Your Career Q&A: Dealing with Incompetent Interviewers

By Martin Yate May 3, 2017
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​Best-selling author Martin Yate, a career coach and former HR professional, takes your questions each week about how to further your career in HR. Contact him at the e-mail address at the end of this column. 

I went to an interview last week where I was sure that I could do the job really well. I was excited about the opportunity and wanted the job, but the interviewer never asked me the questions that would allow me to show it. In fact, he didn't ask many questions at all, and he did most of the talking. It was a really depressing experience, and I'm wondering if there is anything I could have done differently.

A.K.

New Jersey 

You are not alone! Almost everyone has come away from an interview thinking that they could do the job but hadn't been given the chance to showcase their skills and how they met the employer's needs. What you experienced last week won't be the last time it happens in your career, so let's make sure you are ready to turn this to your advantage next time.

To be successful, managers depend on their staffs to get crucial work done, which makes employee selection vital. Nevertheless, there will always be hiring managers who don't know how to conduct job interviews.

Many times, interviews start with the request to "Tell me about yourself." Tailor the short bio you give to directly reflect the priorities of the job description, using the words, phrases and acronyms most likely to resonate with the interviewer. Then finish with two statements—in your own words, as appropriate:

"The more I understood about your needs, the more this opportunity looked like it had my name written all over it, because my skills almost exactly match your needs." Of course, I know the company by reputation, so I'm very excited to be here today and am looking forward to talking about the nuts and bolts and challenges of the work."


When you do this, you give the interviewer a recap of the job's needs, how you match them and a request to talk about the details of the job. There isn't a hiring manager in the world who wouldn't like to hear this kind of focused answer to his or her first question. You are selling directly to the customer's needs and demonstrating intelligent and informed enthusiasm. This works with almost any interviewer but is essential with an incompetent one.

If the interview progresses and you notice the absence of questions, then you start asking questions. Rely on your previous study of the organization's needs to make inquiries that showcase your knowledge and give the interviewer information about you.

In nearly every job, the employee anticipates, identifies, prevents and solves problems. Before your interview, review each responsibility listed in the job description and: 

  1. Identify the problems that occur in that area.
  2. List the ways your work helps you anticipate and prevent those problems from arising.
  3. Come up with ways to resolve problems that cannot be prevented—in an efficient and professional manner, with due consideration for your colleagues, systems and procedures. 

This allows you to answer a question like, "how many years' experience do you have in benefits?" Now instead of answering, "Seven years," you answer, "Seven years, and I find the biggest challenges to be [list examples from the job description]. Can I tell you how I would tackle these issues and changes that might happen if I join the team?"

Spoken in a quietly enthusiastic and curious tone, such questions turn a one-sided examination of skills into a conversation between two professionals with a common interest that sets you apart from the competition. It gets the interviewer to thinking, "She knows her stuff and asks some really pertinent questions. This is the kind of talent we need and could use." 

Have a question for Martin? E-mail your queries to YourCareerQA@shrm.org. We'll only publish your first name and city, unless you prefer to remain anonymous—just let us know. We look forward to hearing from you!

Knock 'em Dead 2017: The Ultimate Job Search Guide, written by New York Times best-selling author Martin Yate, CPC, is just 99 cents from April 27 to May 7. Available from Amazon, BN.com and iTunes.

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