve said this for ages. It’s in my book and you’ll hear it from me at my workshops and private sessions. But what’s becoming more pressing is the need to strategize on dealing with bad interviewers. Why? Because fewer interviewers are any good at it any more, that’s why. Pitiful!

Nonetheless, here’s what to do when an interviewer...

...asks dumb questions. “Tell me about yourself” is usually the first sign this guy can’t come up with a better question. Recite your 30-second elevator speech and immediately follow up with “So, given what I told you, where would you like me to start?” Another dopey question is, “If you were a tree, what kind would you be?” When you hear this, you’re with an interviewer who thinks she’s being clever or creative. But the sixties are over and apparently she hasn’t been informed. Answer the question briefly and get the conversation back on track, talking about your achievements. This is not to be confused with truly challenging, abstract questions to see how you think about and solve problems, like “How many golf balls can you fit in a school bus?” or “How much would you charge to wash all the windows of the Empire State Building?” These are chances to dazzle. 

...asks “trap” questions, like “Do you work better with a boss who takes control or who leaves you alone?” Either way you answer, you could be looking at a boss who is the other kind, so your answer should be a fence-straddling “At first, I’d appreciate all the supervision I can get, but as I get through the learning curve, which I expect will be short, I’d like to earn your trust – and more autonomy.” Then stop talking.

...asks illegal questions. “Are you married?” or “Are you planning a family?” are flat-out illegal questions. However, if you confront him with the fact that he’s crossed the line, you’ll probably cook yourself on the spot (maybe a good thing in this case). When you hear illegal questions, aside from it being a red flag, simply state that there is nothing that will prevent you from performing the tasks of this job. Then stop talking. Again.

 ...doesn’t ask questions at all, but goes on about the company, their products, her job, and blah, blah, blah. Take the wheel and start driving the bus. Say “I appreciate all that information and many of my accomplishments parallel what you’re saying, like when I had to get a project done two weeks earlier than originally planned. Can I tell you about that?” Caution: this may take a few tries, and if she still doesn’t get it, that’s about as far as this is going to go. Time to think: “Next bus!”

...keeps you waiting too long. Some interviewers do this purposely, to put you under stress and see how you function; others are simply disrespectful of your time – and how much of it you put in preparing for this moment. Although you’d really like to tell her that your mother didn’t raise you that way – and you don’t think hers did either – you just have to suck it up and treat her as respectfully as she should have treated you. Maybe she’ll understand. While you’re waiting, though, keep your cool, review your notes and prepared questions, and maybe go to the bathroom (you never know how long this might stretch out).

...is unprepared, and hasn’t read your resume (at least not thoroughly). Keep referring to your stellar accomplishments – and at which jobs they took place; in essence, draw the map for him and then make him read it. Unfortunately, though, this is generally worse than being with a hostile interviewer because if this guy doesn’t know where he’s going, how’s he going to know when you get him there?

...doesn’t let you finish your answers. Stifle your impulse to scold him and answer the next question by firmly saying that you want to walk him through a situation and tell him the result. Broadcast your intended answer, in other words. Hopefully, that will bring him back to his manners.

...allows for interruptions and distractions. Forget it. Do you want to work for a boss like her? Finish the interview and go home.

...isn’t taking notes. Reiterate a key point or two in your thank you note. It’s probably your only shot.

It’s bad enough if you perform poorly, but you can blame nobody but yourself. When the interviewer screws up, though, don’t you want to scream?

Don’t. Remember, you’re in this to get to the next round.

Career Coach Eli Amdur conducts workshops and one-on-one coaching in Job Search, Career Planning, Resumes, and Interviewing. Reach him at eli.amdur@amdurcoaching.com or 201-357-5844. Please visit www.amdurcoaching.com and "like" him at www.facebook.com/AmdurCoaching.