10 things you should know about your job interviewer

People are often so focused on their own performance in an job interview that they don’t stop to think about what’s going on with their interviewer … but understanding where your interviewer is coming from can help you do a better job and have a less confusing, frustrating, or anxiety-producing experience.

Here are 10 things that you might not realize about your job interviewer.

1. We want to find the best person for the job. Because interviews are stressful, it’s easy for a job candidate to start feeling like the interviewer is an adversary, but it’s really the opposite – interviewers go into every interview hoping you’ll be the right candidate. After all, we have a vacancy on our team, and we’re highly motivated to find someone who’s a great fit to fill it. We don’t want to put you in a job you won’t excel in.

2. We’re busy. Interviewers don’t always have time to respond to follow-up emails or calls to check the status of your application. Considerate interviewers will eventually get back to anyone who invested time in interviewing, but those contacts in between to “check in”? Time constraints and higher priorities mean that they might go unanswered. You shouldn’t take it personally.

3. We might have our hands tied by HR. If you’ve ever encountered an interview who doesn’t deviate from a set list of questions, or who won’t give you any feedback, or who refuses to commit to a timeline for next steps, the problem might be HR. In some companies, HR issues unreasonable rules that restrict how candid hiring managers can be.

4. We’re afraid of making the wrong hire. The costs of hiring the wrong person are high – work not being done properly, disruption to our team, potentially months of counseling and warnings, and the awfulness of having to fire someone. We’re scrutinizing you to make sure that hiring you won’t be a mistake.

5. We want to hire someone we get along with. Hiring isn’t just about who has the best skills to do the job; it’s also about who will fit in best with the workplace. Interviewers think about the fact that we’re going to be around whoever we hire quite a bit, and no matter how skilled you are, we’re not going to want to hire you if you’re arrogant or whiny or otherwise unpleasant.

6. We’re trying to figure out what you’ll be like to manage. Smart hiring manager probe for insights into what you’ll be like to manage: Will you require detailed reasoning for every little request or just get it done? Will you be a yes-man who never reveals what you really think, or a straight shooter we can count on for the truth? Will you require hand-holding, sulk when you get feedback, or complain about petty problems with your coworkers? We’re on the look-out for signs of all of this.

7. We want you to help us figure out why we should hire you. Interviewing people is hard work. It’s even hard if you have to drag answers and relevant information out of a candidate. You can help us see that you’re right for the job by coming prepared with real-life examples of

8. We won’t always tell you what we really think. We might nod encouragingly while you badmouth your last boss, but we’re really noting that you’re willing to trash talk your employers. Or you might give an answer that’s an instant deal-breaker, but you probably won’t hear that on the spot – or even be able to tell. Part of interviewing is encouraging people to reveal themselves, which often means not showing any judgment during the meeting.

9. We’re wondering what you’re not telling us. We know candidates aren’t always completely candid in interviews, and we’re wondering what you are revealing. Is it something minor, like the fact that you really left your last job because your boss was a tyrant, or it major, like the embezzling charge you narrowly avoided last year?

10. We hate rejecting people. In fact, some interviewers hate it so much that they don’t do it, which is rude and unfair to candidates. But the rest of us do it, knowing all the while that you might have really wanted this job, even have been counting on it, and we hate it. We do know that our decisions have big impacts on other people’s lives.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 9 comments… read them below }

  1. AG*

    One thing that would be nice is to find videos of successful interviews, where the candidate in question actually got the job. Maybe even a comparison to an interview with a candidate with similar qualifications who didn’t get the job.

    1. A Bug!*

      That’s a pretty solid idea, but the logistics of such a thing are making my brain melt.

      I’m getting flashbacks to university psychology! You can’t record subjects without their informed consent, but by alerting your subjects to the fact that they’re being recorded, you are 1) changing their behavior, making it less relevant to the topic of study and 2) causing your pool of subjects to self-select, possibly altering your demographic.

    2. Joey*

      I think what helps the most is being in the role of the interviewer. Not necessarily in a traditional manager role( although that helps), but if you ever hire a babysitter, nanny, contractor to do repairs, etc. or make a large purchase like a home/ car it’s amazing how much it can help you if you structure like a job interview. You’ll find that you will start looking for the same sorts of things that employers look for.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        YES. This is huge. Also, read materials aimed at interviewers (books, blog posts about how to interview candidates, etc.); you’ll get a much better understanding of what they’re looking for.

  2. Jamie*

    I love numbered lists.

    #5 is so important – the idea is to rule out the people who will be the human equivalent of nails on a chalkboard 45 hours a week for the rest of your time there. No one is looking for a BFF so you don’t have to try too hard.

    That sweet moment when you know your new co-worker is cool on a personal level takes more time:

    1. When you get that she has a sense of humor
    2. When you notice she is deliberately not rolling her eyes at the same people at whom you are deliberately not rolling your eyes
    3. When you feel safe in enlisting her into your secret cabal that hides the menu from the horrible restaurant and takes her turn taking the battery out of the singing snowman which makes you want to kill yourself the whole month of December.
    4. When you realize she doesn’t have to be told to put more Diet Coke in the fridge when she’s taken the last one.
    5. When she becomes your source of information for all the funny and interesting stuff that happens when you’re busy…

    Yeah, that takes time and doesn’t come along every day. Happily settle for not terribly annoying in an interview is a good place to start.

    1. Tater B.*

      Did we work together? Your list is so much my work personality I feel like I wrote it myself. However, I’ve been on the fence lately about mentioning my sense of humor in interviews. Not everyone gets my dry wit (think Niles and Frasier Crane). LOL

      1. Jamie*

        Ha – I don’t think so, but if you fit the list I’d certainly love to. Can always use more coworkers like that.

  3. Lily*

    A big part of the problem transitioning from worker to manager was completely revising my standards when it came to judging people!

    I used to judge the ability to chit chat and pass the time of day. Now, I wonder when the candidate will get to the point. So, 5 is a lot less important and 6 is very important, compared to when I was just a worker and took other people’s complaints about their horrible bosses a lot more seriously than I do now.

    8 and 9 are becoming more and more true for me and I am not yet comfortable with them. I always thought of myself as sincere, open and honest and I hate suspecting others of concealment and lying and making promises they can’t keep, but I’ve been conned too often :-(

  4. Lily*

    Sorry, “conned” is too strong a word. I don’t actually know if others have intentionally concealed information or lied to me. Sometimes, people fool themselves into believing they can deliver when they can’t. Or they don’t recognize their own incompetence. Or they need the perfect manager (and I definitely don’t fit the bill) So, they can be honest, and I still end up with a headache trying to get them to deliver.

Comments are closed.