Job Interviews: What To Do When a Bad Interviewer Happens To Good People
Job interviews are hard enough. But sometimes, completely out of your control, you walk into an interview room and come face to face with a bad interviewer who just doesn't seem to know how to interview – or worse yet is being rude or acting like a jerk.
Maybe the interviewer is running late. (Sometimes there's a good reason for that.) Or asks bad questions. Or keeps asking questions without listening to your answers. Or is talking at you about things not at all related to the job. And you worry that this is going to be a really bad interview for you!
But since you can't exchange him for a better model, all you can do is make the best of the situation. At least you know your competition has to run the same bad interview obstacle course!
Why do they let bad interviewers interview job candidates?
You're probably thinking "If hiring good people is so important to a company, why wouldn't they invest time and effort to make sure they have great interviewers?" As a consultant who was asked to step in many times and be the professional interviewer, I couldn't agree with you more.
But some companies may feel they are too small or hire too infrequently to devote resources to making sure they have interviewers who know what they're doing. And many places just don't think it takes any special skills or experience to interview.
You'll find some people are natural-born interviewers who not only make it easy for the job candidate, but have a good feel for finding a great match. While others, even so-called pros, just aren't very good at the job. In my experience, interviewing is more of an art than a skill. And, just so you know, even the best of us make mistakes now and then.
Who might be interviewing you?
Here's the most frustrating part of the "interviewer lottery". You might wind up with people who are pretty good at figuring out who might make a good addition to the team. You also might wind up with people who barely have a clue about what the job really entails. And they can come from anywhere!
So that leaves you with the chance of being interviewed by:
- An HR person who loves to interview and is good at finding talented new additions to the team
- An HR person who goes by the exact job description as they understand it, missing the real fit
- An HR person who is having a bad day on the day they interview you
- The office manager who knows nothing about the real job requirements
- The person you are replacing who doesn't really care any more
- The person you are replacing who knows no one is as good as they are
- A team member who is upset they aren't getting the job
- A potential boss or co-worker who is a wonderful interviewer
- A potential boss who has never interviewed anyone before
- A potential boss who never listens to anyone (important clue for you)
- The owner's wife or college student son home on break
- Someone whose mind is elsewhere – like on a project that just failed
- A person from another department who claims to be good at interviewing – but isn't
- A hiring consultant (like me) who cares deeply and will try their best
- A hiring consultant who is afraid to look bad so they stick rigidly to the job description without seeing the whole person
- Someone who just read a "funny interview questions" article online
You get the idea. It can be anyone in any mood on that particular day. Odds are the person will be fine, but just in case, you need to know what to do.
What if your interviewer doesn't know what they're doing
This is a big reason why you should spend plenty of time preparing ahead of time for your interview. If your foundation is solid, you will be harder to knock off balance – even when you encounter wacky questions or less-than-competent interviewers.
Most importantly, don't get caught up in what they SHOULD be doing or asking. Think of it as a conversation with someone you just met. By going into a "totally open to whatever comes" listening mode, you will see places where you can make the case for how well you match the job.
Remember to smile warmly, connect with their eyes, and as naturally and respectfully as possible, help them get a picture of you that makes them feel like they'd like to work with you. Most interviewers will respond to that, even if they are not great at the interview itself.
Check out some of the posts below for practical interview tips, as well as tips on how to answer common interview questions – including a basic method you can use for all questions.