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Handling Different Interviewer Styles

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skeptical interviewer

Do you know how to deal with the crazy interviewer?

There is plenty of advice online on how to deal with the professional interviewer.  However, job seekers often face an interviewer who may not actually be trained in the art of interviewing.  In that case, they may need to adjust to wildly different interviewer styles.

You could be subjected to a veritable stress test, just to see how you react.  Or the interviewer just might be as nervous as you are.  In any case, anticipating these various styles and knowing how to deal with them can help you ace even the worst interview situation.

  1. Friendly and Personable

Don’t be fooled!  By being open and nice, the interviewer is putting you at ease and getting your guard down.  In truth, she is evaluating everything you say.  Candidates will reveal more than they ever intended in a relaxed atmosphere.  Ever come out of an interview convinced you’re hired because you “really connected” – only to be shocked when you didn’t get the job?  You got taken in by the Friendly Style.

  • Survival Tactic: Don’t get too comfortable. Stay on your toes and keep your goals in mind.
  1. Nervous and Uncomfortable

This is not an act!  Not all hiring managers are smooth and polished. They can be intimidated by the interview process as well.  If he tends to ramble on about the job and forget to ask questions, he’s stumbling through it.  Likewise, his questions may be very terse and limited.

  • Survival Tactic: Take the lead. Offer to tell him about your experience and skills.  Be proactive with your questions.  Ask him what he did or didn’t like about the last person in the job, or what his expectations are going forward.
  1. The Skeptic

Here’s the grumpy interviewer.  Everything about her manner is reserved and distant.  Arms crossed, she doesn’t seem to believe anything you’re saying.  Why?  She’s expecting you to sell her on your abilities.

  • Survival Tactic: Drop the touchy-feely answers and use solid examples of your past accomplishments. Maintain your good humor and self-confidence – remember, she’s doing it on purpose to rattle you.
  1. The Bored and the Boring

This guy is so withdrawn his mind is in the other room.  You could be his fourth interview of the day, or coming in just after lunch when productivity lags.  Everything says he’s just not into you (yawn.)  But be careful; don’t mistake an introvert for boredom.

  • Survival Tactic: Be concise and get to the point. Show your own enthusiasm for the job.  Ask him about himself.  People like to talk about themselves, and this could draw him into your conversation.
  1. By The Book

She has her list of questions and she’s sticking to them no matter what.  She might be using her prepared questions to hide her own introverted nature.  Her position in the company can give a clue as to her motive.  For example, if she’s from the HR department or someone’s assistant, she’s running you through the screening process.  A manager who uses this tactic is a process-driven person, methodical in everything she does.

  • Survival Tactic: Answer questions fully. Expand your answers to include good examples, but don’t ramble on.  This is an efficient person and expects people to get to the point.  Stay on her agenda and let her follow her methodology.
  1. Surreal

Not too long ago, an interviewing fad hit the internet: throw bizarre questions at candidates to see how they think.  “How many quarters does it take to reach the top of the Empire State Building?”  “If you lined up hamsters nose to tail, how many would it take to reach the moon?”  “How would you sort a bucket of golf balls?”  All this goofiness was supposed to give insight into your problem-solving skills.  In practice, it’s just weird.

  • Survival Tactic: Think before you answer. The actual answer doesn’t matter – it’s how you get there that does.
  1. Highly Technical

If you are going after a very technical job, be prepared for this.  You may encounter very specific and detailed questions to test your knowledge.  It could even be done in conjunction with timed and graded skills tests. However, no matter how grueling the test, people do get hired; just because a test is tough doesn’t mean you lost the opportunity.

One engineer I know interviewed all the new PhD candidates for a Research & Design company.  He grilled them on specific formulas and principles for over an hour.  If an applicant didn’t know the exact definition and application of entropy, he would get marked down – and saw the marks being made on his resume. (In physics, entropy is an exact mathematical equation, not the dictionary definition.)  Candidates left the office feeling like they just took the worst college exam of their lives, and certainly the most grueling interview they would ever encounter.

  • Survival Tactic: Think before you answer. If you’re struggling with an answer, don’t let it rattle you too badly.  Prepare for this interview: study up on key points, skills or processes necessary for your job.
  1. Deliberately Confrontational

Everything about this guy’s attitude just screams “I’m gonna get ya!”  He is dismissive, he cuts you off, he drills into your answers with an air of scorn.  Why?  He wants to see how you act under pressure.  Don’t worry; he may not be like this as a boss, and often times he will be a completely different person on the second interview.  His philosophy is to see you sweat in the interview; that way, he knows you can handle the job.

  • Survival tactic: Don’t give in to the stress or get upset. Concentrate on your breathing, get grounded and get focused.  It will be over soon!

Final Thoughts

In any interview situation, don’t be too hard on yourself.  One manager I knew preferred to hire people who got nervous during the job interview.  In his mind, this showed that the candidate cared about the job.  Just because you may be hyper-critical about your own performance, doesn’t mean that you can’t get the job.  Prepare yourself, take a deep breath, mind your manners and you will do just fine.

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About the Author:

Since 2004, Donna has been teaching job seekers of all levels effective job search strategies. In 2009, she published her book "Get a Job Without Going Crazy: a Practical Guide to Your Employment Search." Donna is based in Denver, and has presented workshops in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Dallas. She continues to work with job seekers across the country.
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