Once in a while you may be unlucky enough to come up against an interviewer from hell. They may not be very good at interviewing, or they may be all too good at going straight for your weak points.
This is your chance to experience a virtual nightmare interview and pick up some tips for coping with them in the (fortunately rare) event of meeting a similar interviewer in real life:
Choose your interviewer:
- Your A-level results are pretty good- why didn't you choose a better university?
- Why didn't you choose a proper degree - what use is Balkan Studies going to be to us?
- Why did you change course after your first year?
- You say you expect a 2.1 - do you really expect that or is it just wishful thinking?
- Your vacation jobs are all pretty low-level stuff - do you think that's relevant to a major corporation like ours?
- Why haven't you applied to the company where you did your sandwich placement - didn't things go well there?
- You've always lived and studied in small towns - do you think you'll be able to cope with living in London?
- The Rugby Club - isn't that just an excuse for boozing and obscene songs?
- OK, I can see you've read all the right books on interview technique - but what makes you think you can really do the job?
- Most of the staff you'll be dealing with are big, hairy, sexist lorry drivers - how is a young girl like you going to cope with them?
- I'm not sure that you're up to doing this job
Questions like these - and hopefully you'll encounter only one or two at most in the course of a single interview - may reflect an insensitive or badly trained interviewer but may also be included to see how you cope with pressure.
Unless you feel so strongly about this type of questioning that you have decided you want nothing further to do with this employer, it's best to keep your cool, be assertive (see our assertiveness page) but calm and reasonable and don't take the interviewer's attitude personally!
"Can you describe a situation where you have had to explain something in detail to a person or group who knew little about the subject?"
"Yes, I've had to do a lot of that in my Saturday job with a big electrical goods retailer. Customers often don't know very much about the technical details of the products they're interested in - PCs, washing machines, hi-fi systems or whatever - so they rely on you to help them find the right model.
I made sure I knew the basic information about all our products by reading the product literature when the shop wasn't busy, then I had to talk to customers to find out what their requirements were and suggest something that would be right for them."
"And if you were talking to somebody about, say, a PC and you realised that they didn't really have any idea of what they wanted and didn't understand any of the jargon, how would you cope with that?"
"I would start by trying to find out why they wanted a PC and what they would expect to use it for and then go on from there, trying to avoid jargon or to give short, simple definitions of words like "modem""
"If a customer asked you "What's the Internet and how does it work on one of these home computers" how would you answer them?"
"Yes, I've certainly been asked that more than once and what I used to say was that the Internet is a way of connecting computers all over the world so that anybody can link in to any computer system on the Internet and use the information in it just by connecting their home computer to a telephone line. So that, rather in the same way that you can use your phone to connect to any other phone in the world, you can use your computer to connect to any other computer."
"Right, that's fine - now can you give me a different example of a similar situation?"
"Well, when I was working in an American summer camp last year I got talking about cricket with some of the other staff and they asked me to organise a game for the kids, so I had to explain the rules to them ....."
Structured interviews like this are increasingly common and often probe deeply, going beyond the answers to such questions that you may have given on your application form.
In fact, you are more likely to encounter a Sue than any of the other three types of interviewer - the interview may appear rather stiff and formal, but at least this interviewer knows what she is doing and the interview has a plan and a purpose.
"Hello, come in, did you have a good journey? Oh, you were lucky then, probably struck the right time of day, Junction 7 on the M25 is normally chock-a-block and then to make things worse we've got the road works now in the High Street .....
I'm a Kent graduate myself you know, graduated in 1991, expect things have changed quite a bit since then, I keep meaning to go back to one of the reunions but haven't got round to it so far - is Professor Pringle still there do you know? I expect he's retired by now, he was pretty old even then .....
So you had a summer job with Beefy Burgers - that must have been hard work, I did a month once in Frank's Fried Chicken and it was nearly a year before I could look at a chicken again, in fact it nearly turned me vegetarian ....."
"I expect you'd like to know a bit about the company - it's one of the biggest specialist market research consultancies in the country, set up ten years ago by Mary Boddington who's still the CEO and now we have 50 staff and the profits last year were over £20m, which is very healthy especially as we have a profit-share and bonus scheme here .....
And you played cricket for the 1st XI - what do you think of this England side? If you ask me I don't think we have any chance in the next Test unless the selectors bring in a couple of decent spin bowlers ......"
Charles may be babbling on because he is nervous and trying to cover it up, or may just like the sound of his own voice.
It's easy to lose track, with a chatty and friendly interviewer, of the fact that this is an interview and that a selection decision is going to be based on it.
Try and bring Charles back on course by asking questions related to the job.
"Right, now - yes, I know I've got your application form here somewhere - ah, yes, here it is - Julie Walsh isn't it?"
(Nearly - your name is Julia not Julie. Norman has not prepared very well for this interview, which may explain his nervousness.)
"Good and so, you're applying for a job on our graduate training scheme - so tell me, er, why do you want this job?"
(He hasn't prepared any ice-breaking questions and dives straight in)
"So, you went to St Ethelburga's School and got some very good A-level grades and then went on to study History at the University of Kent - and have you enjoyed the course?"
"And how did you choose your A-level subjects and your University?"
"Do you speak any foreign languages - oh yes, it says here you have GCSE French and Spanish - but do you speak them well?"
(By now, Norman is working his way through your CV - a common approach for interviews, but not following a very logical order of questioning or taking in all the points you have covered)
"Do you play a lot of sport?"
"Have you had any vacation jobs?"
(If you find yourself being asked a lot of closed questions such as these - on the surface demanding nothing more than yes or no answers - try and open them out)
"Tell me about your final year project."
(This is a favourite among interviewers who may be line managers rather than personnel managers. A final-year project gives them the chance to move on to a topic that they understand something about. Once they have got on to this subject, they may be reluctant to leave it)
Do you have any children?
(A nervous candidate may fall into the trap of asking irrelevant - or even illegal -personal questions such as this)