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by Cathryn Vandewater | November 09, 2010


Bad interviews feel awful. Sometimes they’re your fault: you were disorganized, poorly researched, or made a blunder you couldn’t recover from. But assuming you did everything right (or tried to), it’s likely that poor interviewers are the cause of awkward, hostile, or just plain bizarre job interviews.

Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do about the other person’s manner or line of questioning—or the fact that they’ve seen fifteen people already today, or their dog just died, or they simply hate interviewing. But your response to the situation is in your power, and it can make all the difference between a disaster and a job offer. First, though, you’ll need to recognize the problem while it’s happening and take steps to strategize your response.

Here’s your plan of action for next time:

1. Assess the Situation

We all know after the fact when we’ve had a bad interview, but rarely do we have the presence of mind to do something about it at the time—or at very least, not shut down or give up. During a weird interview, take the temperature of the room: Are there lots of long, awkward pauses as she fumbles for something to ask you? Is your interviewer behaving rudely (for example, taking calls during your meeting), using a hostile tone of voice, or showing general lack of interest?

Pinpoint what’s making you uncomfortable to stay out of general panic mode (“I’m failing!”) and instead focus on an issue you can work with (“He seems bored—maybe I should switch things up by asking about his experiences with the company”).

2. Stay Positive

You may not be able to control the interviewer’s behavior (as much as you’d like to), but you do have complete power over yours. Regardless of the interviewer’s attitude, maintain your enthusiasm for the company and the conversation.

A smiling, relaxed, and respectful person is hard to discount—be that candidate until the end of the interview, whatever happens. Mentally or emotionally withdrawing from the situation will only sabotage your efforts up until this point and ensure that the interview fails.

3. Ask Questions

This is a great strategy for livening up the conversation if your interviewer is asleep with his eyes open, or just not asking the right questions. A query such as, “Is it a team project or would I be working alone?” demonstrates your interest in the position and breaks up the monotony of question-and-answer interview format.

If you feel it’s appropriate, you can also turn the tables and ask what the interviewer enjoys about the company and how he came to work there. It’s no secret that people love to talk about themselves, and since you’ll likely be the first candidate to allow your interviewer to, you may forge a better bond with them.

4. Refocus the Conversation

Though it’s usually best to let the interviewer lead, if you sense that the interview is going to end without your qualifications being discussed, politely mention them. It’s uncomfortable, but you can’t get the job if the interviewer doesn’t know how you’re a fit.

Try saying “Would it be alright to take a moment and lead you through my costumer service background? I think it’s relevant to what you just mentioned about the position.” The more specific you can be to a topic the interviewer was already discussing, the more smoothly you can make this transition. It’s also a great way to, again, show you were listening and you’re interested in the job.

5. If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em

You can’t be rude to interviewers, but you may do well to mimic their communication styles. Are you fighting their buttoned up attitude by making jokes or answering in a colloquial way? You many think you’re being friendly or unique, but the message you’re sending is: “I’m radically different from you”— a red flag to an interviewer trained to find “fit” for the company.

On the same note, try not to shrink back from an aggressive and direct interview style. Keeping up will signal to your interviewer that you’re up to the challenge, and foster respect. Rapid-fire questioning is a great opportunity to show off your research. Just keep a cool head so you can access it!

Bad interviews are no fun, but they are an invaluable learning experience. As you prepare to do better at your next engagement, remember too to look back and take responsibility for any missteps you made last time. Draft a list of trouble spots--questions that threw you off, stats about the company you should have known, an embarrassing lack of extra resumes—so that you don’t have to make the same mistakes twice.

Then: let it go. As important as it is to anticipate and prepare, it’s vital to your sanity to let the inevitable awkward interview experience roll off your back. Onto the next one!


Filed Under: Interviewing