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Handling Distracted Negative Interviewers

Negative InterviewerHave you ever been on an interview and the interviewer was looking at their computer screen more than at you? Or what about negative interviewers who woke up on the wrong side of the bed that morning?

That’s not something you can control.  It’s just bad luck.  Or is it?

Why It Happens

First, understand that this person was hired to do a job, and interviewing you is taking them away from getting that job done. If they have strong deadline pressure on them, they might try to multitask and/or be in a bad mood. Pressure makes some people irritable.

It’s also possible that the interviewer is testing to see how you handle a tough customer. If someone starts complaining, will you agree and start complaining with them or will you suggest more positive alternatives? Will their bad mood put you in a foul mood too, or will you be the person who was able to turn the day around for them?

I know someone who very purposefully will not allow himself to smile during an interview, ever, regardless of his social responsibility to be polite and appropriate. He is a very nice person and great guy to work for, but it’s an interviewing style he learned somewhere. He feels it creates more pressure and gives him a good gauge of how candidates react under pressure.

As a side note, I often talk about how candidates need to focus on displaying likable traits because employers will hire the person they LIKE the best, not necessarily the most qualified person. If you are a hiring manager who uses a technique similar to the one described here, please keep in mind the candidates (whom you need) are evaluating the people they would be working with as well, and they need to like you back! Just food for thought.

I’ve found the best way to handle this is to use your prepared Personal Questions. For every interview, you should have 4 groups of questions prepared to ask: Ask Questions

  • Need to Know Questions (ask about the job itself)
  • Research Questions (ask about information you discovered while researching the company)
  • Culture Questions (about the company environment)
  • Personal Questions (about the interviewer)


When you have questions prepared from each category, even though you won’t use them all, you’ll always be ready to go in whatever direction the interviewer takes the conversation, with intelligent questions appropriate to the discussion.

It’s a well-known fact, likely taught in every sales training class available, that everyone’s favorite subject is themselves. When you look at a photograph, who’s face do you look for first? Yours! The sound of your own name is said to be the sweetest sound to your own ear.

When someone is distracted, or in a bad mood, the way to get them involved in the interview again, and enjoying the conversation, is to get them talking about themselves.

“I noticed from your LinkedIn profile that you’ve been here for 5 years, longer than most people stay anywhere these days which is encouraging to me, what do you like best about it here?”

“My commute here was much better than I thought, how about you, do you have a decent commute to get here?”

If you know they have annual or quarterly company outings, ask about them and how that person likes them. Or if you see they have a new product or they support a cause, ask if they are involved in that part of the business.

They key with any of these personal questions is that once they mention something about themselves, continue that conversation by asking more about it!

They say, “Yes we do have a company picnic where everyone gets together at a park and can bring their families.”

You respond, “That sounds great! Not many companies do that, how does your family like it?” or “Sounds fun, does everyone get to bring a dish? I love to cook, how about you?”

Once you get them talking about themselves, they will be fully engaged in the conversation in a positive way. THEN you can transition the conversation back to what you’re there for and from that point on they will have a much better attitude, they’ll be more engaged, and that will ultimately have a positive affect on their opinion of you after you leave.

Try This:Checklist

Before you move on to another blog article, open a blank doc, and write down 5 or 6 personal questions that would be comfortable for you to ask an employer in an interview. Memorize them, practice them, and you’ll be surprised when you have to use them how well they work!

Distracted, negative interviewers don’t have to spell doom for your chances of landing that job. If you’re prepared, the job is still yours for the taking.

Preparation beats luck every time.