Tips for Surviving a Hostile Job Interview

Is there a way to win over an interviewer who’s in a foul mood?

Yes, there are strategies that can help you win a battle with an aggressive interview jerk, which you can use to potentially transform a difficult endeavor into something worthwhile for everyone.

Prepare for All Contingencies

“The key to being effective in an interview is being prepared for anything, whether it’s a question, or someone’s personality,” said John Reed, senior executive director of Robert Half Technology. “I can’t say this enough. Do your research and mentally prepare. It takes a lot of disciplined practice but it’s half the battle and it will allow you to stay calm and focused in the face of an onslaught.”

What’s Their Motivation?

Reed suggested you consider what’s motivating the interviewer. “It’s one thing if they’re asking really tough questions, or are short when they speak with you,” he said “but it’s another thing if they’re rude or abrasive. You really want to determine if they’re trying to see how you respond under pressure, or if they’re taking their bad day out on you.”

Reed noted that you have to keep your objective at the forefront. If you’re committed to getting the job, try to power through the unpleasant interview: “You want them to come away feeling good about you as a candidate.” If you’re less inclined: “Be courteous and professional and use it as practice.”

You’re the Boss

Having confidence can work like a suit of armor. Janine Davis, principal at Fetch Recruiting, believes that most candidates become meek when faced with an interview jerk. But that’s not the solution: Since the interviewer is trying to make you feel insecure, it’s important to remain composed and self-assured while expertly illustrating what you know. ”If the bully fires off a list of acronyms to see if you have experience with each and every one,” she said, “don’t just give deer-in-the-headlight ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response.”

By answering anything that’s being thrown at you without having an emotional response, you can diminish the coercion. Whatever you do, don’t crumple in a ball and give in to the abuse.

If you feel a battle brewing, have two or three really strong points about your credentials at the tip of your tongue. Be ready and able to walk your interrogator through examples of what you’ve done and what you can bring to the table. If you don’t have experience with something that’s thrown at you, Davis advises that you remain neutral and detail your comparable or similar proficiencies.

Re-Balance the Interview

A good best practice in any kind of interview is to ask your own questions. “When you’re feeling the heat, one of the best ways to re-balance is to start talking,” Reed said. “It’ll get them talking too and give you time to collect your thoughts.” This tactic may also determine the interviewer’s mindset. “If they refuse to answer or give very abrupt answers,” he continued, “this is at least a yellow flag. They may not be a good person to work with. But if they come back and are responsive and open, they may be tough but they’re also invested in the process and interested in you.”

When to Walk Away

What if you’ve determined your interviewer is really just an abusive jerk? You may want to back away slowly, counseled Randi Bussin, founder of career-coaching firm Aspire, without giving any indication that you’re amenable to the position.

“My advice,” she said, “is to not manipulate the situation but to give signs that you’re not that interested and hope the person is smart enough to sense the lack of engagement and end the interview.”

In the off chance you wind up with the sort of mean-spirited dolt who enjoys torturing candidates, she strongly recommended you take charge and terminate the interview. Don’t engage, either. It’s liable to set them off and could make it difficult to leave. Depending upon how offensive the conduct, you may consider contacting the company’s internal recruiter as well (if he’s not the interviewer!) to give him a heads-up.

“Would you really want to work with someone who makes snide remarks and offensive jokes, who is demeaning, who yells and has a temper?” Bussin asked. Probably not.

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