There's no such thing as a bad interview, only a bad interviewer

Some love them, many hate them, but however you feel, the job interview is still the unavoidable cornerstone of securing a new role. The worst feeling is to come out of an interview thinking it was a catastrophe. But we’re here to tell you there’s no such thing as a bad interview, only a bad interviewer.

A good interviewer should make a candidate feel at ease, be conversational, ask probing questions, give the interviewee time to answer the questions - essentially, be supportive. This is not an interrogation, this is a two-way conversation where both parties are judging the other to see if they’re a good fit for the business.

Nevertheless, there are plenty of characters we come up against time and time again; those interviewers that feel they have to challenge, those who are nervous, those who stonewall candidates to keep them on their toes. So who are these people, how can you spot one, and, importantly, what can you do to get them onside?

The first timer

How to spot them

Nervously fidgeting, slightly cracking voice, maybe a bead of sweat - we’re not talking about the candidate, we’re talking about the first time interviewer. It’s easy to internalise your own anxiety when thinking about interviews, but if it’s your interviewer’s first time in the hot seat, they might be equally nervous, particularly as they’ll likely be sat next to a more experienced colleague. The first timer will tend to stick quite rigidly to script, not deviating too wildly from the set questions they have.

Challenges

With someone sticking to a script or focusing on their own performance, it can be difficult to build up that all-important rapport you need when putting forward your suitability for the role and cultural fit within the business.

How to handle the first-timer

The temptation is to jump in and take control of the interview yourself. This would be a mistake. You don’t want to come across overbearing or arrogant. However, you do need to sell yourself a little. Our advice would be to ask them questions about themselves and the company, their role, time at the company, that kind of thing. People tend to relax when they’re comfortable with the topic in hand, and by opening dialogue outside the rigid structure of their questioning, you get to show your personality.

The talker

How to spot them

It may sound obvious, but they talk. A lot. The talker loves the sound of their own voice and will likely go off on different tangents, often talking about their own lives and career development while seemingly paying very little attention to you.

Challenges

If you come across a talker, it’s can be difficult to get a word in edgeways. And if you can’t get a word in, you can’t adequately communicate your suitability for the role, your skills, experience and drive.

How to handle the talker

The way to deal with a talker is to listen. Not the whole way through the interview, of course, but listen for potential cues and commonalities between you. You need to be quick on the draw if you find something you can chip in with, they will happily move onto the next subject without a moment’s thought. But if they’re talking about the extensive training they do in-house, for example, this is a perfect moment to talk about the certifications you already have and your enthusiasm for learning for career development. Play to the ego, but make sure you get your story across where you can.

The gatecrasher

How to spot them

They’re late, unprepared, and career into the interview out of breath and talking at a million miles an hour. They proceed to run through your CV like it’s the first time they’ve properly studied it. That may well be the case. The gatecrasher is a whirlwind of activity and, potentially, a tornado of trouble.

Challenges

Firstly, when an interviewer is this unprepared, you want to make the call as to whether this is a person you want to work for. If they’re this unprepared for something as important as an interview, what’s it going to be like working with them every day? However, if this is your dream role in your dream company, you will need to roll with the punches. The biggest challenge with the gatecrasher, then, is keeping the interview focused when they’re clearly unprepared.

How to handle the gatecrasher

The worst thing you can do is let their unpreparedness ruin yours. Stay calm, stay focused, and give a good account of yourself. It can be easy to dismiss the gatecrasher solely due to their punctuality and focus, but they’re in the role for a reason. You still need to get them onside.

Let them know that they are in safe hands by giving them a polished presentation of your skills and attributes.

The brick wall

How to spot them

The brick wall will give next to nothing away in the interview. Your work anecdotes will be met with a casual indifference, and any attempt at humour will fall on deaf ears. Impossible to read, this interviewer is slick and seasoned in sizing up candidates. You give them your best, but at the end of the interview you leave feeling confused as to whether they liked you or not.

Challenges

It’s impossible to build rapport with the brick wall. It’s also unnerving to have very little immediate feedback to your conversation. The danger here is that you try harder and talk more yourself, filling any uncomfortable silences with more chatter.

How to handle the brick wall

The whole purpose of the brick wall is to see how you handle pressure. Without any conversational to and fro, the temptation is to keep talking to fill in the space. Don’t. Give composed answers, and understand where your answers end. Don’t keep giving unrelated supplementary information. Also, don’t get discouraged - this is a test of your character. Remain confident and positive. Give a good account of yourself. It’s not you, after all, it’s them: they use this interview style with everyone.

The challenger

How to spot them

You’ll know the challenger as soon as you walk into the room. A firm handshake, no niceties, just straight down to business. During the interview itself, you’ll be in for a bumpy ride. Questions will be very direct, your CV will be dissected in fine detail and don’t be surprised if they cut you off while you’re mid-flow to delve further into the minutiae of what you’ve said. The challenger is purposefully confrontational.

Challenges

The confrontational style of the challenger can be quite jarring and can put you off your stride. The interview can sometimes feel like an interrogation and you may feel like you’re on the back foot. If you don’t retain your composure, the interview is in danger of becoming more like an argument than a chat.

How to handle the challenger

Much like the brick wall, this style of interviewer is keen to see how you handle pressure. Questions will come thick and fast so you need to be well prepared for the interview (as you should for all interviews) and confident in your abilities, qualifications and experience. It may also help to have some tricky questions to fence back at them. Ask the interviewer about their toughest year in business, and how they pulled together to get through it? Get them to recount their successes in challenging times, and then talk about your similar experiences. But most of all, you need to keep calm and composed.

The Mate

How to spot them

Seemingly the most ideal interview scenario, this type of interviewer is pally from the offset - a warm handshake, offer of a drink, leaning back in their chair, looking like they’ll put their feet up at any moment. They won’t take notes, they’ll be extremely relaxed and unfocused with their line of questioning, and don’t be surprised if they drop the odd swear word into conversation.

Challenges

There’s a risk with this type that you let your guard down entirely and forget to ‘sell’ yourself in the right way. With the lack of focus in the questioning, you may get on like a house on fire, but you can forget that this is a professional chat. You need to avoid lapsing into the mate zone and keep your focus.

How to handle the mate

Of course, you need to be equally conversational and chatty. You can’t put on a super serious front with someone that is warm and chatty, but be cautious. It may feel like there is a rapport, but you also want to showcase your dedication to professionalism and your abilities. If you feel like things are sidetracking, say so. And direct the conversation back to the right path yourself.

Good cop/bad cop

How to spot them

A combination of all these personas and then some, this type of interviewer will alternate between Jekyll and Hyde over the space of a 45-minute interview. One minute they are talking up your skills, and then the next they are taking swipes at your old company.

Challenges

You really get the feeling with this type, more than the others, that this interview is designed to push you to breaking point. The biggest challenge is not knowing where you stand.

How to handle the good cop/bad cop

Don’t get too comfortable with the good cop/bad cop, they may lull you into a false sense of security by being the mate, and then suddenly they turn into the challenger, ripping apart your experience and expertise. You need to be prepared for anything, actively listen to their questioning and give succinct answers to the questions they ask. Keep your cool, don’t be afraid to challenge back and try to leave on a positive note. Good luck!

Recognise any of these? Perhaps you are one? Have we missed any? Let us know.

We’ve spoken at length around interviewers’ personality types, but what about your own?