Interviewer sizeupNow that you’ve prepared for your interview, it’s time to focus on and assess what might be happening on the other side of the table. There are many scenarios and types of interviewers you could be facing, so you need to be ready to adapt. Below are some common types of interviewers along with a few tips on how to manage them:

The conservative, organized interviewer.

Watch for the neatly-organized folio of booklets and papers along with a notepad of a dozen or so neatly-written questions, one per line.

This interviewer is either inexperienced, lacks interviewing confidence or is just plain committed to a routine.  Whatever you do, do not throw them off their game.  The strategy is a bit defensive here as they likely need to get through their list of questions.  They will assess you quite literally by how you perform on their standard questions against the other candidates. The ultimate game of ‘apples to apples’. They may not have strong intuitive ‘people sense’ so if you don’t get through the list, you are likely to fall below other candidates in the final ranking.

Even if you don’t see the list for yourself, you’ll realize you have this interview type because the interview will feel like a dragnet list of unimaginative questions.  Lots of “tell me about a time whens…”.  Also, the interview won’t feel like a conversation; skilled and confident interviewers move seamlessly from one topic to another, often times with a segue from the last topic.  Questions will not seem to be pre-determined and the conversation flow will feel organic.  To be ready for the straight forward interview, make sure you are prepared with many examples of the standard behaviors: leadership, teamwork, dealing with difficult people, etc etc.  Know your STAR format, because those boxes will be ticked.  I actually have a cheat sheet of examples of each type of behavior that I take to interviews.  I’m just not that great at mentally cataloguing every awesome leadership behavior I have demonstrated in the last two decades.

The interviewer who is not prepared.

Often times, people are called upon to help interview.  This meeting can fall at any point in their day and could even bec0me inconvenient depending on what chaos and disorder has characterized that person’s day.

You’ll know quickly if they haven’t had time to read your resume in advance, never mind get questions ready.  If so, offer to help without letting them feel badly for being ill-prepared.  If the interviewer is stalling at the beginning, offer to walk them through your resume, highlighting your key accomplishments and background points that relate to your candidacy…and then “we can ask questions as we go”.  You could win points for quietly and confidently helping them out with your ‘I got this’ vibe.

And, oh yeah, in that case, be ready to deliver a tight resume walk. Talk less about job accountabilities, and more about your impact – challenges, results, etc.  Perfect wide open space to give important information and sell yourself!

The interviewer with a short attention span.

There are many non-verbal cues that signal a loss of interest. (Mine is I start to look through you!) The main verbal cue is that you’re often interrupted.

Adapt by shortening your answers.  I would say in my history of interviewing hundreds of candidates that 4 in 5 talk too much.  Spend as little time as possible giving background info and get to the point, which is usually the result or ‘so what’ of the matter.  If you’re buying time just to think, you’re better off cutting your losses and politely bailing on the question in favor of spending precious time on topics that can sell your candidacy better.

The interviewer who will be your hiring manager.

Establishing rapport is such a huge necessity here.  Yes, you have to nail the interview, but be on the lookout for common ground, such as background, hobbies, interests.  The hiring manager wants to first ensure you will kick some butt on the job but secondly they want to see themselves working with you.  If they can’t see that, you’re probably out.

The arrogant interviewer.

This interviewer will likely make comments that leave you feeling unworthy of the job or are otherwise designed to put you on the defense.

The issue at play is either the interviewer is just plain unpleasant or he/she is testing your ability to perform under pressure, which could be a requirement of the job.  It may even be both.

The key for you is to show confidence and to not insult the interviewer. There may be ego at play.  You can decide after that interview if the company is even a fit, given the uncool people that seem to work there.  Put that aside for now.  Keep your answers concise – don’t ramble.  And, be mindful to hold firm on your answers.  The interviewer might try to probe for signs of weakness by calling into question your position.

The friendly, laid back interviewer.

These interviews are fun – free flowing, upbeat and full of energy and spirited dialogue.  If your interviewer is at a senior level, say VP and above, you can usually roll with this, although be mindful to ultimately make your key points to sell yourself.  Often times, this level is just looking for personality and fit, especially if you have been through the ringer with everyone else.  In such a case, just go with it.

But, for any other interviewer, be careful not to get too carried away with the vibe.  Find opportunities to redirect the conversation to the company, its needs and how you fit.  The danger you face is the leaving the interview without having ever sold your candidacy.

The (what I call) ‘stingray’ interviewer is also a subset of this tribe.  Think “happy…happy…breezy…happy…ZINGER QUESTION.”  Catches you off guard, so don’t get too comfortable.  I have operated like that once or twice, when in a mischievous mood, not gonna lie. Stay focused.

The group interview.

Some companies like to have two or more people interviewing.  This can be for interview training or to simply have a second take on a candidate.  If the second interviewer is just observing, be sure to not ignore them, while you maintain focus on the person running the show.  Make eye contact, smile, and if it seems appropriate, bring them occasionally into the conversation. Your warmth and obvious sense of inclusion may create another advocate for yourself.

The organic, on-the-ball interviewer.

I like to think this is me.  Prepared, but not structured.  Can probe and get to the right insights through what seems to be a very organic conversation.  No one path to learn all about you, as each topic of conversation flows from the last.  You’ll often experience an intelligent exchange of ideas.

This type of interview situation is perfect for the skilled interviewee.  In this situation I recommend you ‘break the model’. Upend the traditional Q&A format of interviews and seize control on occasion.  Be prepared to direct the conversation by asking questions about the company, the interviewer and his or her experiences.  Be curious, but have an agenda, which is again to find the places to tell your story and make your case. Frame your answers to every open-ended question to allow you to present your strengths.  These types of interviewers are often impressed by candidates who can show leadership and selling ability while remaining personable.


A closing note:  be careful about turning an interview into psychological warfare. Don’t overanalyze the situation but rather be mindful of the type of interview you face.  Interviewers are not Gods; they aren’t perfect and sometimes they are neither prepared nor skilled.  Some, though, are incredibly insightful and experienced.  Your ability to adapt will determine your ultimate outcome.