How to handle a job interview when the interviewer doesn't ask questions?
December 10, 2012 1:50 PM   Subscribe

I have had interviews that consisted of the interviewer briefly explaining the position and then asking me if I have any questions. These have not gone well for me.

An example from this morning:

(The company provides sports and arts programs for youth. The position involves handling all the paperwork and such that come with renting spaces for these classes.)

After filling out their application I meet with the interviewer in her office. While looking over my information she says something nice about the university I attended and I agree. She asks what happened at my first job that I was at for 7 months. I say I was looking for somewhere to grow. She asks why I left my most recent job, and I tell her it was a temp position.

She describes the position and the benefits. She mentions that the kids have competitions on the weekends, and that I am not required to attend. I say that I might enjoy attending since I used to be a cheerleader (one of the sports they offer), and she says something like “oh good so you can appreciate the value of sports for kids.” Would it have been appropriate to also mention that I liked that this organization offers classes at such affordable prices since I had to drop out of cheer as a kid due to costs?

She then asks if I have any questions. Since the ad for the job and her description were short I did have some questions (expand on certain aspect of job, how they manage data, if it's a new position due to growth, who this person works with).

And then I ask if she has any questions for me. (Was that weird?) She looks down at the papers with my info and says she thinks she has everything she needs.

So she only asked me why I left my last positions.

Should I have then just started talking about how some of my past duties align with the duties of this position? It seems awkward to me to just start talking, especially when it felt like the interview was wrapping up already. Should I have said awesome things about their organization? That seems brown-nosey to me.

But I am obviously wrong since I'm getting a decent amount of interviews but no offers.

I go into interviews having examples prepared for questions that might come my way, but I can't see myself randomly saying “so let me tell you about this one time I had this one challenge and how I totally solved it!”

I was already planning on sending a thank you email/letter so maybe I can help my chances with this job. However, I have another interview with a different company tomorrow, and I really don't want to ruin another one.

I know I'm not great at holding conversations, but I also know I can get shit done at work. I guess I just don't know how to communicate that to people I have just met.

How can I better prepare for these types of interviews and other interviews in general?
posted by secretdawn to Work & Money (13 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I read this as her quickly determining "overqualified, flight risk." Was there any mention of 'room to grow' from her, which you mentioned as having been a factor leaving your last job?

She was either put off by your answers to her two prompts for the above reasons, or a horrible interviewer. Ambition is not always something people are looking for, unfortunately; going forward, you can't really push more information on someone whose ears are effectively closed, so either interview for that position (and not the promotion above it) or find one where climbing is expected/encouraged.
posted by MangyCarface at 2:03 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Well, it sounds like her mind was made up by something other than your experience, if she didn't ask about your experience.

I don't know you or her or what happened her, but I can tell you that I have interviewed people who made it very hard for me, by acting as though my questions were a Y/N quiz -- giving brief answers, then sitting back like "I'm done." A good interview has a conversational flow. She could just have been a poor interviewer; or her mind could have been made up; but yes, I think you would have done well to (for example) go with the topic she offered you of "appreciating the value of sports for kids." If you had talked about their attractive pricing, you would have showed that you'd researched the company (which is so important) and shown her that you have a personal stake in the group's mission. And maybe it would have led to a conversation, which is what you want.

However, it is also not good to Just Keep Talking. Definitely always be looking for cues that the interviewer wants to move on. If the interviewer's mouth opens, the interviewee's must close.
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:06 PM on December 10, 2012

If in doubt, ask.

"Would you like me to talk about similar work I've done for other organizations or reasons I might be well qualified for the job?"

I've had interviews where the interviewer essentially played games instead of asking questions. They won't ask questions but they want you to fill the open air. They won't just tell you this is going on, so it creates this awkward space. Now that I've been through it, I can see it coming and just flat out offer to fill the space. If they say no, then you're done. If they say yes, fill the open space with the information you already have prepared.
posted by cnc at 2:13 PM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Sometimes (many times) the interviewer is just as horrible at interviewing as the interviewee. And they are nervous too, because they've got to get this right. And you're clutching your resume, they are clutching questions they've jotted down, and both of you have read the same books about interview questions/answers, and both feel ridiculous.

So, you could help her out.

Set aside some of your worries. Is it ok to say nice things about the company? OF COURSE it is. Is it ok to randomly start talking about your previous job? That's why you are there!

Maybe try this during your next interview: Take control of the whole thing. Fake confidence if you have to.

1. Walk in, shake their hand, you're fingersandtoes and you're glad to meet them. How are they doing today?

2. They answer, you smile, they look down at your resume. "Let me tell you a little bit about my work history," you say. Then in 2-3 sentences, give a summary of a job and what you did best there. Include why you left. You want growth, you want stability -- and you ask your question -- does this job offer that?

3. They answer the question, and say a few more things about their company. You confide that you've always LOVED that. And now, without prompting from her, you ask another question. If you've run out of questions, then you want to know what your first milestones will be, or what will be the biggest challenges, or how a typical day goes, or what does she like best about working for that company?

