By Kathleen Sullivan
You have researched the company, networked with your contacts there, and practiced your answers to difficult interview questions. You are focused, ready, and eager to interview. The interviewer begins and you quickly realize he is not talking about the company, has not read (or does not remember) your resume, and is preoccupied with other matters. The interview is going off course -- and it is up to you to salvage the situation. Unfortunately, not everyone who will be conducting an interview has the background or skills to know what topics to discuss, questions to ask, or how to engage the candidate in a meaningful interview dialogue. If you encounter an interviewer who is not skilled at interviewing, you will need to take a greater role in the interview process or it will become a lost opportunity.
Here are some tactics you can take to turn a misguided interview around: To make an interview meaningful, the interviewer needs to provide information about the organization, its business goals and challenges, and the objectives of the position he is filling. If the interviewer is discussing other topics or talking in circles, you need to get him reoriented and addressing information that is critical to having a productive interview. Shift the conversation by asking pointed questions: How well is the company meeting its organizational goals? What are its top business challenges? What results are expected from the person who is being hired? Once he shares this information, start a conversation by describing how you can leverage your experience to contribute to advancing the goals of the company and solving its problems. By focusing the interviewer on the company, its needs, and your value to them, you will be on the right track and have a framework for the interview.
If the interviewer does not have a good grasp (or any grasp) of the information you provided on your resume, give him the information by delivering a two to three minute overview of your background and qualifications: cite the companies where you have worked, the positions you have held, your key successes, and the strategies and skills you used to accomplish them. Providing the interviewer with your professional summary will give him context for the discussion as well as give you the opportunity to sell yourself as a candidate.
If the interviewer is more interested in answering his phone, checking emails, or looking at items on his desk than in talking with you, use open-ended questions to get his attention and engage him in a conversation. Try asking questions such as: Where will the company be innovating in the next few years? How is the company dealing with the competition? How did he become successful at the company? By asking the interviewer complex questions, you will be getting him to concentrate on the interview and build some momentum. You also will be gathering information that will allow you to comment on what he shares, position yourself as the right candidate, and continue to move the dialogue forward.
Interviewers do not always follow interview protocol or a script. As Forrest Gump noted, “You never know what you’ll get.” You may get surprises regarding their approach, competence, and attitude which can undermine the interview. Encountering an interviewer who is not managing the interview effectively places an additional responsibility on you. However, don’t waste this opportunity. In addition to being prepared for your role in an interview, be ready to manage the flow of the interview and guide the interviewer through the process and make it a success.