PREPARING FOR A JOB INTERVIEW (How to recognise and win over the unskilled interviewer - Martin Yates) - JUNE 2011

There are two terrible places to be during an interview – (1) sitting in front of the desk wondering what on earth is going to happen next; and (2) setting behind the desk asking the questions.   The average interviewer dreads the meeting almost as much as the interviewee, yet for opposite reasons.


There are two distinct types of interviewers who can spell disaster for you if you are unprepared.  A future article will deal with the highly skilled interviewer who has been trained in systematic techniques for probing character and potential, including his barrage of “trick questions” designed to catch you out.  This interviewer could spell disaster if you are not properly prepared.


However, this article is about the incompetent interviewer, who might be an excellent manager or business owner, and whose employ you would like to enter, but lacking interviewing skills, or the ability to phrase a question adequately, is much more likely to spell disaster by not giving you the opportunity to showcase your talents and suitability for the job in question.  This person, consciously or otherwise, bases his hiring decisions on “experience” and “gut feeling”.   You have probably been interviewed by one in your time. Remember leaving an interview and, upon reflection, feeling the interviewer knew absolutely nothing about you or your skills?  You know how frustrating that can be. There are ways of turning this perilous situation to your advantage


Understand that a poor interviewer can be a wonderful manager; and that interviewing skills are learned, not mystically endowed on promotion to management.. Recognise the Unskilled Interviewer, and turn the situation to your advantage.


Example 1.The interviewer’s desk is cluttered, and the resumé that was handed to him cannot be found.   Response: Sit quietly through the search. Do not join in.  Check out the surroundings. Breathe deeply and slowly to calm your natural interview nerves.  As you bring your adrenalin under control, you do the same thing to the interviewer and the interview.  


Example 2.   The interviewer experiences constant interruptions from the telephone or people walking into the office.  Response: This provides good opportunities for selling yourself. Make a note on your pad of where you were in the conversation and refresh the interviewer on the point when you start talking again.  Tactfully done, he or she will be impressed with your level head and good memory.  Also, these interruptions give time, perhaps, to find something of common interest.


Example 3.  The interviewer asks you closed-ended questions. These questions demand no more than a “yes/no” answer e.g. “Do you pay attention to detail?”  These questions are hardly adequate to establish your skills, yet you must handle them effectively to secure the job offer.  Response: A yes/no answer to a closed-ended question will not get you that offer. The trick is to treat each closed-ended question as if the company representative has added “Please give me a brief yet thorough answer”.


Example 4.  The interviewer who starts with an explanation of why you are both sitting there and then allows the conversation to degenerate into a lengthy diatribe about the company.   Response:  Show interest in the company and the conversation.  Sit straight, look attentive (the other applicants probably fall asleep), make appreciative murmurs and nod at the appropriate times until there is a pause.   When this occurs, comment that this background of the company is much appreciated, because you can now see more clearly how the job fits into the general scheme of things; that you see, for example, how valuable communication skills would be for the job. Could the interviewer please tell you some of the other job requirements?  Then, as the jobs functions are described, you can interject appropriate information about your background with “Would it be of value, Mr. Smith, if I described my experience with …”


Example 5:  The interviewer begins with, or quickly breaks into, the drawbacks of the job. The job may even be described in totally negative terms. This is often done without giving a balanced view of the duties and expectations of the position.   Response: An initial negative description invariably means the interviewer has had bad hiring experiences. Your course is to empathize with his bad experience and make it known that you recognize the importance of (for example) reliability, especially in this particular type of job.  Illustrate your proficiency in this particular aspect of your profession with a short example from your work history. Finish by asking the company representative what are some of the biggest problems to be handled.


Example 6. The interviewer will spend considerable time early in the interview describing “the type of people we ARE here at ABC”   Response:   Very simple.  You have always wanted to work for a company with this atmosphere. It creates the type of work environment that is conducive to a person giving his or her best efforts.


Example. 7: The interviewer has difficulty looking at you while speaking.   Response: The interviewer is someone who finds it uncomfortable being in the spotlight. Remember, he might be a terrific boss. Try to help him or her to be a good audience.   Ask specific questions about the job responsibilities and offer your skills in turn “Would it be of value to you if I described …”


Bear in mind that sometimes the best bosses are the worst interviewers.  It is up to you to see if you can relate to this person, and decide if you want to help him to hire the best person for the job – that’s YOU, right?!


This information is contained in an excellent book “Knock ‘em Dead (Great Answers to Tough Interview Questions” by Martin John Yate, which I strongly recommend to both interviewers and interviewees.


  Angela Walker

  Syringa Automotive Recruitment