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How to Cope With an Inexperienced Interviewer

Interviewing is an unavoidable part of job hunting. Some on-site interviews are relaxed and pleasant; some are strained and uncomfortable. To a great extent, how smoothly an interview proceeds depends on the interviewer. He or she sets the tone and directs the course of conversation, hopefully in a productive manner. The more experienced interviewer is adept at making it an enjoyable exchange of mutually enlightening information. By contrast, the less experienced interviewer is apt to make some miscues that might spoil the overall effectiveness of the meeting. Suppose you find yourself confronting an inexperienced interview. What’s the best way to handle the situation without appearing to be uncooperative or high-minded? The answer depends on the particulars of the circumstance, as well as the personality and style of the interviewer. Problem situations for most professionals who are job hunting, the likelihood of an interview going askew is remote. But, anything is within the realm of possibility. Interviews that turn out unfavorably generally fit into several categories. 

  1. The interviewer asks inappropriate questions. Experienced interviewers are well versed in what to ask and avoid asking. Less experienced interviewers may “innocently” pose questions that are insensitive, unprofessional or otherwise inappropriate such as:
  • “Are all of your children grown, or do you still have some at home?”
  • “Is English your native language?”
  • “Are you married? If so, how would your spouse feel about relocating?”
  • “Where were you born?”
  • “What is your religious affiliation?”
  • “Do you feel comfortable working around others with a different sexual orientation?”
  1. The interviewer strays from the subject. Busy professionals who take the time to interview want to make the most of it. It’s annoying to speak with an interviewer who constantly goes off on a tangent. Usually when this happens, at the end of the interview, the candidate doesn’t know much more about the job than she did beforehand. 
  2. The interviewer appears to be biased. Perceived bias is a very subjective feeling. Obviously, an interviewer is not going to violate state and federal equal employment opportunity laws by saying something outright that’s clearly discriminatory. The more common scenario is that the interviewer inadvertently mentions something that might be construed as indicative of some sort of subtle bias. Or, the interviewer communicates nonverbally something that makes the candidate uncomfortable.
  3. The interviewer doesn’t sell the opportunity. Productive interviews promote mutual exchange of valuable information. Seasoned interviewers have a knack for focusing on the issues that are most germane in determining how good a match there is between candidate and employer. Assuming there’s a good match, the interviewer faces the task of selling the candidate on the opportunity. Generally speaking, the most highly sought after candidates have numerous employment options. They don’t jump at any offer that comes their way. For this reason, experienced recruiters recognize exceptionally qualified candidates and know how to add the appropriate “sizzle to the steak” in selling the opportunity. Novice recruiters sometimes lack this skill, which can result in prime candidates losing interest in the opportunity under consideration.

Practical Solutions

Have you faced any interview situations similar to the scenarios mentioned above? If so, did you handle the matter satisfactorily? In case you encounter such problematic situations again, consider some responses that might be appropriate for the occasion. Redirect the conversation. Whenever an interviewer asks questions that appear to be inappropriate, you are not obligated to answer them. Without antagonizing the individual, you can rightfully mention something to this effect:

  • “I’m not sure what relevance that question has to the job we are discussing or my qualifications for it.”
  • “I prefer that we not bring personal matters into a professional discussion concerning career opportunities.”
  • “Is that something that you ask everyone interviewing for this job?”

That may be enough to clue the individual to the fact that his questions are off limits and not appreciated. Perhaps, he will think a little more carefully before asking anything else so insensitive. It also is appropriate to redirect the conversation when the interviewer strays from the topic at hand. Innocently enough, the interviewer may be a “chatterbox” who likes to hear herself talk. That’s fine and good in some social situations, but the context of a job interview is business. Again, perhaps a subtle remark will serve the purpose of steering the conversation back on track, such as:

  • “We were discussing my accomplishments in my current position. I’d like to elaborate on them a bit more.”
  • “You touched on your company’s growth plans. Can you say more about that?”
  • “You noticed that my resume mentions that I was selected to be Employee of the Month. I’d like to explain how I earned that designation.”

Hopefully, the interviewer will get your drift and steer the conversation into territory that’s more fruitful. Request speaking with someone else. Suppose you really want the job, but something about the conversation makes you uncomfortable. It could be off-the-wall comments that have a hint of bias. Bear in mind that your perception might not be totally accurate. Furthermore, any slight bias that the interviewer might have (which is probably unconscious) is not necessarily representative of the views of the company’s management and might be far from the company’s standard operating procedures. Therefore, it’s best to give the employer the benefit of the doubt and test the reality of the situation that makes you uncomfortable. Similarly, you may simply be turned off to the interviewer’s obvious inexperience but want to pursue the opportunity. If possible, request the chance to speak with someone else who can alleviate your concerns and further convince you that it’s a good company to work for. Suggestions are:

  • “From what I’ve heard, I’d certainly like to pursue this opportunity. Who else might I speak with while I’m here?”
  • “Is it possible for me to meet the department head and some of the other employees during this visit?”
  • “You’ve explained the job very well, but I have some questions for the person who would be my direct supervisor. Is he or she available?”

With this approach, hopefully you can deflect further conversation that’s uncomfortable or less than reassuring. In speaking with other company representatives, it’s quite possible that matters of mutual interest will be established to a greater degree. Even if the interviewer is inexperienced, the result may be a job offer that’s too good to turn down. So think positively and act accordingly.

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