Psych! Dumb Things Interviewers Do To Freak You Out

I once interviewed with a college administrator whose desk looked like the local landfill for career resources and other detritus. (I think his unwrapped lunch was in there too.) He also interviewed me for 3/4 of an hour with his tie askew, his dress shirt unbuttoned all of the way down with his chest and body hair sticking out. Try maintaining professional eye contact in that instance! Obviously, I was a FAIL because I did not get the job. However, I hope wherever he is, that he never runs chest first into the sticky side of a roll of duct tape.

Now, whether this guy left his shirt unbuttoned on purpose or not, I do not know. However, I do know that interviewers will do some pretty crazy things on purpose to see if they can shake your composure and to find out how you will react to stress. Consider some of these stressful situations.

Parking: The office admin has emailed you all the info you need for your upcoming important interview, including parking instructions. You get to the interview place, drive up to the parking attendant booth and give your name. However, your name is not on the guest list. And the attendant just stares at you…

What do You Do? Plan ahead, bring money for parking, just in case. Keep your cool, and politely ask the attendant to call the office where you are interviewing so you can be put on the guest parking list and receive a parking pass. If the attendant is uncooperative, ask for the nearest paid lot, and try to get the office to validate your parking or to reimburse you at the end of the interview.

Why Would the Company Do This? You may get jerked around to see how you interact with the “hired help.” Are you rude and dismissive of them? You’d better not be, because your attitude towards workers lower on the totem pole than you may be seen as the same attitude you will have towards difficult clients, as well as other lesser paid individuals.

Arriving at the Interview Place: You are now inside and are faced with a row of elevators which are key-controlled only. The admin sent you information that the office is on the 34th floor. However, he neglected to mention that the office IS the 34th floor, elevator access is restricted, you should let the desk attendant know you have an interview, and you need to show some form of ID.

What do You Do? By now, you are probably pretty angry at the company and the admin and wondering why you would ever work for a company that is so disorganized in the first place. I would wonder that too; and that is the risk that companies take when they try these stress tactics on candidates. They may lose good candidates by jerking them around. Again, keep your cool and look for a floor, elevator or lobby attendant and explain that you are here for an interview.

Why Would the Company Do This? See the reason above for parking. Also, the company may want to see how much initiative you have and how you handle ambiguous situations.

The Reception Area: Check in with the receptionist. Thank him for the interview email. (Do not mention that he gave you crap instructions.) You sit down and begin to wait. And wait and wait and wait, wait, wait. Wait!!! Are you sure you really want this job?

What do You Do? You are ready to walk out, but reconsider. You are already here. Just do the interview. You may just get the job and it may be the best one you’ve ever had.

Why Would the Interviewer Do This? The waiting may not be a psych out game at all. The interviewer may have gotten blindsided with a must-handle-now crisis or may be in a meeting that has gone into overtime. Or your politeness and anger management skills are being tested.

In the Interview: The interviewer invites you in, settles you in a chair, asks if you were able to find the office and parking okay (do not tell her about the crap instructions you received) and then rummages around her desk for about 10 minutes, not making eye contact with you. She says, “I don’t seem to have your resume. Tell me about yourself.”

What do You Do? Plan ahead and bring extra copies of your resume and references. Politely wait. Offer a fresh copy of your resume. Tell the interviewer the basic points about your education, your experiences, your skills and how you can help her company. Do not use the question to ramble on about your personal life just to get rid of some excess nervous energy.

Why Would the Interviewer Do This? Are you a whiner? The interviewer wants to know and will find out if you complain about the crap instructions or lost resume. You may think the interviewer never even looked at your resume prior to the interview, and you may be right. But you may be wrong. You may consider relaxing a bit because now you won’t have to explain that gap in your employment history that you so cleverly hid on your resume. Ever hear the saying that the word “assume” makes an “ass” out of “u” and “me?” Do not assume anything. Summarize your resume’s salient points without being condescending, and watch for insightful questions that show, yes indeed, she saw your resume beforehand.

The Hugely Pregnant Pause: You’ve finished telling all about yourself. The interviewer smiles and waits. And waits, and waits and waits. Oh, here you go again, the waiting game. She is now arching her eyebrows, steepling her  fingers in front of her face, looking at you and still she is silent.

What do You Do? Wait with her for a few minutes and maintain eye contact. Offer to elaborate on any of your points. You can also push a bit verbally to get the interview going again by asking about a point listed in the job description. She’ll have to answer, or run the risk of being rude!

Why Would the Interviewer Do This? She is trying to make you uncomfortable and to push you into blabbing something negative and unprofessional about yourself.

The Doorknob Question: The interview is almost finished after a grueling session of question and answer. You may even be on the way out after shaking hands, with your hand grasping the doorknob. Then here it comes, the doorknob question: “So why do you want to work here?” Or, “Are you an illegal immigrant?” Or, “Do you have kids?”

What do You Do? If you get the first question, summarize your skills and what you can do for the company. (“Because I have skills X,Y, and Z and can make a positive impact on the bottom line of your company.”) You’ll have to decide in advance how you will handle illegal questions in case you get one of the other two questions,. You can point out that it is illegal, which will probably not land you the job. You can answer the question, giving information that may damage your chances of getting the job. Or you can figure out what the interviewer really wants to know. “Yes, I am an American citizen.” “Yes, I have kids. However, their grandparents are close by and can babysit if I’m needed for overtime.”

Why Would the Interviewer Do This? The doorknob question can function as a way to get you to spill negative information, or to startle you into losing your cool communication skills and giving answers to illegal interview questions.

If you’ve ever had an interview like this, congratulations, you’ve survived the interview from hell! Will you use these tactics if you get a chance to interview job candidates?


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