The only thing that might be more difficult to deal with than an interviewer who asks tough, probing questions is an interviewer who hasn’t a clue how to interview. You leave the interview feeling as if you ignited no interest, bombed the interview, and surely won’t be asked back. Where was the scintillating conversation? The professional give and take about the industry and your skills?
But if you’ve just met the person, how are you to know if they’re a lousy interviewer – or you’re a lousy interview? If you prepared for the interview, then you’ve an indication where the problem lies, because your preparation enables you to jump in and take control of those awkward moments.
I speak often about the importance of an interview being a two-way street. This not only means that you need to be interviewing the company as they are you, but that the company needs to sell themselves to you, as you are selling yourself to them. If the interviewer doesn’t have those sales skills, you need elicit the information.
More than that, if the interviewer doesn’t know how to ask questions to dig deeper into your capabilities and interest, you’ll need to tell him, lest the entire interview go by and you haven’t uttered a word. If that happens, the only thing still able to speak for you is your resume, leaving you no closer to being hired than you were when you walked through the door.
Interviewers who ramble on and on ad nauseum about the company need to be re-directed before you begin snoring. Interviewers who don’t have the ability to speak about the company or the position should be prompted with your questions. Interviewers who are unprepared, or perhaps even forgot about their appointment with you, must be briefed –by you — on your background, because they probably don’t remember your resume.
Lots of holes and awkward pauses in the conversation? If the interviewer doesn’t have the sense (or ability) to ask you what your skills are or why you’d be a great choice for the company, speak up and tell him. Toot your own horn. “I’d like to tell you about the time I put a winning proposal together under a stiff deadline, since the job we’re speaking of is also very deadline oriented.” That doesn’t mean talk non-stop, but it does mean don’t sit there and be uncomfortably silent for long periods of time.
Jump right in with the questions you came prepared to ask. What are the priorities that need to be addressed immediately? What’s a typical day like? How long has the interviewer been with the company? Why does he stay?
Don’t spend time thinking about how you wish he’d ask you a question. Don’t daydream or think about your grocery list. Listen closely to what the interviewer is saying. When he pauses for a breath or there’s a gap in the conversation, insert one of your finest sales points that relates to what he’s been saying. If he’s a non-stop talker, you’ll need to be alert for the spots in which you can take control. There may be only a few of them.
Other interviewers may ask questions, but stupid and unimaginative ones. “I see you worked at The Snappy Scissors Company. How did you like working there?” (“Um, I hated it. That’s why I left. Duh.”) Answer with what you learned while you were there, and remember not to disparage any previous employers. Resist rolling your eyes if they go through your entire resume this way or if you’re asked a Barbara Walters question: “If you were a tree, what type of tree would you be?”
Sometimes getting a bit of movement in helps. Ask for a tour of the building or offices. A tour provides focal points for questions and an opportunity for words related to why you’re there. Ask about the decision making time frame and if there are any other steps involved.
If you’re left without a clue as to how it went, or you rarely had an opportunity to open your mouth, ask if you can set up an interview with any others in the department or your interviewer’s boss or other decision makers in the company. Perhaps they’ll be a better interviewer!
Be patient with these inept people. Smile, and maintain enthusiasm. Whatever their interviewing skills – or lack thereof — it’s possible they’ve had very limited interviewing experience. Speaking up and taking control of the interview may be the only thing that not only gives you the information you need, but saves the interview from being a total bomb.
They may be a bad interviewer, but they’re the ones that make the hiring decision. You can’t make a choice to accept an offer if you haven’t been given that choice.
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