Psychology Today: Here To Help

How to Deal with an Incompetent Interviewer

Job candidates inevitably run into interviewers who are not very good at interviewing. How do you take control without being perceived to take control?

It is important that you do take control of the meeting with an ineffective interviewer.

Ineffective interviews often spend too much time talking about themselves or about the company, giving you too little time to make an impression on them.

Ineffective interviewers don't enjoy the interview process, and this negative mind-set can easily translate into a negative or neutral perception about you.


It is important to have a sense of how much time you have in the meeting, so you can pace yourself. Ask the question at the front end of the meeting.

The interviewer probably has your resume, but you may not have the interviewer's name and title. Good interviewers will probably give you their business cards. If you don't get a business card at the front end of the meeting, be sure to ask for one. Having a business card allows you to write a follow-up letter and address it properly. Reading the business card provides a forum to make sure you are pronouncing the person'sname properly. At the front end of an interview, it sends the right message to the interviewer: "you are important enough for me to be concerned that I pronounce your name correctly."


Some retained search consultants recommend against having a "Personal" section on a resume. They argue that it is not relevant to the job if you enjoy skiing, golf, or history books. On the other hand, we argue that some hobbies can provide an instant link between job applicants and interviewers.

If the first question is, "Oh, you play golf too? What courses do you play," then you know you are starting the meeting in the interviewer's zone of comfort.....and that is where you want the interview to begin. Remember, the more the interviewer enjoys the interview itself,the more highly the interviewer is likely to think of you. The more boring the interview, the less highly the interviewer will think of you.

Our client loved sailing and was a member of an exclusive sailing club. He did not want to put it down on the resume because it was not relevant to the job. And the name of the club might turn-off some people. He accepted our suggestion to put down the name of the club, since it was an important aspect of his life.

The man's next interview was with a CEO. He gazed at the "Personal" section and exclaimed, "You are a member of the XYZ Club? So am I!" They spent the next 45 minutes talking about club members and sail boats. Only 15 minutes was spent on the job itself. But the chemistry had been established and he got the job.

Sometimes, an interesting aspect of your past will allow you to create the agenda for the interview without seeming to create the agenda:

One of our clients was an IT Director at a bank, seeking a comparable job at other financial institutions. The problem was that the financial services industry was going through a period of consolidation. There were far more qualified job applicants than there were appropriate jobs. The client's resume was straightforward and he was generating straightforward, unexciting interviews. He was also generating no offers.

In reviewing our client's background, it turns out that he had been a basketball player in college and had been recruited to play on the New York Nets team. An accident at the beginning of the season finished his career in professional basketball. At our recommendation, he inserted the fact that he had been a professional basketball player.

As anyone might have predicted, the first interview questions focused on that aspect of his life. He spoke about his brief time in professional sports. More importantly, he spoke about the things he had learned from theexperience that helped inform his business career: team work, thinking fast on one's feet, persistence in the face of obstacles, etc. He was employed in short order.