Most hiring managers do not conduct interviews for a living—which means, unsurprisingly, that many of them are terrible at it. Whether you get a taciturn interviewer who only asks two questions or the inexperienced manager who spends way too much time focusing on your college years, knowing how to handle the rogue person on the other side of the table is a nice skill to have.
So, the question is: How do you get a bad meeting back on the right track? Here's a three-step plan for preventing an ill-prepared interviewer from derailing your shot at a job.
1. Do What You Can to Answer the Questions Well
So, the interviewer starts off with something off-the-wall, like “If you were an animal, which one would you be?” or “So, you know that competition is a huge part of this role, right?”
Don’t panic just yet. Sometimes, hiring managers like to ask odd questions to try and get at something very specific to their company culture. Since it can be hard to tell whether they’re just novice interviewers or mad genius interviewers, try to smile, relax, and go with the flow at the beginning of an interview.
The ability to think on your feet has a strong correlation to how prepared you are to begin with, so make sure you’re doing your homework before each meeting. Review common interview questions, prepare a few stories for behavioral questions, and do some sleuthing on what technical questions you might get. It’s not possible to be ready for everything (especially a bad interviewer), but being generally prepared will help you get through the beginning before you try to help them refocus on the big picture.
2. Redirect the Attention to Your Fit for the Role
At some point, red flags will start going up, and you’ll know it’s time to rein this interviewer in. He or she might be spending way too much time—think 20 minutes out of a 30 minute phone screen—explaining what the position entails rather than asking you about your experience. Or the meeting might seem to be too focused on that one time you biked across Europe instead of your ability to do the job. To get the interviewer refocused on your qualifications, try asking questions or statements like:
- Can you tell me more about what experience you’re looking for in the person you’d like to hire for this role?
- What do you think are the most important skills necessary for this position?
- It’s really interesting what you said about the job—I think my project management experience would be really relevant. I’d be happy to go into more detail if you’d like.
These will be easy to get in if the interviewer has run out of questions, but trickier if he or she is just asking the wrong questions. Try tucking in one of these at the end of your response as a way to conclude your answer. For example, “...and that was my most meaningful leadership experience in college. Is there anything I can tell you about my more recent experience to help you figure out if I’m a good fit for the company?”
3. Reiterate What You Have to Offer at the End
Hopefully, your attempts to steer the conversation will be successful, but if all else fails, you still have one more shot. Once you're finally given the floor to ask your own questions about the position toward the end of the interview, ask your thoughtful final questions and wrap up with something that summarizes your qualifications for the role. It might sound something like this:
“Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions! I’d love to take this final opportunity to reiterate my fit for the position. Based on our conversation, I know you’re looking for someone who knows her way around data, takes initiative, and thrives in a team setting. My three years of experience in economic consulting gave me ample opportunity to really shine in these areas, and I’d love to bring these skills and traits to your company.”
Having a less-than-ideal interviewer can really mess with your head. Keep calm and take the lead. Of course, you shouldn’t have to be the one leading the conversation, but if you want the job—you’ll do what you need to do.
Photo of man courtesy of Shutterstock.
Lily Zhang serves as a Manager of Graduate Student Professional Development at the MIT Media Lab where she works with a range of students from AI experts to interaction designers. When she’s not indulging in a new book or video game, she’s thinking about, talking about, or writing about careers. Follow her musings on Twitter @lzhng.More from this Author