A woman interviews another woman.

A Guide to Dealing With Difficult Interviewees

Securing an opportunity for an interview is a momentous achievement for both interviewers and interviewees alike. However, the process can become notably stressful and nerve-wracking for both parties. This is because, in essence, both interviewers and interviewees are evaluating each other, endeavoring to discern whether there is a compatible fit.

The stress levels can escalate for hiring managers, particularly when the interviewee proves challenging to engage with for various reasons. Handling a challenging interviewee, though demanding, can be navigated by adhering to straightforward guidelines.

Curious about effective strategies for managing difficult interviewees? Continue reading to discover more.

How Do Traditional Interviews Work?

If you have ever been on an interview then you know that they can be stressful and cause quite a bit of anxiety, especially for the interviewee. This is usually because it can be intimidating to walk into a room or an office and sit at a table or worse just in a chair and answer a barrage of questions.

In most cases, the traditional interview includes scheduling a time that works usually for the employer and is typically squeezed between other interviews or meetings. The interviewee comes into the room or office and introduces themselves and then it is off to the races.

During this type of interview, the hiring manager may begin by telling the interviewee about the company as a whole and leads to what the position entails. Other times, they save this portion until most of the questions are asked.

The interviewee is often asked question after question about their background, how they handle certain types of situations and many others that are designed to let the manager know what type of person they are.

Oftentimes, this type of interview is done by companies and/or managers who were trained in an “older” generation. This does not mean that traditional interviewing styles are outdated, instead, it is just the way it is done in some companies.

For the younger generations, this type of interview can be frustrating and seemingly a waste of time and can often come off that way in the interview. This is when conflict can come into play and create an awkward situation that stems from a generational divide.

A man is being interviewed via a video app.
Non-traditional interviews are becoming more common

What Makes a Good Interview?

As a hiring manager, if you have been doing interviews for a while, can tell when an interview has gone well and when it has not. But, what makes an interview a good one compared to those that are not so great?

Several signs indicate that the interview is going or has gone well. While many of these signs are subjective, they are the most common signs managers look for.

  • Scheduling conflicts are minimal

When the interview is scheduled, there is nothing worse than having to reschedule the meeting time and time again. Most managers realize that people are busy and it is tolerable to have a conflict at least once. 

  • The interviewee shows up on time

They say that first impressions are the most important. This includes the way you are dressed when you show up and if you show up on time or not. A good interview would start when it is scheduled.

  • The flow of the interview is smooth

Since interviews are designed for the manager to get to know the interviewee and how they may fit within the company, there are usually quite a few questions that are asked. A good interview is when the interviewer and interviewee mesh together well and it feels much more like a conversation with a friend than an interview.

Although a good interview depends on the opinion of the manager and others who may be in the interview, most people can agree on these specific signs. This is because it tells them that the interviewee takes pride in what they do and is punctual and reliable.

What Makes a Bad Interview?

Similar to what makes a good interview, certain things indicate an interview is taking a nosedive. This can prove to be even more daunting and frustrating most likely to both parties involved.

An interviewee, in most cases, does not plan to come into an interview and do a terrible job representing themselves. There are likely extenuating circumstances that cause this to happen, at least for most people.

In other instances, a bad interview can be caused by other factors that have nothing to do with circumstances beyond control. Keep in mind that these reasons are also subjective and are dependent on the manager who is interviewing.

  • The interviewee shows up late.

Since first impressions weigh so much, an interviewee that shows up late to the interview sends the message that they do not have much respect for your time. While sometimes there are circumstances that are beyond the control, if the person did not call to let the manager know, it is a sign of a bad interview.

  • The interviewee cannot answer questions

While there are many possible reasons that interviewees struggle with answering the questions asked. Some people are shy or have trouble speaking during an interview, which is understandable, but difficult to overcome.

  • The interviewee is arrogant (not just confident)

There is a specific difference between confidence and arrogance when it comes to an interview situation. When a person is arrogant and somewhat condescending toward the manager, this can make for an awkward situation.

Many managers have a good idea whether the interview will go well or not during the first few minutes of the meeting in most cases. Understanding the signs of a good and bad interview can help interviewers make decisions about who to move forward with in the hiring process.

Types of Interviewees

Most people know and understand that individuals are mostly different from each other and handle various situations differently. Some people handle interviews with grace and determination, and others are basket cases.

Whether you are the interviewer or interviewee, you most likely feel some type of anxiety when it comes to sitting down with another person. It is important, as a manager, to understand whether you are dealing with someone who is shy or if something else is going on.

