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How to Handle an Aggressive Interview

- November 19, 2013

As you step into your job interview, relax and remember that at the end of the day, an interview is really just a polite conversation between two professional adults. Both of you are interested in what the other has to say, and neither of you have anything to gain by attacking, belittling, or emotionally manipulating the person across the table. An interview is not an interrogation. And your potential employer isn’t some kind of drill sergeant putting you to the test to see how you handle intense pressure. This conversation isn’t personal—it’s just business.

But unfortunately, some interviewers just don’t see things this way. Sometimes, for reasons that relate directly to the responsibilities of the job, they really do need a candidate who can stay graceful and composed while facing a barrage of aggressive questions. Sometimes managers lack experience, and they think aggression is a standard part of the interview process (TV and movies can contribute to this perception). And sometimes they mean no harm, but they simply don’t recognize the impression they’re making on a candidate.

If you encounter aggressive interview behavior—for any of the reasons above—don’t panic. And don’t lose your composure. Just answer calmly and stay open to whatever this experience can teach you. Keep these tips in mind:

If Your Claims Are Challenged… 

If you won an impressive award twice in a row or led a large team at a very early stage of your career, interviewers may point out that this is unusual and they may ask for more detail. Answer by agreeing that the situation is unconventional, and then calmly and cheerfully provide every detail that’s asked of you. Answer a confrontational interviewer exactly as you would if the person were polite and diplomatic. Don’t acknowledge the rudeness or impertinence of the question.

If Your “Sense of Humor” Is Put to the Test…

Don’t be flustered by silly questions that are designed to test your sense of humor. If you’re asked which cartoon character you would be, or the five ice cream flavors you would take with you to a desert island, don’t miss a beat. Provide a witty, honest answer if you choose. If you feel baited and would rather not play along, laugh and ask politely for the next question.

If Your Interviewer Asks for Something Odd…

A famous army officer used to give his interviewees a single command: “Make me mad.” Some of them would insult his tie. Some would roll their eyes and walk out. One candidate (who was hired on the spot) reached out without a word, picked up a model ship on the officer’s desk, and broke it in half. If you’re asked for something that challenges your composure and quickness, stay composed and answer quickly. The substance of your answer won’t really matter, but your directness and calm will reveal your approach to this kind of problem solving.

If You Face an Impossible Question…

Some interviewers like to ask questions with no easy answer, for example, the clichéd, “what are your weaknesses?” Or, “give me five reasons why I shouldn’t hire you.” If your interviewer seems to be cornering you or asking you to say something negative about yourself, respond like a media savvy politician: Simply don’t answer. Instead, take the stage and use it to reiterate the five reasons why you SHOULD be hired. Just because it’s your turn to talk doesn’t mean you have to answer the question at hand.

Your Resume & Your Interview

A strong resume can lay the stage for a pleasant and meaningful interview—for parties on both sides of the table. If you use your resume to provide your interviewer with clear, relevant, and positive detail about your background, you’ll be better able to control the conversation. Start by visiting MyPerfectResume for tools, formatting guidelines, and industry-specific tips that help you stay on track.

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