5 Tips for Surviving a Hostile Interview

by Alyson Garrido via Fairygodboss | January 22, 2018

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angry girl

If an interviewer wants to learn about your emotional intelligence, she could ask you a series of questions about your past behavior—so-called behavioral questions. Alternatively, she could spend a significant portion of the interview acting like a total jerk and letting your actions speak for themselves. Whether you like it or not, the latter route is becoming more and more common.

The reason why "hostile" interview tactics are gaining popularity is they elicit real-life demonstrations of how you might behave on the job, rather than elicit canned answers to common behavior questions. To help you prepare for and handle these types of interviews, here are five helpful tips.

1. Fight negativity with positivity

The test of your behavior typically starts upon meeting your interviewer. She might appear cold, distracted, or generally annoyed. You might get the feeling that the interviewer is having a bad day. When greeted with negativity, pay special attention to your own reactions. Be sure not to mirror her negative behavior but rather model positive behavior. Marina (not her real name), a client of mine who went through this type of interview, shared that when confronted with immediate negativity, she became very aware of her own demeanour. She consciously smiled, spoke in a pleasant tone, and lowered her voice when the interviewer’s voice was raised, hoping the interviewer would mirror her positive behaviors. This is an effective tactic to calm those who are upset (or are trying to upset you), but we rarely expect to need to use this skill during a job interview.

2. Don't be afraid to ask questions

You might be asked questions that are impossible to answer without more information. For example, you might be asked to plan a complex event or prioritize a list of tasks. This is a test of confidence. Are you courageous enough to ask questions of an authority figure? The approach here is exactly the same as a traditional interview. If you don’t understand the question, ask for clarification. It’s okay to check to be sure that you understand the variables at play. You are worthy of receiving the right information to perform your job (which in this case is to nail the interview) correctly. 

3. Feel free to pause, take a breath, and have a question repeated

The interviewer might appear distracted or try to distract you by loudly typing or tapping her pen, interrupting you, or asking you to repeat yourself multiple times. (Yes, this sounds like a total nightmare!) Do your best to focus on the question at hand in these situations. In an interview, you might already be a little on edge, and distractions or discourteous behavior could easily be the straw that breaks the camel’s back in terms of stress. Take a deep breath, tune in to what the interviewer is saying, and politely repeat yourself as necessary. Remember, it’s okay to ask the interviewer to repeat a question or to take a breath before answering.

4. When role playing, stay in character

Role-plays are an opportunity to introduce some hostile tactics without keeping the confrontational behavior up throughout the entire meeting. In these cases, you might be asked how you’d handle a tricky situation with an employee, customer, or vendor. This scenario can quickly escalate with the interviewer pushing back on or criticizing your responses to see if you will stand firm in your answer or bend under pressure. Remember that this is a role-play, so treat it as such. Take yourself out of the interviewee role and put your best expert hat on. Consider what you would do if an actual customer were speaking to you this way. Remember, you probably wouldn’t tell a client to bugger off no matter how bad things escalated. Another hostile interview survivor, Emily (also not her real name), was lucky enough to have received a heads up from another team member before she walked into this type of scenario. She recalls standing firm in both her convictions and demeanor while another candidate responded quite confrontationally and did not land the role. 

5. Accept the reveal and feedback professionally

Once you’ve made it to the end of the interview or scenario, you can expect the ‘gotcha’ moment when the interviewer shares her motivation for behaving in an unprofessional or hostile way. It is typically a test of emotional intelligence and assertiveness for those in a leadership, sales, or customer facing position. Remember to accept this revelation in a professional manner as well. You might even ask for feedback about things you did particularly well or could use improvement. You’ll probably have a pretty good idea of how things went by your immediate reaction to hearing the news. Did you think ‘thank goodness, it was hard to manage that conversation’ or ‘oh dear, I should have handled that differently?’

There is a chance that you won’t be notified that this was a real-time test of your abilities. If that’s the case, it’s time to consider whether or not the position is right for you. An interview is the beginning of a relationship and there should be a fair amount of courting on both sides. If bad behavior starts during the interview, it may get worse from there. The clients I work with who are unhappy in their jobs regularly recount red flags that they discounted during an interview and ended up being behavior that became progressively worse.

The key during these types of interviews is to keep it together and ensure your behavior is professional during the meeting. Get through it by showing the best version of you. Telling someone off in an interview will rarely prompt them to change their behavior or that of their organization and will only reflect poorly on your professionalism. Even if the interviewer ends up being a hostile person instead of a lovely person playing the part of a hostile interviewer, remaining professional and pleasant will ensure that they only have positive things to say about you. In a world that is becoming smaller and smaller, this will greatly help you as you progress in your career.

A version of this post previously appeared on Fairygodboss, which helps women get the inside scoop on pay, corporate culture, benefits, and work flexibility. Founded in 2015, Fairygodboss offers company ratings, job listings, discussion boards, and career advice. 

Filed Under: Interviewing | Job Search

Tags: interview advice | interview questions | interview tips | interviews | tricky interview questions

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