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Welcome to Recruiter Q&A, where we pose employment-related questions to the experts and share their answers! Have a question you’d like to ask? Leave it in the comments, and you might just see it in the next installment of Recruiter Q&A!

This Week’s Question: Whether the interviewer is purposely using “stress interview” tactics or is just not a pleasant person to deal with, what should job seekers do when things get hostile in the interview room? Share your best advice for how job seekers can handle a hostile interviewer with dignity and come out on top!


Alyssa1. Try Not to Take It Personally

Often, the interviewer is frustrated or stressed about something not related to you or the interview. It’s just manifesting in their attitude during the interview and, unfortunately, you are the one unintentionally bearing the brunt of their emotions.

Stay calm and focus on answering the questions, putting your best professional foot forward. You should not match the interviewer’s style (which is often recommended), Instead, maintain your composure and professionalism.

Alyssa Gelbard, Resume Strategists, Inc.

Lynda2. Detach Yourself From the Negativity

Sensing hostility from an interviewer adds to an already stressful situation. I coach my clients to practice a form of Zen detachment from the negativity. Envision the nasty attitude floating above and beyond you so that you can focus on conducting yourself professionally and pleasantly. That alone may disarm the interviewer, who may be having a bad day and not realize the attitude they are projecting.

Lynda Spiegel, Rising Star Resumes

Aaron3. Focus on the Questions

Listen to the questions asked of you. Don’t listen to how the questions are asked. The interviewer may be adjusting their tone, volume, cadence, and body language, but the questions should largely stay the same. Filter out as much of this as possible, and focus on calmly and professionally answering the questions as best as you can.

Aaron Straughan, West Coast Careers

Mark4. Keep Your Poise

Poise begins with a pause, which is something you’ll do for a couple seconds after an interviewer has made a hostile comment to you. Then look directly into their eyes with a puzzled expression and say, ‘I’m doing my best to not react to how you just said what you said, because I don’t want to miss the most important and
critical point for me to get. You know, rather than my guessing, would you please tell me what that is?’

Dr. Mark Goulston, The Goulston Group

Barry Maher5. Be Professional — Not Subservient

Unless the interviewer is so hostile that he’s either physically attacking or spitting on you, the best response is always to be polite and composed. Not subservient, but professional. If it does turn out to be a test, you want to pass. Returning hostility is not likely to make that happen — at least, not for any job you actually want to get.

Barry Maher, Barry Maher & Associates

Marilyn6. Find a Way to Regain Control

The element that creates a stress interview is lack of control. The interviewer sets up a situation that makes you feel overwhelmed. A foolproof way to regain control is to ask a question. Maintain a pleasant tone and attitude, and ask a clarifying question. Doing so will not only give you control, but it will also buy a little bit of time for you to regain your composure.

No interviewer has the right to treat an applicant rudely. If you feel that your interviewer is being dismissive or impolite, you need to take immediate control of the situation. Once again, asking a question is the best tactic. You can ask, ‘Is there a better time for us to talk?’ Maybe the interviewer is worried about a project that’s running late or a situation at home. They may not realize their worry is coming across as rudeness. Maybe rescheduling is the best option. At the very least, you’ve made them aware of how they’re coming across in a polite way.

Marilyn Santiesteban, Bush School of Government & Public Service, Texas A&M University

Christine7. Reconsider Whether You Even Want This Position

If a high-stress or hostile interview bothers any individual, they should probably realize that it is indicative of the company culture as a whole. Very likely the overall culture is a high-stress one. If that doesn’t give a candidate a good feeling, the they should seriously consider whether they want the job in the first place.

Christine Santacroce, Recruiter.com

Cameron8. Walk Out

I’d stand up and walk out. If it’s merely a tactic rather than a personality flaw, I think I’d run even faster.

There are plenty of better ways to test for stress and emotional intelligence than to throw human decency out the door. If the interviewer is not aware of these things, the interview itself isn’t going to even touch how miserable you will be if you actually get the job.

Cameron Postelwait, Sewell Direct


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