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10 Signs of a Bad Interviewer

Ever felt disrespected, ignored, or insulted during the interviewing process? Maybe it's not you, but them. Here are some signs of a bad interviewer (and what to do if you come across one).
10 Signs of a Bad Interviewer

Every once in a while, you’ll come across a bad interviewer. Don’t get me wrong, a vas majority of hiring managers and HR professionals I know are respectful and capable.

But bad interviewers are out there, so I put together a list of signs of a bad interviewer so that you can be prepared and respond appropriately.

Note: These are in chronological order based on the timeline of the interview process.

  1. They don’t respond to resumes and job applications
  2. They keep you hanging on
  3. They ask silly or inappropriate questions
  4. They get aggressive
  5. They multitask while interviewing you
  6. They talk too much
  7. They give you zero feedback
  8. They lead you on
  9. They’re too picky
  10. They don’t get back to you after the interview

Now let’s analyze these in a bit more detail.

1. They Don’t Respond to Resume and Job Applications

This habit is understandable, though still infuriating for job seekers. In the current job market, it is impossible for hiring companies to respond to every application. There are just too many to sift through, especially for positions posted publicly. Meanwhile, many applicants don’t take the time to read the job description, customize their cover letter, or even run a spell-check. This is why some hiring managers and HR people get cranky and act out.

From the candidate’s perspective, it’s incredibly frustrating to apply for a job that’s a perfect match and never hear back. In fact, your resume may never be reviewed by a human due to the company’s filtering process or just plain bad timing (they already hired someone or put the position on hold).

Did they see your impressive resume? Should you apply again or try to reach out directly to someone at the company? Is the job even still open? Was it ever?

2. They Keep You Hanging On

The interviewer has the power in this relationship and some interviewers abuse it. Evil Interviewer is horrified if a candidate shows up late, even with a good reason (seriously, though, don’t be late and give them a justification to be more cranky). However, Evil Interviewer thinks nothing of keeping you waiting. I’ve heard about candidates waiting for more than an hour with no explanation or a sincere apology.

All of that waiting can affect your performance, especially if you tend to get nervous before an interview. You sit there on the edge of your seat, wondering when and if the interview will begin, fidgeting and perspiring as your suit wilts and your confidence fades. Then, when Evil Interviewer shows up, he wonders why you don’t seem fresh and full of enthusiasm.

It doesn’t have to be that way. If you get stuck waiting for a tardy interviewer, use the time to your advantage. Bring along copies of your STAR stories, you company research, and any other notes and review them discreetly. Visit the rest room to freshen up and re-energize if you need to.

3. They Ask Silly or Inappropriate Questions

Be prepared to answer your share of silly questions during the job interview process. Trust me, sometimes these seemingly silly questions are asked for a good reason – for example, nobody really knows where they will be in five years, but hiring managers ask the question to try to get a sense of your long-term career goals.

Usually, however, silly questions are asked because the interviewer is untrained, inexperienced, or just plain lazy. The questions may be overly confrontational or just boring and/or irrelevant. In any case, it will be up to you to turn stupid questions into an engaging dialogue. Answer with enthusiasm and avoid rolling your eyes.

4. They Get Aggressive

Some interviewers pride themselves on being tough. I respect an interviewer that asks challenging but fair questions to see how a candidate responds under pressure. However, some “tough” interviewers use insults, confrontation, and other aggressive techniques to try to rattle candidates. This isn’t productive.

Do your best to keep your cool. Sometimes you have to get past a few ruffians before landing a job offer. If the behavior crosses the line into verbally abusive or illegal, you don’t have to stick around and put up with it.

5. They Multitask While Interviewing You

One of the tell-tale signs of a bad interviewer is when they can’t spend 20 minutes focusing solely on the likes of you. Oh no, she must check her email, take phone calls, eat lunch, yell insults at passing coworkers, etc.  This behavior can really throw you off your interview game because it’s difficult to establish a connection with someone who won’t even listen to you.

Do what you can to get your interviewer’s full attention. If the interviewer seems to be in the midst of a legitimate emergency, offer to reschedule for another day/time. Yes, it sucks to have to reschedule, but it’s better to have your interviewer’s full attention and you can win points for being considerate and flexible.

If there is no real emergency, it’s likely that the bad interviewer is just self-absorbed and/or easily distracted. You can try asking her questions about herself: How did you get into the business? What do you like best about working for this company? What’s your take on Industry Trend X? This can sometimes pull her attention back from her email or tuna sandwich and get the interview back on track.

6. They Talk Too Much

Some hiring managers seem to misunderstand the purpose of a job interview (you know, learning about the candidate and whether they are a good fit for the position) and babble on and on about the company and the job, giving the candidate few openings to speak.

If you hate interviewing, this may sound like a dream come true. You can sit back and nod and let him talk. Unfortunately, this can lead to rejection because you’re “not memorable enough” or the interviewer thinks you don’t have some skill that you actually possess but didn’t get an opportunity to discuss. Yes, they should have read your resume but he was too busy blathering to some unlucky coworker. Besides, who has time to read resumes and retain facts about applicants when there are so many awesome stories to tell?

