Top interviewing tips: Part 6 - how to handle aggressive interviewers

When the going gets tough in an interview you need to have your wits about you and deal calmly and confidently with negative issues and sensitive subjects such as gaps on your CV or salary expectations.

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Top interviewing tips from Lisa Jobson, director of talent at Harvey Nash:

  • When the going gets tough in an interview you need to have your wits about you and deal calmly and confidently with negative issues and sensitive subjects such as gaps on your CV or salary expectations.
  • Firstly consider the interviewer's mindset, you might be the fifth candidate they have seen in quick succession, their blood sugar is low as they have missed lunch and they are struggling to muster the energy. To counter this make a positive entrance with high energy and hopefully they will mirror and respond accordingly.
  • Every interviewer has a different style and approach, if you are faced with a panel it is likely there will be a "good cop/bad cop" scenario. Staying calm and professional will impress them the most and if they really do try to disparage you, take the initiative with a counter question of your own.
  • Stress questions could be presented in a situation or disguised in the interviewer's behaviour, such as an unsmiling greeting, protracted silence after hearing your answer to a particular question, or a confrontational attitude.
  • Questions will be thrown straight at you and you will have little time to think about the answers. Remain level-headed and don't let the aggressive interviewer throw you off track. Feel confident and answer appropriately as this type of interviewer will surely look for weaknesses and go on to exploit them further.
  • After each question, take a breath and a pause, consider your answer and deliver it pleasantly in a neutral, calm tone of voice. Ensure you have a live example for each of the competencies and skills they are assessing so you leave the interviewer in no doubt of your capabilities.
  • Another tactic might be to keep you waiting for your interview to take place, with little or no information provided about when you might be summoned. Remain focused at all times on the task in hand and don't rise to the bait.
  • Watch out for really indulgent interviewers who encourage your negative traits and give you enough rope to hang yourself; never start swearing, criticising or giving away secrets of your present employer.
  • To guarantee a good result prepare thoroughly, practice potential answers to stress questions in advance. On the day handle any nerves as best you can and focus on building rapport from the outset of the interview.
  • Remember they are assessing both your verbal and body language responses through out the meeting. Have an awareness of facial expressions and folded arms, for example, to avoid being perceived as defensive.
  • Do not take the interviewer's remarks personally and maintain a positive mental attitude throughout.

More top interviewing tips from Lisa Jobson.

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This was first published in September 2009

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