Have you ever gone to an interview and gotten the feeling that an interviewer was dismissing you before you even started talking? It can feel frustrating and make you wonder why you bothered coming in, but there are several steps you can take to help salvage the interview.
1) Take a moment to regroup. Sometimes if an interviewer seems disinterested or preoccupied, it can be easy to just keep talking, prattling on about why you would be a good fit. But to someone who’s not listening to you that can have the same effect as the adults in the old Charlie Brown TV shows. (Wah, wah wah wah wah). A better strategy is to finish your thought and then sit quietly and wait for the interviewer to acknowledge you. Perhaps they truly were just caught in another mental conversation or had been reviewing their to-do list and just needed to refocus.
2) Ask a question. If the interviewer seems to be tuning you out as you talk, ask them a question that will help get them engaged in the conversation. It can be about what skills they think the ideal candidate should have — which will give you a clue where to focus the rest of your answers — about a typical day, about their career path — anything that will help get them involved.
3) Ask them what about your resume intrigued them. If they truly seem uninterested, it might be eye opening to ask them why they invited you in to talk at all. The answer they give you might offer clues as to how to better focus your answers. For example, if they say that they are interviewing all internal candidates, you can see that company loyalty is important to them and play that up in your answers. For example, you could say you’ve been looking for a new challenge in the company because you admire its work, have enjoyed your current role and want to be a long-term employee. If they mention a particular skill or expertise you have, focus on that in remaining answers, but also use it as a bridge to discuss other pertinent experience you have.
4) Ask them what they believe to be the most important qualities in the job. Maybe they are looking for someone with sales skills, even if it’s a customer service position. Or, maybe they want someone with management expertise even if you thought it was an accounting job. Determining what they are hoping to find — whether it’s soft skills like someone who’s a good leader, or hard skills, like someone who is skilled in a variety of different computer programs — will again show you where to focus your answers. If they mention a skill that you don’t have a lot of experience in, talk about what experience you do have in that area, and then mention how interested you are in learning more about it, emphasizing that you are a quick learner. If possible, share an anecdote about how you quickly came up to speed on a crucial skill in a past role. For example, if they want you to learn a new accounting program, mention how in a previous job you mastered a similar computer language in no time.
5) Mention that you sense a hesitation and ask what it is. This is a bold measure, of course, but if you truly sense that they are dismissing you without even giving you a fair chance, you really have nothing to lose! You don’t want to put them on the spot, but see if you can phrase it in a way that truly sounds as though you are seeking input. If they give you an answer — i.e. they were hoping for someone with seven years of experience and you only have five, talk to them about how rapidly you accelerated in your old position to highlight what a quick learner you are, and that you believe that five years of stellar experience is better than seven years of so-so experience even if that’s one of their perceived criteria. If they seem taken aback by the question, take a few minutes to back pedal if you can, saying something like “I just want to be sure I am addressing your concerns as I think I would be a great fit,” and, again, reiterate what your applicable skills are.
6) Realize that it might not be you. Sometimes interviewers are conducting interviews when they already have a candidate in mind, when they feel obligated to interview everyone internally, or when they are interviewing you as a courtesy to your manager or someone else in your network. It’s a waste of everyone’s time, of course, but if they have to show that they met a certain number of candidates, they might just be going through the motions. Of course, you want to make sure that you shine, because who knows what might happen if they realize you are the perfect fit, but don’t take it personally.
7) Send a follow-up note. If you end the interview with an “off” feeling — maybe they took a phone call that distracted them or you forgot or got caught off guard and didn’t supply enough detail on a certain question they asked — take the opportunity of the post-interview thank-you note to cover the high points of your qualifications. You might even acknowledge that you didn’t feel the interview went as well as it could have, and mention the skills you have that dovetail with their needs and reiterate your interest in the position. Receiving a very professional thank you note that mentions the qualities that make you a great fit can help prompt the interviewers to rethink their decision.
8) Keep in touch. If you don’t receive any feedback after the interview, it can be easy to assume that it just went badly, but that’s not necessarily the case. Maybe the interviewer truly was distracted, or the parameters of the position have changed, or their first choice of candidate wasn’t interested. Staying in touch with polite persistence (never pestiness!) can help keep your name top of mind and also show your interviewer that you have the tenacity that they are looking for.
Finishing an interview feeling as though you didn’t pique the interviewer’s interest – particularly when you know you would be an excellent fit — can be very frustrating. It’s worth the effort to go the extra mile and do everything you can to salvage the meeting!
by Cathie Ericson