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Bad Interviewers

The only thing that might be more difficult to deal with than an interviewer who asks tough, probing questions is an interviewer who hasn’t a clue how to interview. You can leave feeling as if you ignited no interest, bombed the interview, and surely won’t be asked back. Where was the scintillating conversation? The professional give and take about the industry and your skills?

But if you’ve just met the person, how are you to know if they’re a lousy interviewer – or you’re a lousy interview? If you prepared for the interview, then you’ve an indication where the problem lies, because your preparation enables you to jump in and take control of those awkward moments.

I speak often about the importance of an interview being a two-way street. This not only means that you need to be interviewing the company as they are you, but that the company needs to sell themselves to you, as you are selling yourself to them. If the interviewer doesn’t have those sales skills, you need to elicit the information.

Interviewers who ramble on and on ad nauseum about the company need to be re-directed before you begin snoring. Interviewers who don’t have the ability to speak about the company or the position should be prompted with your questions. Interviewers who are unprepared, or perhaps even forgot about their appointment with you, must be briefed –by you -- on your background, because they probably don’t remember your resume.

Lots of holes and awkward pauses in the conversation? If the interviewer doesn’t have the sense (or ability) to ask you what your skills are or why you’d be a great choice for the company, speak up and tell him. Toot your own horn. “I’d like to tell you about the time I put a winning proposal together under a stiff deadline, since the job we’re speaking of is also very deadline oriented.” That doesn’t mean talk non-stop, but it does mean don’t sit there and be uncomfortably silent for long periods of time.

Jump right in with the questions you came prepared to ask. What are the priorities that need to be addressed immediately? What’s a typical day like? How long has the interviewer been with the company? Why does he stay?

Other interviewers may ask questions, but stupid and unimaginative ones. “I see you worked at The Snappy Scissors Company. How did you like working there?” (“Um, I hated it. That’s why I left. Duh.”) Answer with what you learned while you were there, and remember not to disparage any previous employers. Resist rolling your eyes if they go through your entire resume this way or if you’re asked a Barbara Walters question: “If you were a tree, what type of tree would you be?”

Sometimes getting a bit of movement in helps. Ask for a tour of the building or offices. A tour provides focal points for questions and an opportunity for words related to why you’re there. Ask about the decision making time frame and if there are any other steps involved. See if you can set up an interview with any others in the department or your interviewer’s boss or other decision makers in the company (and hope they’ll be a better interviewer!)

Be patient with these inept people. Whatever their interviewing skills – or lack thereof, it’s possible they’ve had very limited interviewing experience. Speaking up and taking control of the interview may be the only thing that not only gives you the information you need, but saves the interview from being a total bomb. They may be a bad interviewer, but they aren’t the one being interviewed.

No matter how bored you are, no matter what you’re thinking, smile and be enthusiastic. At the very least, you can chalk it up to interviewing practice.

- Judi Perkins

Judi Perkins, owner of Bethel-based VisionQuest, has been a search consultant for 25 years. She operates the web site www.FindThePerfectJob.com