The Bad Interviewer: How to Deal

You thought you were well prepared for your employment interview. You donned your best suit and organized your portfolio. You contemplated your answers to questions ranging from, "What do you have to offer our firm?" to, "What do you consider your biggest failure in your last job?" Unfortunately, when you arrive you realize that you considered every possible problem except the one you actually encountered: a bad interviewer.

Most of us are so focused on performing well for a sharp hiring manager that it’s a surprise to meet with someone who’s "green," unprepared or unfocused. Following are some common types of bad interviewers you may face and how to ensure they don’t prevent you from putting your best foot forward:

The Distracted Interviewer. From the moment you walk through his office door, he can barely focus his attention on you long enough to ask a question. Between taking phone calls and talking to employers who peek their heads into the room for a "quick answer" to a problem, your interviewer has only managed to find out the name of your last employer. In an extreme situation, you might diplomatically offer to come back at a less hectic time. After all, maybe you’ve arrived during the busiest time of year and this person simply didn’t have a chance to prepare for the meeting. If the interviewer accepts your offer to come back, and is still disorganized on your second visit, consider this a potential sign of how things are at this firm. Would you want to work for someone who can’t organize his or her time well enough to ask proper interview questions?

The First-timer. This person is probably more nervous than you are. He or she is likely extremely organized and has a list of questions, all of which must be asked and answered in order. This person’s not at all interested in non-scripted details: When you offer some insight into a project you thought stood out from the rest, he or she just nods politely and moves onto the next question, all the while taking comprehensive notes. In this situation, it’s best to just go with the interviewer’s flow; you don’t want to make your potential manager feel inept. A good way to highlight information you think is crucial—but that’s not on his or her "list"—is to ask if you can talk about a few relevant projects after he or she has finished with her questions. The hiring manager will still feel in control of the interview, and you’ll feel you’ve done your best to demonstrate your ability to do the job.

The Silent Type. You don’t mind answering questions at length, but you’d like to find out a little bit more about the position from your interviewer. Yet, your attempts to open dialogue are not generating responses. Since you can’t force this person to open up, and you don’t want to upset him or her, it’s best to try to get additional details from other sources. You might try to do some more research on the company on your own, including talking to those in your network to see if they can offer insight. You also could have an opportunity to meet with others at the company who will be more forthcoming. Whatever tact you use, you need to get the entire picture of the job and the company before you accept the position.

The Never-ending Interview. You’ve been talking to a hiring manager for close to two hours—the interviewer has moved from telling you about the job to telling you about his or her recent divorce. The best advice: Continue to pay close attention. Though the conversation may veer in various directions, by listening actively, you may get a better idea of the attributes the company seeks in a new hire, allowing you to emphasize your skills during the interview and in a post-interview strong follow-up note.

The Scary Interview. Your potential boss has just finished itemizing what your job entails, and the list includes working a number of weekends and extensive overtime, as well as more administrative projects than you’d anticipated. While you appreciate the candor, you know in your gut that this isn’t the place for you. It’s best to be candid: Tell the hiring manager that based on his description of the job, you think you wouldn’t be a good match for the position and thank him or her for meeting with you. The interviewer will appreciate your honesty and that you didn’t waste time during the interview process.

While there’s no way to fully prepare for what you’ll encounter when you meet a hiring manager, you need to consider the personality types you may meet during an interview. By applying your past experiences and trusting your instincts during an interview, you’ll be more likely to succeed—and be asked back for another meeting.

The Creative Group is a specialized staffing service placing creative, advertising, marketing and Web professionals on a project basis with a variety of firms.