Maintain Control of Your Interview (Part II)

Last year the most popular Topgrading Tips article was Maintain Control of the Topgrading Interview.  In Part II, I review the basics and offer some more sophisticated ways to keep control.

Every interviewer knows that most candidates for selection want to “put their best foot forward.”  Oftentimes A Players try to control the interview because they are eager to talk about their successes.  Weak candidates want to hide a lot; they read books about how to control interviews, and, as you know, are desperate to make their “pitch.”  It’s frustrating, right?  Topgrading interviewers are determined to ask more than a dozen questions about every job; if they lose control, they lose, fail to get answers … and the candidate fails to get a job offer.

Maintaining Control, the Basics

If the interviewee either tries to take over or just wanders off on topics not of interest to you:

  • The first time they grab control, be gentle but interrupt and restate your question.
  • The next time, interrupt and explain, “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.”  If the candidate is not as dense as a rock, they will take the hint.
  • 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, because I’m having to re-ask questions. Please answer my questions so that I don’t conclude that if you come to work for me, I will have difficulty getting you to answer my questions.”

More Advice on Controlling the Interview

Having conducted well over 6,000 Topgrading Interviews, I’ve experienced hundreds of ways interviewees have tried to manipulate and control the interview.  Some additional techniques to the tips above are:

  • Explain why they need not take control:  “Pat, you’ve jumped ahead a bit to explain why you are a good candidate, but that’s not necessary.  This is a Topgrading Interview, meaning there are 16 basic questions about every job, including questions about your successes, accomplishments, and what you like about jobs.  Toward the end of the interview I’ll ask for you to appraise yourself in relation to the job, but for now let’s stick to the chronological format and our standard questions, and I promise you will have all the time you want to show your strengths for this job.”
  • Show mild impatience:  “Chris, I find that I have to re-ask questions quite a bit.  Is this typical of communications with you?”
  • Apply pressure, ostensibly blaming yourself:  “Mike, I should tell you that if you come to work for me I have some idiosyncrasies; it’s only fair to let you know I get very impatient when people don’t listen carefully to my questions and answer them without my having to re-ask them.”
  • Nicely say, “Get to the point.”  Say, “Stephanie, in order to communicate clearly you tend to give a lot of examples, but I’m afraid we’ll run out of time with such long answers to my questions.  So please give me the short answer and if I need more, I’ll ask.”

Finally, be more direct. When softer methods to keep control are failing, and you’re about to reject the candidate who is excessively controlling, domineering, and manipulative, say, “Steve, I appreciate your wanting to sell yourself as a candidate, but in order for me to offer you a job I really need to get direct answers to my questions, okay? Interviewing you is exhausting because you are constantly trying to take control by going off on tangents, avoiding my questions, and citing your strengths. It’s a verbal wrestling match and exhausting, so PLEASE just answer my questions.”  When the candidate is THAT manipulative and controlling, and after more gentle hints to NOT take control are ignored, you almost certainly will NOT want this person working for you. So such bluntness is “one last chance” for the candidate to remain a candidate.

Published August 20, 2013

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