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.

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.

>> Looking for a job in IT? Visit Computer Weekly Jobs today

Read more on IT jobs and recruitment

Join the conversation


Send me notifications when other members comment.

Please create a username to comment.

Hi, this is all good and well. However I do believe there is a line between testing the candidate and completely battering the hell out of a candidate. There are smarter ways of interviewing to find out what you need to know as an employer, the whole "good cop/bad cop" routine is a very juvenile and antiquated way of assessing that.

After all the lie detector was invented by John Larson to stop police beating confessions out of potential suspects, the same is true for aggressive interview tactics in this day and age.

Companies fully expect the emphasis to be on "team working" with "can do" attitudes, aggressive interview tactics demonstrate their inability to keep their cool during daily work situations and furthermore don't inspire anything positive from the employers side. Something a potential candidate should always consider, no matter how desperate they are for that pay cheque.

fir3pho3nixx has it right. Times may be tough for many right now and jobs might be in short supply for some. But if this describes your job interview, RUN.

Ask yourself if you really want to work for any company with such rotten, nasty, mean-spirited, short-sighted hiring practices. There are much better, smarter ways to screen your employees.

Fronting your company with an overly-aggressive ogre for job interviews isn't an acceptable practice. It's a sure signal that your company has little respect for its employees and prefer an overly-aggressive dog-eat-dog workforce, creativity, cooperation, and camaraderie be damned.
In my experience, there are two ways (only two ways rather). Either be polite and them feel that they are God's of universe (which does not exist) OR Ask them to shut up and find a better place to work for. 
I've never had anyone interview me that aggressively before. The worst I've experienced was an interview with three very serious people who never so much as cracked a smile. 

I'm pretty good about keeping my calm, though, and I would not automatically rule out a company that interviewed me like this, unless the aggressive interviewer would be my direct manager. That would be a bit too much to deal with.
If this is how they treat a prospective employee I do not want to se how they treat the current ones. If this is just a test to see how you function under pressure then this may not be the place you want to work if that is the norm. If an agency sent me here for the job, i'd inform them of the ambush tactics.
Times are tough right now, but when you're confronted with this kind of attitude, take a long, deep breath and consider if you really want to be working for such a nasty, cold, confrontational company that would hire someone like this to head HR. I can't imagine most people would.
There's two ways to deal with this I think. You can play the game with them and see where it leads, nothing ventured and all that. It may just be a game/routine for them to see how you deal with adversity. I don't think it should be taken personally at all, it's just a process. Even if they do offer you the job, you're not obliged to take it, are you?
Go through the process and see what happens. Don't take offense at the first opportunity, take a deep breath and get on with it, you won't know where it will lead.
It may not be the most sophisticated interview technique but it may be all they have at their disposal or they may have had success with it in the past.
The other approach, if you're up for it, would be to question them about it in the interview. Ask them if the interview is purposefully late to start, abrasive, unsmiling or whatever the 'tactic' employed is. Put them on the back foot, with a smile on your face. They might be pleasantly surprised by the different approach.

Ultimately there's no need to take it personally, it's just a process. You may desperately need a job, as some of the other comments suggest, but put your game face on and deal with the challenge. You might be surprised by what comes of it.
I guess the methodology here should be to work as partners with potential employees, not adversaries. Isn't our goal to provide the best workforce to help grow our company. Flip that on its head and if you're in a tough interview, make it clear that your ultimate goal is to be an asset to the company and starting with a grueling, attacking interview isn't the way to start a longterm relationship with someone who might bring even more success to your company. Maybe it's common sense, but the interview process should be a meeting where both parties can accentuate their best traits while learning about the other person. Going deep to make people uncomfortable or stressed beyond normal is just bad business.

All the tips in the article are good, and the context is given. If a job does require to handle stressful situations the employer has the full right to test the abilities of the candidate. I suppose they may give a heads up in the invitation to the interview, or maybe they want to make it more real.

As someone who's been at the both sides of the table I wanna add: I need to see the real person, see how they behave at work on a daily basis. So if I see that the candidate is playing a role, I do simulate work situations to get to see "real them". For example - in testing: "I'm a stubborn developer. Convince me that this bug report is valid'.