December 3, 2010

Every once in a while, it happens. You go for a job interview and one of the interviewers seems to hostile to you.

It can be an act. It can be something you said. It can be that the interviewer is having a bad day. Try to make a quick assessment of what’s really going on across the table to help defuse a potentially explosive situation.

Aggressiveness and confrontation can be a tactic interviewers deliberately use to see how you handle pressure. They generally will relax if they see you can handle a little pressure. People who seem to flat-out not like you are harder to win over. And those having a bad day might cool down if you set that kind of tone.

In every case, these are strategies for handling the situation:

  • Stay calm. Lose your cool and you have lost the interview with some people. If you deflect barbs with a sense of humor or with calm confidence, you’ll show you can take a little heat.
  • Slow down. One sign of an aggressive interviewer can be fast-paced questions and interruptions. Resist the urge to mirror his or her behavior by speeding up your delivery. Stay low-key and try to get the interviewer to mirror your behavior, not the other way around. If an aggressive interview is being run on you, chances are the interviewer has done it before and is good at it. Don’t try to win at the interviewer’s own game.
  • Quiet down. I once became embroiled in a discussion with another editor who was large, loud and pushy. I pushed back and found myself raising my voice. I thought he was yelling at me and I started arguing back. Then I remembered that he always acted this way. Raising my voice only made him raise his further and we wound up having a contest rather than a conversation. I slowed down and quieted down — and he did too. We soon reached an agreement and I realized we had not disagreed in the first place. I had misread him.
  • Use pauses. Do not let an aggressive interviewer knock you back on your heels and make you answer sooner than you are ready. Your answers will be fast, but lousy.
  • Push back. If you can tell that this interview is just a test, push back a little. Show some steel. One aggressive tactic that is not always seen that way is the interviewer who tries to bait you: “I hate editing. I’d rather get out on the streets. I bet you’re that way, too.” Whenever anyone tries to put words in your mouth, stop them and disagree or elaborate on the point. Statements like that are intended as traps. You can’t let someone push you into them.

Career questions? E-mail Joe for an answer.

Coming Monday: Learn how to grow your network.

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Joe Grimm is a visiting editor in residence at the Michigan State University School of Journalism. He runs the JobsPage Website. From that, he published…
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