How to be assertive in interviews


No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.
Eleanor Roosevelt


Assertiveness is the ability to communicate with others in a clear and direct manner. It has been described as "The Art of telling people what you would like them to do, in a way that they don't feel threatened or put down". It differs from being aggressive, where you may get what you want, but may upset people and hinder your progress in the long run.

Some people confuse assertiveness with getting your own way all the time, but there may be occasions when you take the decision to back down on an issue, because you realise that the other person has rights too. It also differs from being passive, where you let others get their own way in most situations and don't stand up for your rights.

Assertive behaviour helps you to:

  • Say "No" to the requests of others in a firm but polite way when you don't want to do as they say.
  • To avoid being manipulated or put off by others.
  • To listen better to what others are saying.
  • To stand up for your rights.
  • To ask for what you want.
  • To achieve "win-win" situations where both parties are happy with the outcome of the situation.

Being assertive helps you to exercise more control over your life and relationships, and thus may help to increase your self-confidence. It helps you to reduce the stress in your life as you are less bothered about the opinions of others. Non-assertive behaviour can lead to loss of respect from others and loss of self-respect in the long term.

angry man.gif (5818 bytes)

Some people confuse
assertiveness with
getting your own way
all the time ....


It can be used in many situations, but can be an important factor in performing well at interviews. In interviews assertive behaviour will help you to come across as a confident candidate who is likely to be able to get things done. It is characterised by:



There follows a set of 12 questions relating to your behaviour at interview. Try to answer each question according to how you think you would react in the situation described. The answers to these questions and the analysis of the answers are for your eyes only, so answer as honestly as you can. Try to imagine yourself faced with these situations in a job interview however unlikely they may seem, and then choose from the suggested responses the one closest to what you could imagine yourself saying or doing.

1.The interviewer asks you a series of questions that require detailed answers but gives you little opportunity to set out what you have to offer. What would you be most likely to do?

    Answer the questions, but say that you would like to add some information that you considered to be more directly supporting your application.

    Answer the questions feeling increasingly disappointed and depressed.

    Tell the interviewer that the questions were beside the point.

2. You find yourself in a discussion with the interviewer, whose disapproval is clearly mounting as the discussion becomes an argument. What would you be most likely to do?

    Break off the argument while you can still be calm and friendly saying that the discussion is obviously not leading to agreement.

    Continue the argument looking for opportunities to offend the interviewer.

    Capitulate and accept the interviewer's opinion.

3. The interviewer keeps asking closed questions that can easily be answered with a single word. What would you be most likely to do?

    Answer yes or no , feeling at once relieved not to have to give longer explanations and anxious that you are not giving enough information?

    Expand your answers, so that you provide more information in support of your application than the questions demand?

    Answer yes or no in irritated or offhand tones that make it clear that you are critical of the interviewer's style?

4. It seems to you that the interviewer has a dominating personality. What would you be most likely to do?

    Become very formal by way of keeping the interviewer at a distance.

    Assume a provocatively nonchalant pose and try to overawe the interviewer in your response.

    Speak up and say what you mean in as straightforward a way as you can manage.

5. The interviewer makes a congratulatory comment on a post of responsibility that you occupied on a student committee. What would you be most likely to do?

    Hasten to assure the interviewer that there were no other applicants for the post, that the committee was not well organised, met infrequently and had no power, and that your own contribution was minimal and inept.

    Expand on the importance of your contribution in this and in other posts seeking to overwhelm the interviewer with your ability.

    Accept the compliment with a brief indication of pleasure.

6. The interviewer - for some personal reason that they explain to you - is upset. You feel a little unsettled by this. What would you be most likely to do?

   Maintain an indifferent silence while you wait for the interviewer to recover.

    Briefly express your sympathy and wait patiently to see how the interviewer responds.

    Show your embarrassment and attempt to soothe the interviewer's distress by minimising the cause.

7. The interviewer asks you a technical question, to which you do not know the precise answer, since your course did not cover this field in any detail. What would you be most likely to do?

    Tell the interviewer that they could have seen from your application form that your course did not cover this subject.

    Flounder into the question feeling that you cannot admit that you do not know the answer.

    Say that your course did not cover this subject and that you do not know the answer, but go on to offer a probable answer based on logic, limited knowledge and common sense.

8. The interviewer becomes very aggressive, raises their voice and makes remarks you consider insulting. What would be your most likely reaction?

    You offer a corresponding display of anger.

    You shrink back in your chair or beat a hasty retreat to the door.

