This week, we go over and back by email with a reader who submitted a query – you may find the exchange useful if you have a job interview in the offing. Hopefully you won’t run into a similar scenario.
ER (by email): The interview I did last week felt more like a rapid-fire quiz that you’d see on television. They must have thrown 40 questions at me in less than an hour. Every time I made an effort to elaborate, they moved on to the next question. Is this a common way of staging an interview?
SNC: It sounds like an ordeal but, as I always say in instances like this, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. The likelihood is that they used the same style of interview for every other candidate.
An interview in quiz format is disconcerting. Look at TV quizzes: normally unflappable people frequently crack under pressure. A shiver still runs down my spine when I recall answering “four” to the question “how many people play solitaire?” My embarrassment was total as this public shaming took place in front of a town hall packed with peers from all around the county. At 16, that’s not the look I was seeking.
SNC: How did you get on with the ‘quiz’?
ER: My preparation helped me. I had learned a great deal about the company and how my previous experience could fit in well there. So, I was able to respond effectively to most of their questions.
SNC: And how did they interrupt you when you tried to elaborate?
ER: They just talked over me. It was rude. They didn’t make this clear beforehand and it certainly threw me. After a few questions, however, I figured out how things were likely to progress, and I pared back my answers accordingly. They had less reason to talk over me as the interview went on. That made it easier.
SNC: It sounds like you adjusted well. Did they give you any feedback?
ER: Not really, but they did correct two of my answers, so I suspect the other ones were right. I may be fooling myself there – I haven’t got word yet about the outcome. But I would say I was as well prepared as anybody else to deal with this style.
SNC: Could you offer any sense of what you could bring to the company?
ER: No. It really was a straitjacket. They kept it watertight.
SNC: Did you feel all the panel were happy with the interview style?
ER: Interesting question. I got the impression that one of the interview panel, the person who will be the boss of the successful candidate, would prefer to have teased things out more. It just didn’t roll that way. Perhaps they had an overrun earlier in the day and were trying to make up time.
SNC: Panels are often divided. What advice would you give people who find themselves in this situation?
ER: As you say above, adjust. Read the room. See where they want to go and tag along as much as you can. And stay cool. Everybody else will probably face the same scenario so the challenge is merely to do better than them.
SNC: Thank you.
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