When you stroll out of a good interview, it can feel like you’re walking on air. When you walk out of a bad one, it can feel like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders. Usually, where you land on this spectrum can tell you how good your chances of getting the job are. But sometimes, you can have a “bad” interview without botching your chances at getting hired. The fault for a bad interview can lie not with the interviewee, but with the interviewer.
Bad Interviewers versus tough interviewers
What you need to understand is that not all businesses are pros when it comes to screening potential employees. Some have had their interview and background check policies in place for years. Others have only recently implemented processes for vetting new people and are working to refine those processes. As a result, it’s more than likely that you will run into at least one or two inexperienced or downright bad interviewers while you are on the job search.
The tricky thing is knowing how to distinguish truly incompetent hiring managers from interviewers who are tough but fair. You might be inclined to dislike a tough interviewer if the interview doesn’t go the way you want it to—especially if you have been searching for a job for a while and are running low on patience. Still, knowing how to tell the bad interviewers from the tough interviewers is essential. It can tell you how you should feel about your interview, which steps you need to take to improve your interview technique, and whether you are still interested in the job. After all, a truly bad interviewer might indicate bad management or sloppy administrative organization.
The symptoms of an incompetent interviewer
So how can you tell when a hiring manager is really dropping the ball? Below, we’ve listed some of the most common symptoms of bad interviewers and what they might mean for you.
- Unbalanced conversations
A job interview is a chance for employers to learn more about you and for you to learn more about the job opportunity. While interviews are often thought of as glorified Q&A sessions (with the interviewee giving most of the answers), there should be more back and forth than that. Some interviewers deliberately shift this balance one way or the other. Some talk a lot, rambling about their business, going off on tangents, or putting words in the mouth of the interviewee. Others are borderline silent, relying on the interviewee to drive the conversation.
Both techniques can sometimes be employed to test the assertiveness of the interviewee. However, in most cases, they create awkward or combative interview situations. No applicant should be put in the position of having to interrupt their interviewer to get a word in edgewise. Similarly, no candidate should have to meander through a one-sided conversation hoping they say what their passive interviewer wants to hear.
Either way, you’re probably dealing with a rude person who doesn’t respect your time or your right to ask questions of your own. If you still want the job, you need to take control of the conversation. In a situation in which an interviewer talks too much, keep your answers to questions rolling with no pauses or openings for an interruption. In a situation in which your interviewer doesn’t talk, accept the challenge. Answer questions pointedly and concisely, retain eye contact at all times, and don’t ramble. If you finish a response and the interviewer doesn’t engage with you, take the opportunity to ask a question of your own. Even an interviewer with a good poker face won’t outright ignore a direct question.
The business world is busy, but not so busy that interviewers can’t give you their full attention for 20 or 30 minutes at a pre-scheduled time. If your interviewer is multitasking during your interview (e.g. checking their phone, responding to emails, taking calls, flagging down passing coworkers or subordinates, or eating lunch), that’s a huge red flag. These distractions can kill your focus, derail your answers, and keep you from getting in the groove. They also make it seem like the interviewer doesn’t care about what you’re saying.
Bottom line, interviewers who multitask could be self-absorbed shmucks who think their time is more valuable than yours. If your interviewer won’t give you his or her full attention, gently ask if there is some sort of emergency going on and whether it would be better to reschedule. This query gives the interviewer the benefit of the doubt, shows your flexibility, and gives you a chance of getting a better interview later if there truly is a fire to put out.
- Keeping you waiting
Interviewers often refuse to see candidates who arrive even five minutes late. They expect interviewees to respect their time. Every so often, though, you’ll run into an interviewer who can’t practice what they preach. Again, emergencies do happen, and there might be a good reason for your interview starting 10 or 15 minutes late. However, your time is valuable, too, and if an interviewer makes you wait for 20 or more minutes with no explanation or apology, then that’s probably an indicator of a bad boss.
- Lack of preparation
Preparation is another area in which interviewers and interviewees are often judged based on different standards. As an interviewee, you are expected to know a bit about the company you are applying for and to have good questions prepared about the job. Interviewers can sometimes get away with being unprepared just because they are holding all the cards.
If it seems like the interviewer hasn’t ever looked at your resume, that’s a red flag, but not a deal breaker. Interviews in which the hiring manager asks you specific questions about past work history are certainly the easiest and most welcoming. However, they aren’t necessarily standard. Interviewers often meet with several candidates a day during the hiring process, so it makes sense than resumes could start running together.
The key is not to let the interviewer’s obvious lack of preparation throw you off your game. Assume the interviewer knows nothing about you and affirm key details about skills, qualifications, past jobs, and former employers in your responses. Bring a copy of your resume to the interview. Most hiring managers print off their own copies, but it’s never a bad idea to have one you can give to the interviewer if necessary. This act shows your preparedness while also subtly jogging the interviewer’s memory.
Bad interviews are going to happen from time to time. Sometimes, the blame may fall on your lap. Other times, a bad interviewer is to blame. By familiarizing yourself with the symptoms of bad interviewers, you should be able to figure out the truth of the matter. While that bit of knowledge might not change the outcome of the interview, it can change elements of how you perform, how you feel about the experience, and how you learn from your interviews to improve in the future.
About the author:
Michael Klazema has been developing products for criminal background check and improving online customer experiences in the background screening industry since 2009. He is the lead author and editor for Backgroundchecks.com. He lives in Dallas, TX with his family and enjoys the rich culinary histories of various old and new world countries.