    You try to remain calm and tell the interviewer as firmly as you can that you consider their remarks insulting and that you have no intention of contributing to the interview until they calm down. You add that if they continue in their current vein you will consider the interview to be at an end.

9. You feel extremely nervous at an interview, and you are quite sure that your nervousness is apparent to the interviewer. What would you be most likely to do?

    Admit to your nervousness with as much good humour as you can muster adding a very brief explanation: such as that the situation is uniquely unfamiliar and that the outcome of the interview is very important to you.

    Adopt a truculent manner to disguise your anxiety.

    Make no comment on your condition for fear of bringing it to the interviewer's attention.

10. The interviewer asks an hypothetical question: what would you do in a given situation under certain specified circumstances? The situation and the circumstances are so far fetched as to seem both confusing and ludicrous. What would you be most likely to do?

    Allow the interviewer to see your perplexity but not your amusement in the hope that they will take pity on you and help you out?

    Allow the interviewer to see that you find certain aspects of the question comic, but answer it seriously, thinking your way steadily through its complexities and asking for clarification on points of obscurity?

    Disguise both your feelings of perplexity and amusement and resist answering the question on the grounds it is stupid?

11. You are invited by the interviewer to say whether you agreed with the employer's policy as set out in the information that was sent to you before the interview. You had not been happy with all you read. What would you be most likely to do?

    Admit that you had some misgivings or reservations on some points of policy and single out one or two examples while at the same time acknowledging that your views may stem from your lack of experience and background knowledge?

    Praise the policy statement adding that you did not feel that your endorsement was really significant?

    Launch into a comprehensive negative criticism of all the points of policy with which you disagreed together with the changes you would apply if you were the senior policy maker?

12. The interviewer invites you to agree that your course was an easy option. You are offended by the suggestion. Would you be most likely to:-

    Respond with anger?

    Say - in as even a tone as you can manage and without demonstrating the anger you may feel - that you are offended by the suggestion, and give a reasoned assessment of the difficulty of the course?

    Agree with the interviewer for fear of giving offence, although you feel hurt, intimidated and angry

Scores can range from 0-12

Assertive Responses
Aggressive Responses
Passive Responses

Your behaviour can be classified into three main types: assertive, aggressive and passive. The results given above tell you how many of your responses fell into each of the above categories.

Assertive Responses:

Assertive Responses are based on clear, open, straightforward communications. They demonstrate a respect both for the interviewer and yourself, saying what you mean without being impolite, asking for what you want without making demands. This style is far more likely to create a positive impression than either aggressiveness or non-assertion. Assertive behaviour is not specifically designed to get you what you want in all situations, in fact it involves negotiation and compromise. The long term effects of such a style are that you are likely to develop a better sense of control and of having value and significance.
Direct, responsible, honest, clear, accepting, forgiving, spontaneous, effective responses.

I have the right to:

 Be open, but remember that the interview is not a confessional. Be positive - even about negative experiences.
  • make mistakes!
  • express my feelings, opinions and values
  • state my own needs and set my own priorities
  • be treated with respect as an equal human being
  • say yes or no
  • change my mind
  • say I don't understand
  • ask for what I want
  • not take responsibility for other people's problems.

Aggressive Responses:

Aggressive Responses are characterised by an attempt to punish or outcountenance the person with whom you are dealing. Such responses may occasionally be appropriate or even necessary, but you are asking for trouble if you use this style in an interview. You might just get away with the aggressive responses in questions 4, 5 and 6, but don't bank on it. If you are generally aggressive in your behaviour, most people will choose to stay clear of you and to organise their jobs and their lives in ways that do not involve you.
Arrogant, pushy, bullying, blaming, sarcastic, vengeful, callous, manipulative, offensive responses

Passive or non-Assertive Responses:

Passive or non-Assertive Responses may seem polite and accommodating, but they give the impression of lack of drive, confidence and self-respect. Unless you are applying for a job that offers no room for initiative, they are unlikely to create a good impression, and as a general style passive or non-assertive behaviour is likely to leave you feeling like a doormat and full of resentment. Interviewers may pity you, but few of them are likely to choose you.
Apologetic, inhibited, deferential, powerless, avoiding, moaning responses


The purpose of this exercise is to demonstrate and make a distinction between the different kinds of response that interviewees make in job interviews and to give you a chance to consider if you need to adjust your usual style in this situation.

Answers to the questions:

QUESTION NUMBER. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12


Our thanks to Brian Jones who initially devised this material.

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