Stay out of the crossfire

Q: I am going for an interview next week – the job is with a retail outlet. A friend of mine already works there and she says the boss can be very cranky. “He was hostile in my interview,” she says, “and I bet he will be hostile in yours. He’s hostile to everybody at interviews.” How should I handle him? (MR, email.)

A: There are a few points I would make about him, as follows:

  • Your friend has clarified one very important point about this man – he is hostile to everybody. His hostility is indiscriminate. He spreads his hostility around evenly. So at least you know it’s nothing personal, just business, as the saying goes, and notwithstanding the fact that it is a dubious way of inter-acting with people. As the scouts say, you are prepared, which is half the battle. Imagine the surprise others will get when they walk into the crossfire this man is likely to brew up. You have been forewarned.
  • If you prepare yourself properly for the interview, there is less danger of you being derailed by his hostility. When you know where you want to go to (more below in Point 4) you are less likely to be deflected by unimportant distractions. If you keep your eye on your destination, you will not be as consumed by his hostility. However, if you haven’t planned properly, you are much more vulnerable to a curveball from this charming man.
  • Do not engage. Do not return fire. It takes two to tango. Don’t lose your cool. We don’t know why he behaves this way, but we can resolve to maintain our own composure at all times. Maybe that’s the very thing he is looking for: composure under pressure. Either way, we are entitled to hold our temper in the face of his provocation.
  • To develop Point 2. above, talk in greater detail to your friend, not so much about the nature of this man’s hostility, but about the key requirements of the job. What are they actually looking for, beyond the abrasiveness of the interview? Why do they hire people? What do they value in people? What does the role entail? What are the key skills? If you can ascertain all of that, and go on to prove that you embody the attributes in question, you could be halfway on the road to making this man into a close working ally – which might amount to a pyrhhic victory, but at least you can always decide to turn down the job once it’s offered to you. You can’t turn down a job you haven’t been offered.

Of course, if you must resort to physical violence in the interview, make sure to hop up on a chair or table and drape your jacket over the CCTV camera first –  and you could even claim that this would exhibit your attention to detail, thoroughness, and willingness to take responsibility.

(We jest. Repeat, we jest. Do not try this at home, or in the interview room. If you do, you’re on your own).

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