Maintain Control of Your Interview (Part 2)

Last year our most popular blog was Maintain Control of Your Interview, Part 1. In Part 2, I review the basics covered in Part 1 and offer some more sophisticated ways to keep control.

Every interviewer knows that most candidates for selection want to “put their best foot forward.” Oftentimes, A Players try to control the interview because they are eager to talk about their successes. Weak candidates want to hide a lot; they read books about how to control interviews and, as you know, are desperate to make their “pitch.” It’s frustrating, right? Topgrading interviewers are determined to ask more than a dozen questions about every job; if they, as interviewers, lose control, they fail to get answers they need, so candidates don’t get the job offers.

Maintaining Control, the Basics

In Part 1 of Maintaining Control I offered several tips. If the interviewee either tries to take over or just wanders off on topics not of interest to you:

  • The first time they grab control, be gentle but interrupt and restate your question. “Pat, I didn’t hear your answer to the question, what were your reasons for leaving that job?”
  • The next time, interrupt and explain, “Chris, your running marathons sounds fascinating, but I’m concerned we won’t have time to complete this interview if we don’t get back to discussing your career.” If the candidate is not as dense as a rock, they will take the hint.
  • The third time, say something like, “Chris, I’m wondering if you’ve read some books that say you have to take control of the interview, because I’m having to re-ask some questions. Please answer my questions so that I don’t conclude that if you come to work for me, I will have difficulty getting you to answer my questions.”

Here are some additional techniques to control interviews:

  • Explain why they need not take control: “Pat, you’ve jumped ahead a bit to explain why you are a good candidate, but that’s not necessary. This is a Topgrading Interview, meaning there are many basic questions about every job, including questions about your successes, accomplishments, and what you like about jobs. Toward the end of the interview I’ll ask for you to appraise yourself in relation to the job, but for now let’s stick to the chronological format and our standard questions, and I promise you will have all the time you want to show your strengths for this job.”
  • Show mild impatience: “Chris, I find that I have to re-ask questions quite a bit. Is this typical of communications with you?”
  • Apply pressure, ostensibly blaming yourself: “Mike, I should tell you that if you come to work for me I have some idiosyncrasies; it’s only fair to let you know I get very impatient when people don’t listen carefully to my questions and answer them without my having to re-ask them.”
  • Nicely say, “get to the point.” Say, “Stephanie, in order to communicate clearly, you tend to give a lot of examples, but I’m afraid we’ll run out of time with such long answers to my questions. So please give me the short answer and if I need more, I’ll ask.”
  • Finally, be very direct. When softer methods to keep control of the interview are failing, and you’re about to reject the candidate who is excessively controlling, domineering, and manipulative, say, “Steve, I appreciate your wanting to sell yourself as a candidate, but in order for me to offer you a job I really need to get direct answers to my questions, okay? Interviewing you is a bit difficult because you are constantly trying to take control so please just answer my questions.” When the candidate is THAT manipulative and controlling, and after more gentle hints to NOT take control are ignored, you almost certainly will NOT want this person working for you. So, such bluntness is “one last chance” for the candidate to remain a candidate.

You owe it to yourself, your company, and candidates to become progressively more direct with candidates who try to control hiring interviews. The above techniques are progressively more direct ways for you, the hiring manager, to say to candidates, “Your best chance of getting a job offer is to NOT wrest control of the interview from me.” At the extreme you’d give up, convinced the candidate would be impossible to manage; you’d simply cut the interview short. And when candidates “get it,” and stop trying to control the interview, you’ll have more confidence that they are “manageable.” If you have any doubts about this, use candidate-arranged reference calls with managers to see what they experienced.

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