If you find yourself interviewing with a chatterbox, make a concerted effort to join the conversation. Avoid rude interruptions, but look for openings to talk about your strongest qualifications for the job. If all else fails, wait for the end of the interview and “Do you have any questions for me?” Here you can politely ask a question like: Can I tell you more about my work at Company X? I think it’s very relevant to this position.

7. They Give You Zero Feedback

Trained interviewers try not to provide too much feedback – positive or negative – during the interview itself. Some interviewers take it way too far and adopt a poker face for the entire interview. You won’t get a nod, smile, or laugh out of this guy. Occasionally, he may pause to scrawl a note or two, though it’s impossible to tell if he is writing “Great fit!” or “Pompous jerk!”

This can understandably mess with your head during the interview. Do what you can to get Mr. Excitement to crack a smile. But if he refuses to engage, press on and pretend you’re dealing with a real, animated human. Avoid the temptation to second guess every answer and/or rattle on to fill the silences.

And don’t assume the worst. I’ve heard stories about nightmare interviews with poker faces that led to job offers. Some people just don’t show a lot of emotion even when they like you.

8. They Lead You On

Interviewing is a process. There’s no guarantee that a fantastic first interview will lead to a job offer.  After all, there may be other, equally fantastic candidates up for the same position. Remember not to assume you’re hired until you’ve got a signed offer letter.

That being said, there are some organizations that cruelly and unnecessarily lead candidates on when there is little or no chance of getting hired. Why would a company do this? The most common reason is that they already have a candidate (often internal) in mind but feel they still have to conduct an official search and “consider” other applicants. In other cases, a decision is all but made early in the process, but they still want to send three finalists through to meet with all stakeholders before making an offer.

This can be heartbreaking. You get your hopes up as you keep advancing from round to round. They may even fly you to another city to meet with people. Everything goes well, you make it through the sixth round and interview with a senior manager. Then, it’s suddenly all over and you’re left with a vague statement like “We went in a different direction.” (Or maybe you never hear anything at all — see Habit #10).

You can’t do much to avoid this scenario. You have to treat every interview as an opportunity to impress and get hired. If you get burned by an interviewer leading you on and dumping you without explanation, try not to let it destroy your confidence. Focus on what you have control over interviewing like a rock star.

9. They’re Too Picky

I think this is the #1 most infuriating sign of a bad interviewer. It’s a buyer’s market right now. For every job opening (even crappy ones), it seems there are hundreds of applications (many of them from people who are actually qualified).

After meeting with a few awesome candidates, the hiring manager starts to get over-confident. If these great people are available, maybe I could find someone even better…and for less money.

Soon enough, nobody is good enough for this hiring manager. She is determined to find the magical unicorn candidate who has tons of experience doing exactly that job (but is not overqualified), possesses every skill on a long list of obscure capabilities, is ambitious (but not threatening), brilliant (but still not threatening), confident (but willing to work for cheap), and fun to hang out with during happy hour (but prefers to work until midnight even on weekends).

If there is no pressing deadline to hire, this search can go on forever.  Instead of hiring someone great with most of the requirements and training them, Evil Interviewer would rather hold out for the unicorn.

You may be able to cut through unrealistic expectations with a great interview. Make sure you thoroughly analyze the job description as it relates to your background. Is there anything that could be perceived as a gap or weakness on your part? Be prepared to address this and explain why it’s not an issue and why your amazing strengths more than make up for it.

10. They Don’t Get Back to You After the Interview

The interview went well and you were told you’d hear back by Friday. Then Friday comes and nothing happens. You send a brief email asking politely if there have been any new developments. No response. A week later, you follow up again. Once again, crickets. After a month, you realize that you are probably never going to get a reply.

This little scenario is frustrating after a good first interview. It is infuriating after multiple rounds, personality tests, and promises.

The blatant disregard adds insult to the injury of the rejection. Most applicants would be happy with a short email explaining that they were not selected. And to be fair, many HR professionals and hiring managers DO let candidates know, especially after multiple interviews.

Some don’t bother. Look, I know that hiring managers are busy. I understand being too busy to reply to every resume and application. However, when candidates have invested time and energy in a long interview process, it seems like only good manners to take a minute to respond to a follow-up email. To be fair, sometimes the issue is that the candidate’s contact doesn’t KNOW what the status is and can’t respond.

All you can do is manage your expectations and try not to take blow-offs personally. Even in the best of situations, don’t anticipate more than a quick email status update (“The position has been filled. We will keep your information on file.”) Don’t expect to get detailed feedback or an explanation of why the decision was made. Most companies don’t allow employees to provide that information. It’s up to you to figure out what you did wrong in the interview (if anything) and make a better impression next time.

Pamela Skillings
Pamela is the co-founder of BigInterview and an expert interview coach on a mission to help job seekers get their dream jobs. As an HR authority, she also provides consulting services to companies wishing to streamline their hiring process.

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