Saturday, October 24, 2009

How do you respond?

I spoke with a former student last week on Craig Street in Oakland. He looked great, black suit and white shirt, opened at the collar. He sounded great, too, with his charming, South of the Border accent. A very charming and soft-spoken guy, he said he had come from a job interview.

As we chatted, he told me the interviewer had been "hostile." Then he asked me what to do when an interviewer is hostile. I had to think a little about that one!

I have never been interviewed by a hostile person. And, I suppose one's definition of "hostile" differs from another's. For instance, I had an interview once where the interviewer was called out of the room to be told that he had just been named a vice president of the firm. Everyone gathered around him just at the edge of my view, hugging, back-slapping and congratulating him. He lost track of me for 20 minutes as he drank wine and celebrated with his colleagues, returning and thanking me, telling me that our time had expired and that he had another candidate to interview. I considered that hostile. (BTW, I didn't get the job and likely would not have taken it anyway.)

But, my student friend meant verbal hostility, purposefully intimidating, challenging, rude, and aggressive. The interviewer asked my friend some ugly questions and, of course, my friend was perplexed. Among other things, the interviewer pressed my friend over his commitment, asking, "Are you willing to work ten hours a day, staying late, and working over 60 hours a week, including weekends?" My friend repeated the words in the nasty way the interviewer had.

I suggested that my friend answer any hostile question with another (non-hostile)question. "Why do employees need to work 60 hours? How is this compensated? How are employees evaluated?"

To my way of thinking, those are legitimate questions and should be part of a series of questions candidates must ask anyway. (I may have said in a previous post that I wrote a book, "Ask the right questions; Get the right job," which I intend to give away on my website soon - When you ask questions, you create a conversation, you appear engaging and interested, and you assume a posture that says, "I'm interviewing you, too." For my money, anyone looking for a job needs to vet the company that he is visiting, as much as they are vetting you.

Anyway, I know many of you have had many interviews. And, I know that some of you (are you listening, Nancy) are professionals when it comes to head hunting and interviewing. So, please take a moment and weigh in on this. Help me give the right advice to my friend. How should he respond to a hostile interviewer?


  1. I agree with your assessment. You need to know more behind the 'hostile' interviewer, before you can jump to any conclusions. Asking the right question always helps. I have seen people at work react differently to similar situations based on the timing of the discussion and their mental availibilty. So if you run into an interviewer on a bad day... help your interviewer turn it around so you can talk business!