How to handle an interviewer who goes off-topic

Q: One guy on the interview panel wanted to talk about rugby the whole way through – like myself, he played the game in his youth. It was in the middle of Six Nations fever. I humoured him as best I could, but found it quite distracting, and felt I was prevented from getting to talk about what was relevant. How could I have avoided this fate? As it happens, he really just wanted to express his own views, rather than hear mine. I didn’t get the job, and, unlike Brian O’Driscoll, I need a wage in the short-term. (RK, email)

Answer by Patricia Maloney, Career Coach, Sli Nua Careers, Galway

Patricia Maloney, Career Coach
Patricia Maloney, Career Coach

This is a tricky one. You go in there anxious to let them see what you have, and then one of them appears more interested in the prospects for their favourite team or the whereabouts of a mutual friend whose name appears as a referee on your CV.

You can’t bully your way past this member of the interview panel. Building rapport is very important in an interview.

In my opinion, all you can do is to keep fighting (subtly, mind you) to turn the interview back to where it needs to be. ‘Humour’ his questions, as you say, and seek to go back to the key information – your experience, your attributes, your understanding of the role and your enthusiasm to prove your worth.

The onus always rests on the candidate to (forced pun alert) box-kick the interview to where it needs to go. This is true whether the interviewer is distracting you or not: in your preparation you identify the issues that the panel need to hear you talking about, and you should seek to divert every answer to a place where it deals with some of those issues.

If you were prepared to that level before going in, chances are you would be better able to handle this would-be George Hook.

Of course, it may not have cost you the job at all. You should not judge our interview performance solely by the result. You should learn to evaluate how you performed by your own scientific grid (email Interview Assessment to and we will send you a grid that you can work off) and aim to improve your performance every single time.

A bit like what Joe Schmidt would be saying to the boys.

This week’s top tip

Address the elephant in the room. If you know you have a certain deficiency, and they know you have a certain deficiency, and they know you know, and you know they know, it’s best to bring it out into the open.

They might not ask the question to reveal this deficiency. But if they are likely to focus on it when you leave the room, it’s a good idea for you to have addressed it earlier.

It might just be something along the lines of: “I know there’s one area where I don’t have a huge amount of experience, namely managing budgets, but I’m a quick learner and I am currently studying a course on financial management, and I’m confident I will get up to speed soon enough. It’s certainly an area I would be prioritising were I to get this job.”

Don’t introduce deficiencies they hadn’t thought about – but if there is something obvious, be the one to address it and, in so doing, attempt to minimise it.


Patricia Maloney is a Career Coach with Sli Nua Careers and works out of Galway. You can read more about her, and make a booking HERE for CV Preparation and Interview Training.

More articles from her blog can be accessed HERE