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Types of Interviewers

There are two terrible places to be during an interview--sitting in front of the desk wondering what on earth is going to happen next, and sitting behind the desk asking the questions. The average interviewer dreads the meeting almost as much as the interviewee, yet for opposite reasons.

There are two distinct types of interviewers who can spell disaster for you if you are unprepared. One is the highly skilled interviewer, who has been trained in systematic techniques for probing your past for all the facts and evaluating your potential. The other is the totally incompetent interviewer, who may even lack the ability to phrase a question adequately. Both are equally anxiety producing!

The Skillful Interviewer

Skillful interviewers know exactly what they want to discover. They have taken exhaustive steps to learn the strategies that will help them hire only the best for their company. They follow a set format for the interview process to ensure the facts are gathered. They will definitely test your mettle.

There are many ways for a manager to build and conduct a structured interview, but all have the same goals:

  • To ensure a systematic coverage of your work history and applicable job-related skills
  • To provide a technique for gathering all the relevant facts
  • To provide a uniform strategy that objectively evaluates all job candidates
  • To determine ability, willingness, and manageability

Someone using structured interview techniques will usually follow a standard format. The interview will begin with small talk and a brief introduction to relax you. Following close on the heels of that chit-chat comes a statement geared to assure you that baring your faults is the best way to get the job. Your interviewer will then outline the steps in the interview. That will include you giving a chronological description of your work history, and then the interviewer asking specific questions about your experience. Then, prior to the close of the interview, you will be given an opportunity to ask your own questions.

Sounds pretty simple, right? Well, watch out! The skillful interviewer knows exactly what questions to ask, why they will be asked, in what order they will be asked, and what the desired responses are. He or she will interview and evaluate every applicant for the job in exactly the same fashion. You are up against a pro.

The tricky part of this type of structured interview is called “skills evaluation.” The interviewer has analyzed all the different skills it takes to do the job, and all the personality traits that complement those skills. Armed with that data, he or she has developed a series of carefully-sequenced questions to draw out your relative merits and weaknesses.

To get an idea of what they will be looking for, think about the following:

  • Look at the position you seek. What role does it play in helping the company achieve its corporate mission and make a profit?
  • What are the five most important duties of that job?
  • From a management viewpoint, what are the skills and attributes necessary to perform each of these tasks?

Each job skill you identify is fertile ground for the interviewer’s questions. Don’t forget the intangible skills that are so important to many jobs, like self-confidence and creativity, because the interviewer won’t. That’s the way managers are trained to develop structured interview questions.

The Unconscious Incompetent

Now you should be ready for almost anything a professional interviewer could throw at you. That’s when you face the unconsciously incompetent interviewer.

The problem is embodied in the experienced manager who is a poor interviewer, but who doesn’t know it. He or she, consciously or otherwise, bases hiring decisions on “experience” and “knowledge of people” and “gut feeling.” In any event, he or she is an unconscious incompetent. You have probably been interviewed by one at some point. Do you remember leaving an interview and, after thinking about it, feeling the interviewer knew absolutely nothing about you or your skills? If so, you know how frustrating that can be. Here, you'll see how to turn that difficult situation to your advantage. In the future, good managers who are poor interviewers will be offering jobs with far greater frequency than ever before. Understand that a poor interviewer can be a wonderful manager; interviewing skills are learned, not inherited.

As in handling the skilled interviewer, it is necessary to imagine how the unconscious incompetent thinks and feels. There are many manifestations of the poor interviewer. After each of the next examples, follow instructions for appropriate handling of the unique problems each type poses for you.

Example One: The interviewer's desk is cluttered, and the resume or application that was handed to him or her a few minutes before can’t be found.

Response: Sit quietly through the bumbling and searching. Check out the surroundings. Breathe deeply and slowly to calm any natural interview nerves. As you bring your adrenaline under control, you bring a certain calming effect to the interviewer and the interview. (This example, by the way, is usually the most common sign of the unconscious incompetent.)

Example Two: The interviewer experiences constant interruptions from the telephone or people walking into the office.

Response: This provides good opportunities for selling yourself. Make note on your pad of where you were in the conversation and refresh the interviewer on the point when you start talking again. He or she will be impressed with your level head and good memory. The interruptions also give time, perhaps, to find things of common interest in the office, something you can compliment. You will also have time to compose a key follow-up to the point made in the conversation prior to the interruption.

Example Three: The interviewer starts with an explanation of why you are both sitting there, and then allows the conversation to degenerate into a lengthy diatribe about the company.

Response: Show interest in the company and the conversation. Sit straight, look attentive (the other applicants probably fall asleep), make appreciative murmurs, and nod at the appropriate times until there is a pause. When that occurs, comment that you appreciate the background on the company, because you can now see ­more clearly how the job fits into the general scheme of things; that you see, for example, how valuable communication skills would be for the job. Could the interviewer please tell you some of the other job requirements? Then, as the job's functions are described, you can interject appropriate information about your background with "Would it be of value, Mr. Smith, if I described my experience with ... ?”

Example Four: The interviewer begins with, or quickly breaks into, drawbacks of the job. The job may even be described in totally negative terms. That is often done without giving a balanced view of the duties and expectations of the position.

Response: An initial negative description often means that the interviewer has had bad experiences hiring for the position. Your course is to empathize (not sympathize) with his or her bad experiences, and make it known that you recognize the importance of (for example) reliability, especially in this particular type of job. Illustrate your proficiency in that particular aspect of your profession with a short example from your work history. Finish your statements by asking the interviewer what some of the biggest problems to be handled in the job are. The questions demonstrate your understanding, and the interviewer’s answers outline the areas from your background and skills to which you should draw attention.

Example Five: The interviewer spends considerable time early in the interview describing “the type of people we have at XYZ Corporation.”

Response: Very simple. You have always wanted to work for a company with that atmosphere. It creates the type of work environment that is conducive to a person really giving his or her best efforts.

Example Six: The interviewer asks closed-ended questions, ones that demand no more than a yes/no answer (e.g. “Do you pay attention to detail?”). Such questions are hardly adequate to establish your skills, yet you must handle them effectively to get the job offer.

Response: A yes/no answer to a closed-ended question will not get you that offer. The trick is to treat each closed-ended question as if the interviewer has added, “Please give me a brief yet thorough answer.” Closed-ended questions also are mingled with statements followed by pauses. In those instances, agree with the statement in a way that demonstrates both a grasp of your job and the interviewer’s statement. For example: “That’s an excellent point, Mr. Smith. I couldn’t agree more that the attention to detail you describe naturally affects cost containment. My track record in this area is...”

Example Seven: The interviewer asks a continuing stream of negative questions (as described in the topic “The Stress Interview”).

Response: Give your answers with a smile and don’t take the questions as personal insults; they are not intended that way. The more stressful the situations the job is likely to place you in, the greater the likelihood of your having to field negative questions. The interviewer wants to know if you can take the heat.

Example Eight: The interviewer has difficulty looking at you while speaking.

Response: The interviewer is someone who finds it uncomfortable being in the spotlight. Try to help him or her to be a good audience. Ask specific questions about the job responsibilities and offer your skills in turn.

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