How to handle techniques designed to throw you off guard
It’s a trend I’ve been noticing more in the job-hunting scene: The use of interrogation tactics – the kind of questions that throw you off guard and can end up making you look like a blubbering fool, if you’re not careful. Ironically, it’s not the strategic or even tactical questions that can do you in. Even if you have researched the company properly, prepared diligently for your interview and pulled out all the professional etiquette stops, you can still get stumped.
Interrogation tactics lean toward soliciting personal information about you. While this doesn’t sound politically correct, it’s an employer’s market, and it does happen. Earlier this year, it happened to me. I was sitting in an interviewer’s office, demonstrating my exemplary skills for the job at hand, when suddenly he stopped and asked me: “What kind of books do you like?” Not even, what book are you reading now? No, he wanted to know the genre. I replied that I liked historical fiction, such as the book I was reading at the time,The Birth of Venus.
The interviewer didn’t stop there. “What’s your favorite period?” he demanded to know. Visions of the Italian Renaissance danced through my head, so I said, “I like the 15th century.” Who was I kidding? Although I enjoy female-heroine novels, I was trying to come off sounding smart, and it backfired. Thankfully, the interviewer stopped there, but I never heard back from him and didn’t get the job.
J.D. Rucker, who blogs about careers for Negotiations.com, says that interrogation tactics are part of the brave new world for job seekers, and he calls it Interview 2.0. “There is no such thing as small talk in a job interview,” he said. So if you left the interview feeling like it was more of a casual conversation between you and the hiring manager, then you’ve likely just been spoon-fed an Interview 2.0. Rucker says it is OK to get personal on an interview, a belief that I find shocking in an era of broadening discrimination laws. But he thinks that there are many ways around these rules, particularly if employers can get the job seeker to let down his or her guard.
Job seekers, heed these words. Do not let the conversation be steered into a personal direction, lest you end up painting a picture of yourself that isn’t true and doesn’t belong in the nature of a job interview. You’re there to show off your skills – not your knowledge of sports and pop culture – and in my experience, that’s what will get you hired again and again.
But if you do fall prey to an interviewer who wants to practice these interrogation techniques on you, here’s what you can do.
First, be prepared. The interviewer will listen for clues in order to cull enough information to put together a personal question, so keep a mental track of what you’re divulging.
Second, have a list of prepared answers to general personal questions that a hiring manager might ask in a typical Interview 2.0: What’s your favorite blog? What’s your favorite book?
Third, take a 360-degree view of the answers to the above questions, in order to be able to provide context around your answers in case you’re asked to expand. For instance, if you say “Huffingtonpost.com” is your favorite blog, you should also know why, as well as what other blogs you enjoy.
Fourth, keep it real. It’s really easy to back yourself into a corner and say, flaunt your expansive knowledge of biblical symbols in Greco-Roman art. But beware; the hiring manager can quickly pull you back down to earth and question your deep knowledge about the job. Not only could you be caught off guard, but you’d also look silly if you didn’t happen to be an expert on the marketing database he’s now asking you about.
So stay focused, stay calm and a word to the wise: Do peruse your bookshelf and a few blogs before you head for your next interview.