Here are some various types of interviewees that you may have to deal with as a hiring manager:

  • The Short-Answer Interviewee

This type of interviewee typically starts the interview by giving very brief explanations and answers to your questions. They often do not expand on their answers, and if asked to do so, may sit in silence and then give another brief explanation.

Oftentimes, no matter what you do, it can be difficult to get this type of person to come out of their comfort zone and answer the questions they are asked.

  • The Nervous Talker

In some cases, the interviewee is so nervous that they give more explanation than you need or want. This is a person who shows obvious signs of being nervous such as fidgeting, shaking, and excessive talking.

This type of interviewee is difficult to interview since there is a set amount of time you have for the interview, but they continue to make their answers extremely long.

  • The Defensive Interviewee

This type of interviewee tends to go on the defensive when they are asked to expand on a specific answer they gave. Instead of giving the manager more information, they may begin to make excuses and justify their reasoning instead.

For the manager, this can be frustrating and may lead to even more questions about the same topic, which can take quite a bit of time.

  • The Aggressive Interviewee

Many managers have faced the interviewee that seems so overly anxious to answer questions that they come off as extremely aggressive. They may feel they are being direct and advantageous, however, it can come off a little offputting.

The manager during an interview such as this can feel on edge and may be tempted to lose control. In some cases, the interviewee may seem aggressive because they are attempting to negotiate the role or salary options, but can still come off as aggressive.

While no two interviews or interviewees are the same, these are some of the most common types of difficult interviewees that managers have mentioned. These are the interviews that can result in a manager getting burned out if they have to do them often.

A man talks with his hands while a laptop is open on the desk.
The tactic for dealing with a difficult interviewee will vary depending on how they are being difficult. 

Dealing with Difficult Interviewees

Most people know and understand that part of the job of a manager is to deal with people who may be difficult at times. Many times it can be much more difficult when the person you are dealing with is not an employee, but an interviewee.

There are certain people that managers just do not mesh with well, whether they have a clashing personality or have one of the challenges mentioned above. Whatever the cause, a manager must know how to deal with them nonetheless.

It is important to note that the way you react when someone is being difficult shows more about who you are than the other person. This is because while you cannot change other people and the way they act, you can change yourself.

Check out these tips on dealing with difficult interviewees:

  • The Short-Answer Interviewee
  • Slow the pace of the interview down to allow the interviewee to compile their answer
  • Ask open-ended questions
  • Make them comfortable from the beginning by asking casual questions
  • Give positive feedback on the answers they did well on
  • The Nervous Talker
  • Slow down when asking the questions
  • Keep a calm demeanor
  • Take deliberate deep breaths
  • Get them talking about something they are passionate about
  • The Defensive Interviewee
  • Ask them to expand on a topic less
  • Ask questions in a different way
  • Mix in lighter questions with the heavy hitters
  • Give positive feedback on what they say
  • Show interest as they talk
  • The Aggressive Interviewee
  • Keep your tone calm
  • If they go off-topic, kindly bring them back
  • Answer appropriate questions and defer inappropriate ones
  • Don’t be afraid to say, “We will get into that at a later date.”
  • Ask them probing questions about how they handle difficult situations

It is important to note that during the interview, you have the upper hand as harsh as that sounds. If the interview is not going well, you should not be hard on yourself about it. 

The best thing to do is to get through the interview as best you can and then reflect on the meeting afterward. Many experts recommend that you record your interviews so that you can review them at a later time.

Is It Ever Appropriate to End an Interview Before It Is Finished?

There are some interviews that you conduct that seem like a disaster from the beginning for one reason or another. It is important to understand the reason why it is not going well, while you are still in the meeting.

Whether your interviewee is aggressive or you just cannot get anything out of them, you must handle the situation appropriately. It is easy to get frustrated and lose some of your control, however, controlling your emotions is crucial during times such as these.

Many managers wonder if there is ever an appropriate time to end an interview before it naturally is finished. Experts typically agree that there are times that warrant calling an interview done.

If an interviewee is overly aggressive or threatening in any manner, you have the right to tell them that the conversation is over and you appreciate their time. At this time you can stand and attempt to walk them out of the room.

Other times, the situation may not be as aggressive, but the interviewee may not be answering your questions no matter how hard you try. If you have exhausted the tips from above and the quiet person will still not talk, it may be time to end the conversation.

Are You Ready to Deal With Difficult Interviewees?

Being familiar with the different types of interviewees that you may come across as you are interviewing can help you to know how to handle them. Using this guide will go a long way to ensuring that you are building rapport with your interviewees no matter what their personality type is.

In most cases, managers who also do interviews are the person in the company in charge of employee relations and are often used to handling conflict in the workplace. Using these tips and the other skills learned on the job can help you handle difficult situations with ease.

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