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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

May 22, 2016

During my job interview, the hiring manager talked the entire time and I could not get in a word. I was then dinged for a lame reason. How do I avoid this if it happens again?

Julie Q. Brush

Ahh…the ‘ol Hijacked Interview. Just to put your mind at ease (or maybe not), this interview dynamic happens more often than you think. And it’s one of the most confusing and frustrating situations a candidate can experience. Candidates don’t give it much thought when it happens, but can be moved promptly to the next round. But if you are rejected after this experience, you feel like you have just been sucker-punched.

Before I move to solutions, let’s talk about the Interviewer first. Why? Because understanding the mindset of this person matters if you want to learn to master this situation. What motivates this person to excessive chatter? A few reasons why an Interviewer (usually unintentionally) hijacks a conversation:

  1. S/he is nervous or uncomfortable. When people are nervous or uncomfortable with pauses in conversation, they talk…and talk…and talk.
  2. S/he is unprepared for your interview. When people are unprepared, they tend to “wing it” because they think they can and still be effective. But this hardly ever the case. The Interviewer tends to weave from topic to topic – and before you know it, the interview is over.
  3. Lack of interest. If the Interviewer doesn’t have much at stake, prefers another candidate, has other things on his/her mind or isn’t 100% supportive of the hire, he/she will talk to chew up time in order to get on with his/her day.
  4. S/he thinks you are uninteresting. If you are not engaging, the Interviewer would rather control the conversation about what s/he thinks is interesting to stay engaged.

Now that you know the Why, let’s focus on the How of mitigating this dynamic in the future. The first step is to be prepared. Not with your company knowledge or your snappy interview attire or your paper and a pen, but with the essential points about what makes you a rock star. It doesn’t have to be a laundry list, but your points should be crystal clear with engaging, illustrative stories. Being prepared will allow you to execute on the following strategies with confidence:

The Preemptive Strike:

This strategy calls for you to take control of the conversation from the very beginning. Meaning, you proactively make the first meaningful comment to start the interview on a strong foot. Example: Interviewer: “Hi Julie, thank you for coming in today”. Interviewee (Julie) “Thank you Matt, I really appreciate your time. I’ve been looking forward to meeting you and learning more about this opportunity. It looks like there are some great changes going on at Company A which I’ve seen a lot myself in my own company.” Good eye contact, big smile, confidence, enthusiasm. Boom!

The Nuanced Interruption:

This is a skill that everyone needs to master. It is particularly critical when dealing with a hijacked interview. And it’s not for the faint-hearted. When the Interviewer touches on a topic that you see as an opening, you jump in-with both elbows. If there is no pause, you will simply have to talk over the end of the Interviewers sentence to grab some airtime. This is where art and skill come together. It needs to be part of the give and take of the conversation – subtle and natural. FYI: Interviewers who are usually “talkers” are used to being interrupted as part of a conversation norm. So in some ways, they may be expecting this to be part of your conversation.

If you’re not feeling confident about your ability to execute on one or both of these strategies, my recommendation is that you practice. And keep practicing until you are perfect. Granted, you still may not be asked to the next round, but at least you will know that you have done everything to control what you can. And that’s really all you can ask of yourself.

The Hijacked Interview can be a curveball if you are not ready for it. But now that you are…you will be prepared for even the Chattiest Cathy.

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