A professor, student, priest, and cop all walk in to an interview room. Okay, by now I’m sure you’re thinking that this is the opening line to the oddest joke ever, but I assure you it’s not. I thought it would help illustrate the fact that as a job seeker you never know how an interviewer will act during your time with them.
Quite reasonably you can ask why the interviewer wouldn’t just be themselves. Interviewing is difficult on both sides of the equation. In as much as you find interviews stressful, the hiring manager and other interview panel members do as well.
It comes down to a matter of training and experience. If you think about it there are more articles and books on how job seekers can prepare for an interview effectively, than there are for employers on how to interview effectively. Sure many companies train their interview teams on how to interview, but if a particular department only hires four times a year, how well do you think that training sticks?
So as a job seeker, you have more training and more recent experience interviewing than many of the interviewers sitting across the table from you. And those folks across the table are mindful of that fact. The hiring manager and members of the interview panel are sensitive about making sure that you will fit into the company’s culture.
When you combine the pressure of making sure a candidate is a fit along with lack of experience in hiring, the company employees involved in the interview process can respond in unpredictable ways. Some will interview based on prior training they may have received, books they have read, or advice they have been given over the years. But most often, I find that employees will interview people as they themselves have been interviewed.
To that end, I have seen several common interview archetypes that I would like to share with you.
This interviewer sees the process as academic. This person will spend much of the time questioning your knowledge and skills. This person may use behavioral interviewing questions (tell me about a time when…) to elicit the information they want. They may also take advantage of a white board and have you stand up and perform a case study. While they may probe to understand whether you are a culture fit within the company, they want to be assured of your technical competence primarily.
For the professor, the interview process is about uncovering the tangible. So be prepared to give specific examples of your accomplishments.
Now there is a distant cousin to this archetype. Let’s call this one the Nutty Professor. While encountering this type of interviewer is rare, it can happen. These types of interviewers ask such things as, “if you could be any color, what it would be and why?” I actually had an interviewer ask me once what my favorite animal was and why. As a job seeker and as an experienced recruiter, for the life of me I couldn’t think of how my answer would be relevant to the role. I suppose it serves to disarm a candidate somewhat and take them off their prepared game plan. Or in a less sinister fashion, perhaps it illustrates that a candidate can deal with the unexpected.
Approach questions of this nature as a way to demonstrate your mental flexibility. Oh and I would recommend not answering it the way I did. I told the interviewer that my favorite animal was a monkey and that it would be fun to throw…umm bananas… at people or things I didn’t like. Okay the last part wasn’t true, but I do like monkeys (come on, who doesn’t like monkeys?).
This is the least experienced of the interviewers. Either through lack of training or being new to the work force, the interviewing style will be very text book. Many will rely on written questions they bring to the interview. Expect them to even read the questions verbatim.
The hard part about being interviewed by the student is that you may not get the eye contact you expect from an in-person interview. The interviewers can be so focused on taking notes in response to your answers, that you won’t get the non-verbal cues that allow you to effectively navigate the conversation.
So as counter-intuitive as this may sound, go slow and use silence. A measured, carefully thought out response gives the interviewer time to record your comments. And a strategic use of silence can help prompt them to look up and re-engage with you.
This type of interviewer is very experienced. This archetype understands that the interview process is stressful and will work hard to put you at ease. They can often come across as informal, maybe even casual.
This person wants to understand whether you would be a culture fit. Many questions will center on comparing environments, like what style of management you work best in or what was the best team you’ve ever been on.
This interviewer can be the most difficult to prepare for, as they are not asking about tangible skills necessarily. Instead they are exploring the soft and fuzzy side of working. What are you like to manage? How are you as a co-worker? How do you respond to stress? What is your communication style?
The best way to interact with this type of interviewer is to share examples of how you handle yourself in the workplace. You need to demonstrate your interpersonal skills. This interviewer will respond best to candidates who can demonstrate their personality and passion for what they do.
The interviewer with this style is often in a technical role. Fundamentally this archetype sees interview questions as a verbal chess game. Questions will be asked that are difficult to answer. It is less about the answer you give and more how you react and respond.
This interviewer wants to quantify how you handle stress. If you can handle the stress of the interview, then you can handle the stress of the role.
If you have this type of interviewer, you need to remember to be thorough in your answers. Think carefully about what you say and more importantly how you say it. Take the time to listen closely to the questions. Stay on point. Stay focused. And be consistent. Don’t be afraid to ask them to repeat the question.
Interpersonal communication is never a one size fits all approach. In the stress of an interview, it is easy to focus only on why and how you’re a fit for the role. Understanding the different interview archetypes will allow you to customize your message to that audience.
Remember, everyone who interviews you listens and learns differently. So by customizing your message you make your candidacy more meaningful to them.
Ultimately the point of the interview is not just to see if you have the right skills and experience, but also how you well you will fit within the group and the company. So learning to recognize the type of interviewer you have will only help your chances of getting an offer.