Blog article with tips for how to cope with bad interviews

‘I wouldn’t even have hired me!’

That was my conclusion as I walked out of an interview for a job that I knew was well within my grasp. What made it worse was that I also thought I would really enjoy the role.

This event took place some 20 years ago but it is still vivid in my memory.

What went wrong?

My interviewer basically never stopped talking the entire time and just didn’t give me the chance to speak.  And, more to the point of this article, I was not skilled enough to deal with her lack of skill.

Let’s look at 3 classic problems that BAD interviewers present and what to do about it. 

  1. Dominant interviewers
  2. Good cop, bad cop – except there’s often no good cop
  3. Silence as a weapon

1. Dominant interviewers

It may be that they are self-important.  Or, that they are so thrilled with the opportunity they are presenting to you that they just ramble on and on. Sometimes, it’s a Recruiter.  Other times it’s an internal Manager, who hasn’t been trained properly.

Rather than just give up, I recommend that you put your ‘interrupt’ antennae into hyper drive.  Listen to what the interviewer is saying and take advantage of any possibility to interrupt naturally.  Acknowledge what they have just said and then start your (relevant) spiel. Speak strongly and confidently.  In this way, you convey that it was normal for you to interrupt.

Let’s say the interviewer states: ‘We think customers are central to everything we do here’ (brief pause). You jump in with: ‘That’s great. I wouldn’t want to work for an organisation which didn’t think that way. In my last job, I…’ And off you go.

At the end of the interview, when you are asked if you have any questions, you can also use this prompt to add more content if you need. For example, you might say: ‘Yes I do have some questions but I’d also like to cover off on a few areas that will help you assess my suitability’. And, then deliver key content that has been missed. Here, it will be important that you structure your response well. That way, the interviewer has a clear idea of where you are heading and is more likely to stay with you as you talk.

 2. Good cop, bad cop – except there’s often no good cop

What form does Bad Cop take?

At its most benign it could be an interviewer who doesn’t look at you much throughout the entire interview.  You start to think it’s because they are not interested in you and it affects your interview performance.  (My husband is a culprit here.  For a start, he’s an introvert and secondly, he’s an attention to detail person.  You’ll find him earnestly taking notes of your interview answers rather than trying to make you feel at ease.)

You don’t tend to find many Australian interviewers playing really bad cop.  I don’t know why, but our default approach seems to be to set up a positive interview situation so that applicants can highlight their attributes and achievements. Perhaps it’s also because we realise that asking tough questions is not usually a good idea.  The normal response from an applicant is to withdraw and become defensive. We learn more about people when they are relaxed.

If you do face the situation where an interviewer either asks you a confrontational question or has an aggressive manner, take a breath and pause. Deliver your answer in a calm manner.  The pause makes you appear mature and confident enough to handle the pressure. Don’t become belligerent.  Maintain eye contact in the normal manner for the remainder of the interview.

3. Silence as a weapon

You’ve just given an excellent answer to the interview question but the pause goes on and on.

Often, it’s accompanied by an intent gaze.  We’re not talking about an awkward gap here; this is when the interviewer is deliberately seeking to put you on the spot.

Don’t feel that you need to fill the vacuum. If the interviewer doesn’t take control, simply ask them if they’d like you to expand further on your answer.  And then wait.  They will either say yes or else will continue with the next interview question.

Don’t Judge.  Do Your Homework

By the way, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you should think poorly of the organisation just because they conduct a poor interview.  One of my good friends had an interview panel where her potential boss did not look at her once until the very end of the interview.  Very off putting! However, not only did Jennifer win the role, she worked very well with her boss and has loved working in the organisation for many years now.

Coming back to my husband and his apparent lack of engagement, universally, his staff would say that he is a wonderful manager.

It’s worth separating out your due diligence about the role, the organisation and your future boss from the entire interview process.  These days, with LinkedIn, you can carefully investigate all three elements quite easily. So there’s no reason not to look before you leap.

The Show Must Go On

The bottom line is that interviews are a performance.  I sing in Aged Care facilities and the response I get from my audience can vary considerably.  There’s always the regular request to sing Dame Vera Lynn’s ‘A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square’ when I’ve already performed two of her classic songs, from an elderly English resident.  But some days, there’s just not much feedback, especially if I am singing to residents in the Memory Unit.  When this happens, I find it quite hard to have faith in my performance and I do sing worse.

However, there is a standard below which my performance never drops because my singing is backed up by lessons and practice.  The same theory should apply to you and any interviews you attend.  Find someone to help you reach a (solid) minimum standard and then practise, practise, practise.

That way, you will attain a performance level where if you miss out on a job it’s for the right reason – that is, you and the organisation were not a good fit, not because both you and your interviewer were poorly skilled at interviews.

Or, to phrase it more positively, you will get that job of your dreams because you were skilled enough to make up for any deficiencies of your interviewer.

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