Types of Interviewers

In my previous blog postings about interviewing, I’ve discussed job interview preparation, typical interview questions and how to handle them, and various interview formats. The one variable which I have not yet addressed is the individual interviewer and how different interviewer styles might affect your interview and suggested strategies for dealing with each situation.

Much of my own career was as a freelancer and I have had something like fifty jobs in the course of my career. Considering that I was not accepted for every job that I interviewed for, I therefore have had hundreds of job interviews, encountering a number of interviewer styles. You may be prepared for all the possible questions, but a lack of awareness of interviewer styles could adversely affect your performance. In an ideal world, all hiring managers would be highly skilled at conducting an effective job interview. They would ask focused and intelligent questions about your work-related competencies and experience while providing you with a solid understanding of the company and the position. However, you might have noticed that this is not an ideal world. Unfortunately, not all recruiters and hiring managers are good at interviewing; some may have been pressed into service against their will and others may just not like doing it. Regardless of the type of interviewer you encounter, there are tactics to maintain your composure and leave a positive impression.

The 8 Types of Interviewers
(and Strategies to Handle Them)

1. The Robot

I’m not referring to a real Robot but rather a human being who does not deviate from the script. This might be the result of a company policy to ask every candidate the exact same questions to ensure fairness or it might be someone who lacks social skills and creativity or is just disengaged. Sometimes this person might write down all of your answers as you speak.

Your Strategy: Answer all of the questions as fully as possible because you will not get follow-up questions as you would in the normal flow of a conversation. You can distinguish yourself from other candidates not only with the quality of your answers but with the questions you get to ask at the end of the interview.

2. The Talker

Instead of interviewing you—this person is busy talking all about themselves and other items which have little relevancy to the position.

Your Strategy: Don’t try to interrupt but seize any opportunity to get the interview back on track to your qualifications and skills for the position. You may need to utilize the thank-you letter to fill in the gaps of your qualifications which did not come up during the interview.

3. The Distracted Interviewer

This individual might be engaged on their Smart Phone taking calls, checking emails, texting and maybe even hunting for Pokemon, in addition to interviewing you. They might be trying to handle some work or personal crisis.

Your Strategy: You can’t confront the interviewer about it so you just need to ignore it and plow ahead. If you’re overhearing something that sounds like the interviewer is dealing with a real crisis, politely offer to reschedule.

4. The Unprepared Interviewer

This person seemingly has not looked at your job application materials and may even be unfamiliar about the position you’re interviewing for. I once encountered a situation where I was asked a number of questions about my managerial style even though I had not applied for a managerial position. I realized afterwards that I had been interviewed for the wrong position.

Your Strategy: Even if many of the questions can be avoided if the interviewer just glances at your resume, answer every question fully and without showing any annoyance. Use any very open-ended question like “Why should we select you?” to highlight your fit for the position.

5. The Newbie

This interviewer may be very new, inexperienced, nervous, and intimidated. There might be awkward pauses as the interviewer tries to figure out what to ask and how to absorb and remember your answers.

Your Strategy: Take pity on the interviewer. Everyone has a first day on the job. Knowing in advance the points that you want to get across about yourself will help you to control a disjointed interview. Maintain your poise. Don’t let the interviewer’s nervousness transfer to you.

6. The Pressurer

This interviewer intentionally puts you under pressure by dispensing with small talk and acting unfriendly. He or she might barrage you with questions and trick questions hardly giving you a chance to answer. This type of interview might be used for highly pressurized positions such as in consulting or customer service, or it could just reflect the personality of the interviewer.

Your Strategy: Stay on your toes, remain calm and cool, and answer with confidence. Pause before each answer as that will allow you to collect your thoughts and slow down the tempo. Demonstrate that you can handle the pressure.

7. Inappropriate and/or Illegal

The interviewer asks any questions that are meant to reveal your age, race, ethnic group, religion, marital status, current or future pregnancy plans, disabilities, sexual orientation, and arrest records. (There are relatively few exceptions, depending on the job requirements, where some of the above issues may be asked about and are legal, such as asking a candidate for Rabbi if he or she is Jewish.) This is unlikely to happen in larger organizations with experienced HR managers, but it is still an issue to be aware of.

Your Strategy: If an illegal question is asked, the “interview police” are not going to burst into the room and arrest the interviewer. Also, it is not illegal for you to answer an illegal question if you feel comfortable doing so. You might choose to answer by addressing the concerns behind the question such as: Do you have young children? “I have no child-care issues that would keep me from effectively carrying out this job.” Personally, if I was asked an illegal question at a job interview, it would probably be a red flag for me that I would not want to work for that organization.

8. The Pro

Under most circumstances, you will be interviewed by an intelligent, experienced, engaged, skilled, prepared HR professional or manager whose only interest is to select the best possible candidate for the position. You will answer questions that gauge your strengths and fit for the role, your past experience, and your enthusiasm about doing the job. You will have ample time to answer and also ask questions at the end of the interview.

Your Strategy: Reread the job description carefully to refresh your memory as to what they are looking for, and review the documents you used to apply for the position. Think of the points that you want to get across about yourself in the interview. Anticipate the questions and strategize and practice your answers. Think of illustrative stories that you can tell that demonstrate your ability to do the job and put you in a very good light. Think of at least four questions that you can ask the interviewer at the end of the interview about the company and the position. Going full circle to my first blog posting about interviewing: do arrange for a practice interview with one of the career advisers at the Office of Career Planning & Professional Development.