Job Hunt

Know Your Interviewer

Most interviewers fall into one of these five categories, explains Korn Ferry CEO Gary Burnison.

Job interviews are like merging into traffic: You try to judge the pace of it, but how fast or slow you proceed really isn’t up to you. It’s all determined by everyone else on the road.

Interviews are exactly the same. This may come as a surprise, but the interview isn’t about you; it’s about connecting with your interviewers. No matter how much you prepare, you must adjust your content and tempo set by the person who’s asking you the questions. You may be talking with someone who is stilted and formal, or someone who is so relaxed that he puts his legs up on his desk. (I’m not suggesting you do the same, by the way.) Thus, you must go with the flow.

The wild card of interviewing is always the interviewer.

Of course, you can—and should—do your due diligence on your interviewer to detect any commonalities: where he or she went to college, if you both previously worked for the same companies, or if you know mutual acquaintances. Even if all of your research pans out, and you’ve rehearsed your stories and examples, you still have to be nimble. One of the biggest mistakes people make in interviews is coming off as scripted, instead of really listening to what the person is asking or saying. The wild card of interviewing is always the interviewer.

That said, most interviewers fall into five categories based on their style and approach. You’ll find these types at every level and in every industry and company.

The General

This interviewer takes a no-nonsense approach. The General will probably sit across from you, keeping something—a table, a desk—between the two of you. That puts the General automatically in a power position, which may feel challenging to you. Direct and somewhat impersonal, the General is more interested in what you bring to the job than your personality. The General is likely to be an intimidating interviewer, asking concise questions and expecting concise answers.

Although small talk is a challenge with the General, look around his or her office for possible connections to discuss, such as a photograph or a piece of art. And don’t forget to ask the General questions. Despite the General’s intimidation abilities, this is a conversation and not an interrogation.

The Talk Show Host

The name of the game for this interviewer is to make sure people like each other. The Talk Show Host will greet you warmly and spend a lot of time on chitchat. The Talk Show Host will probably sit next to you, which may be disarming—and that’s the whole point. You’re more likely to let your guard down when you’re sitting beside your interviewer instead of in front of him or her.

The Talk Show Host is less concerned with the details of your experience and more focused on how well you would fit into the company’s culture. The interviewer will probably speak in “we” terms to emphasize commitment to the company. Respond the same way to showcase your people skills.

The Scientist

This analytical interviewer wants to know how you intend to contribute and is less interested in what you’re doing now or have done in the past. The Scientist appreciates lengthy, detailed responses and will probably be frustrated by short answers that lack specifics.

The Scientist is more personable than the General, but more direct than the Talk Show Host. He or she is an effective decision maker who makes an assessment from many facts. Therefore, he or she will respond best to specific examples. The Scientist is all about what results you could deliver for the company.

The Bumbler

Consider this the disorganized, rambling interviewer. The best way to handle your incompetent interviewer is to take charge and provide structure to the conversation. Volunteer information and direct questions as best you can. This way, you can help the Bumbler ascertain the necessary information about you and your skill set. Consider yourself the host of the conversation, instead of the guest.

The Clueless

This interviewer admits right away that he or she hasn’t read your resume. Nor does the Clueless even know what position you’re interviewing for. When you hear this, your heart may sink. But the Clueless isn’t doing anything different from the other interviewers. Rather, he or she is just more transparent about it. (Remember, hiring managers often spend only seconds in their initial screenings of resumes.)

For this reason alone, don’t dismiss the Clueless and try not to get frustrated. Just go with it and seek to make a connection to establish a relaxed conversation. With this approach, you’ll likely distinguish yourself by how you made the interviewer feel. Remember, it’s not about you, but about the connection.

Adapted from Gary Burnison’s book, Lose the Resume, Land the Job.

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