November 6, 2012 > Counseling Corner: Weird Interviews and How to Handle Them
Counseling Corner: Weird Interviews and How to Handle Them
By Anne Chan, PhD, MFT
Halloween is safely behind us, but weird, strange, and even spooky things can happen when we least expect it. Today's column will focus on weird interview situations and how to handle them. I have had my share of weird interview experiences including:
* Being asked to interview for a completely different job than the one I had applied for.
* The interviewer taking a ten minute phone call during the interview during which she evaluated the person who had just interviewed before me (this one was so crazy that I actually looked around for some kind of Candid Camera crew to jump out at me).
* Being asked to wait for over two hours (in the waiting room) for the head of the company to show up.
* My future employer telling me that she threw pencils at her employees when they make mistakes. She proceeded to demonstrate her pencil throwing abilities.
Anyone who has had some interviewing experience could probably add to the colorful list above. Over the years, my clients have told me so many stories of their strange and uncomfortable interviews that nothing surprises me anymore. In fact, I've heard so many bizarre stories that I warn my clients to be prepared for anything to happen during an interview and to maintain their composure no matter what happens.
There are different reasons why a weird moment might occur during an interview:
* The interviewer is inexperienced and does not know how to conduct a proper interview. Employers are often not trained or skilled in conducting interviews. In certain cases, they may be just as nervous as you are, and this may lead to awkward moments during an interview.
* Employers might not be aware that it is actually illegal to ask certain questions, such as asking how old you are, or how many children you have, or your country of origin.
* The interview might be deliberately set up to be discomfiting. Some companies take pride in asking offbeat questions that don't seem to have anything to do with the job. Their interview protocol is to assess the candidate's fit with the company by asking unconventional questions that they believe will show the candidate's creativity or ability.
* The interviewer might be having an off day - perhaps he is sick or she has had too many things going on at work.
* The interviewer might simply be someone who is, shall we say, different. People who do not march to the beat of the same drum might appear odd or strange.
A single weird moment during an interview can be unsettling and can rattle your confidence. Trying and difficult as it is, I'd still advise candidates to maintain their calm, act professionally, and to put on their best interview behavior possible. Even if you are sure you do not want the job, it is best to leave a good impression and keep opportunities open for yourself. You never know when an employee from one company might move to another company that you are interested in working for.
Here are some ideas and strategies to help you be your best self, even when a strange interview moment creeps up on you:
* If you are asked a weird interview question, take a deep breath before reacting and remind yourself that your task is to leave a good impression and to have the best interview possible. You could even tell the interviewer, "This is a good question. Let me think about it for a few moments" while you pause to gather your thoughts.
* Try to figure out why the interviewer is acting strangely (see reasons above) and respond appropriately. For instance, if you know that a company is famous for its tricky questions, then stave off your anxiety by reminding yourself that this is part of the company culture. Tell yourself that this is not a personal attack, then tackle the question as best you can.
* If you have a sense about any concerns that might be behind the interviewer's questions or behavior, try to respond in a way that assuages those concerns.
* There is no easy way to respond when an interviewer asks an illegal question such as "How old are you?" or "How many kids do you have?" Even if these questions are blatantly illegal, I would not recommend that you give them a stern look and call the cops. Nor do I recommend refusing to answer the question. Let me just say that there is NO easy way out of these questions. This is why it's important to think about all possible interview questions (including the illegal ones) and practice how you would handle them. One strategy is to answer the question as gracefully as you can, while addressing the underlying concern that they might have. A potential employer might be worried that I'm too old and or too young to handle the job. So I might answer the age question in the following way, "I'm definitely old enough to have the experience you need for this job and young enough to handle all of its requirements. As an example of what I'm saying, please know that I've done [provide story to back up what you are saying]. Please be assured that I feel fully capable of doing a great job for you and I look forward contributing X, Y, and Z to the company."
Bad interviews can happen to the best of people. So my last bit of advice is one that I use for myself - if I am going through a horrendous interview, I tell myself that it'll make for a great story during next Thanksgiving's dinner. On that note, I wish all job-seekers many non-weird interviews and I also wish all of you a great Thanksgiving holiday with your loved ones!
Anne Chan is a career counselor and licensed psychotherapist in Union City. She specializes in helping people find happiness in their careers, lives, and relationships. She can be reached at 510-744-1781. Her website is www.annechanconsulting.com
(c) Anne Chan, 2012