When you go in for an interview, you expect the manager to be professional, if not pleasant. But sometimes you run into one who’s just, to put it plainly, a shmuck. Needless to say, it’s no fun to face someone who’s irritated or angry, rude or belittling.
Don’t take the bait. Believe it or not, some companies purposely conduct stress interviews to see how a candidate deals with pressure. Though that says a lot about a company’s culture, you still may want to pass that test.
Whatever the reason behind the drama, there are ways to react that will help you, at least, remain professional and able to keep the conversation productive.
Keep Your Cool
First, don’t let an interviewer’s tone push you over the edge. Fight fire with ice by calmly responding to questions. Attitudes are contagious, so your relaxed demeanor may actually dampen the interviewer’s ire. Shorten your responses, but whatever you do don’t raise your voice or let them see you sweat.
Reframe Negative Questions
If the interviewer asks a negative question, put it in a positive light before answering. For instance:
Interviewer: “I’ve heard that your projects are usually late and over budget. How do you respond to that?”
You: “For the record, I’m measured on the business impact of our software and stakeholder satisfaction, and I’ve always exceeded expectations in those areas. Would you like to hear how we measure stakeholder satisfaction?”
Another technique is “bridging.” You use a transitional phrase to pivot to a positive message. For example, “allow me to clarify,” “let’s look at the facts,” or, “to put your comment in perspective.”
Turn the Tables
If the interviewer is still hostile, turn the situation around by asking them a question. For example:
Interviewer: “We need someone with exceptional Ruby skills, and you look like an amateur based on your resume.”
You: “Actually, my boss thinks I’m the most qualified developer on the team and I’ve just learned 4.0. Your environment must be challenging. Why do you need someone with exceptional skills?”
Also, remember that people love to talk, especially about themselves. So reverse things by asking the interviewer about their Ruby experience after describing yours.
You: “I notice that you posted an instructional video on YouTube. When did you start working with Ruby?”
Hit the Pause Button
It’s easy to drone on when you’re under pressure. But research shows that strategic pauses are an integral part of impression management. Take a moment to collect your thoughts before replying to a question. When you finish answering, stop. You’ll feel more confident and in control, because a well-timed pause temporarily transfers the interviewer’s power back to you.
If things get too bad, ask for a drink of water or change the subject by asking if you can show the interviewer your coding samples or portfolio. A strategic timeout is a great way to hit the reset button when things are headed in the wrong direction.
Drop a Hint
In tough situations, a sense of humor can be your best ally. Acknowledge the interviewer’s motives or foul mood by noting that you’re always calm under fire or don’t rattle easily. They may calm down when they recognize their behavior for what it is.
If nothing else works, consider a direct approach.
You: “I’m getting the sense that you don’t think I’m qualified for this position. Specifically, what are your concerns?”
Worst case, you can thank the interviewer for their time and end the conversation. After all, you don’t want to work for a jerk. But since you’re bound to encounter a hostile boss, client or colleague down the road, there may never be a better time to learn how to subdue an aggressor.