Maintain Control of the Interview (Part I)

Just about every book on how to get a job says that interviewers are so bad at interviewing (that’s generally true) that to get a job offer, interviewees must take control of the interview to tell interviewers how good they are. And the books advise candidates to prepare self-promoting sound bites. Those books advise that, just like a politician on TV, candidates should answer the questionsthey want asked, which will not be the ones interviewers ask.

Fortunately, most candidates preparing for a Topgrading interview go to, learn about the chronological interview, read that they will be able to talk about all their successes, and see that they will have to arrange calls with former bosses as a final step in hiring. Sharp candidates realize that if they take control and avoid answering questions, they won’t get a job offer. But…even ‘A Player’ candidates usually have some failures they’d prefer not to talk about and instinctively try to manipulate their interviewers.

There are three key ways to take back control if the interviewee either tries to take over or just wanders off on topics not of interest to you:

  1. The first time you need to regain control, be gentle, but interrupt and restate your question.
  2. The next time interrupt and explain, “Pat, our Topgrading process involves asking a lot of questions about a lot of jobs, and I’d really appreciate it if you focus on the question asked.” Or, “Your running marathons sounds fascinating, but I’m concerned we won’t have time to complete this interview if we don’t get back to discussing your career.”
  3. And the third time say something like, “Joe, I’m wondering if you’ve read some books that say you have to take control of the interview. Please don’t because I’m thinking that if you come to work for me, I will have difficulty getting you to answer my questions.”

The gentle approach is almost always sufficient to regain control. If you are the hiring manager, can you imagine what it would be like working with someone who would try to avoid your questions, obfuscate, or flat-out change your agenda in a conversation? The third rather blunt approach is taken when you are about to reject the candidate and call off the interview. It is very fair to be this blunt, however, because it gives the candidate one last chance to “pass” the interview. I do this in interviews, essentially speaking for my client: “Susan, we’ve been together a couple of hours and I’ve found that sometimes I have to ask a question twice or three times before I get an answer. I know you want to put your best foot forward, but I’m thinking that if Jan hires you, she would be frustrated because she really insists that people on her team listen carefully to her questions and answer them directly.”

If interviewees permit you to retake control and answer your questions, fine. But if you continue having to re-ask questions you’re bound to reject a candidate – also great, because you’ve avoided a costly mis-hire.

Recommended Resource:

Quarterly Topgrading Workshop. How about attending or sending key managers to our March 13-14 Topgrading Workshop in the Chicago area. Brad and two other Topgrading professionals will not only teach Topgrading methods but for about half of the workshop, observe and personally coach attendees in how to conduct the Topgrading Interview, analyze the information, arrive at valid conclusions, and provide feedback and coaching to the “new hire.” Workshop ratings have exceeded 9 (on a 10-point scale) for years. Click here for information.

Published February 26, 2013

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