4. She answers whatever question you ask. You follow up with something reasonable. She feels like she has to end with a last offer for questions, and you DO have one last one: When is she looking to fill this position? What are your next steps?

5. Wait for her to stand, and when she does you stand and shake her hand. You are very glad you've had the opportunity to meet her and to learn more about what they do at that company. You look forward to hearing from her by X date.

See how it's like tossing a ball back and forth? Both are playing, not just one person. Don't be afraid to talk to the person like, a person. The interviewer will feel like they did a really good job at interviewing, and everyone likes to feel like they did a good job. And you helped her feel that way, and that reflects well on you.
posted by Houstonian at 2:25 PM on December 10, 2012 [6 favorites]

one note and then I'll go away!

I say I was looking to grow at that one position but in reality it was a really shady, demoralizing company that treated its customers pretty poorly and I needed out. Suggestions for a better answer to why I left would be appreciated but I realize that is another question.
posted by secretdawn at 2:29 PM on December 10, 2012

It's fine to be brown-nosey in an interview. Did you say why you wanted the job? I like to know that the person I'm interviewing wants THIS job, not just A job, and why.
posted by Ideefixe at 2:45 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

"I had some reservations about the way customers were being treated" is WAY better than that "room to grow" stuff. It means nothing; it makes me (the interviewer) think that you are either hiding something or are flaky and quit for no good reason.
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:53 PM on December 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

I say I was looking to grow at that one position but in reality it was a really shady, demoralizing company that treated its customers pretty poorly and I needed out.

I conduct interviews of job applicants from time to time.

It is a cardinal rule of job interviews not to disparage your former employer unless it was Al Qaeda. The reason is that it raises questions about you that you don't want raised such as: Is this person unreasonable? Will she quit at her first perceived slight? Will she say things like this about me someday? Why doesn't she know not to say things like that in business situations?

Instead, it is better to say something about you such as "I was looking for this opportunity". Also, I don't think it would be appropriate to make their affordable prices about your childhood disappointment. If you felt the need to talk about the prices, you could have said something about you like how it provides opportunity for a lot of kids and leave it at that. Your knowledge of their pricing shows you have done some research and aren't just spamming out applications; I have seen candidates fail interviews because they did not know some aspect of my firm.

I am not surprised that the interview was short because this is a clerical position. Your application probably had all the necessary information to determine your qualifications. IME, usually the interview is to confirm what the application materials show and to make sure that the applicant isn't a weirdo and doesn't have horrible BO. I think your instinct not to keep talking when the interviewer had concluded the interview was correct. Please send a thank you note or letter, not an email.

Best of luck with your next interview.
posted by Tanizaki at 2:53 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I agree that "room to grow" can be a red-flag answer, PARTICULARLY for new-ish college graduates giving it as a reason for leaving their first job after less than a year. Fair or not, there's definitely a stereotype these days that younger, highly-educated-but-little-experience workers have unrealistic expectations about how rewarding entry-level positions are going to be and how fast they should advance once they've shown baseline competence.

I think you instead want to say something along the lines of "I was really excited about the opportunity to work at Former Company X, but the culture ended up to not be a great fit. I gave it the good college try for 6 months, but decided to move on last February. Since then, I've been temping while looking for a more permanent position where I'm excited about the organization's mission" (or whatever it is that you could be legitimately excited about with respect to the new company you're applying to).

Personally, I am impressed when people are able to allude to the problems that drove them out of their previous job while being tactful and using only nice words. It makes candidates seem reasonable and balanced while also making it clear that they weren't the problem. So, if the interviewer followed up with a question about why your previous company wasn't a good fit, you don't want to say "it was a really shady, demoralizing company that treated its customers pretty poorly" (not tactful, makes it seem like you might be unbalanced or exaggerating or have unrealistic expectations). You could get the same idea across, though, by saying "The company's business strategy was a high volume of sales on low-margin products; although that made sense for the product they were selling, I found it very stressful to work in a client-facing role when I had a limited set of tools to address customer complaints. From that experience I think I've definitely learned that I need to be at an organization that [has a mission I agree with] / [has a real focus on serving clients] / [has something special about the culture of the place you're interviewing]." The key, though, is to be able to describe what you didn't like at the last company while maintaining an air of some people are probably happy there, it just didn't work for me.
posted by iminurmefi at 3:53 PM on December 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

That is my dream interview scenario. Let me control the conversation and not get stuck reciting my resume back to some clown that asks me 18 questions that are clearly already answered on the damn resume. If you don't know a lot about the job or the organization you should be generally curious and have many questions. If you are highly experienced you should know all the pitfalls and gotchas with the job and be showing that by asking a lot of those questions that only somebody that really knew their shit would be asking.

Have questions for the interview tomorrow. It's perfectly ok to write them down and have them in a folio with you. You had something to take notes on anyway, right?
posted by COD at 3:55 PM on December 10, 2012

Here are some good questions to ask:

1. Tell me what a typical day is like.

2. What kind of person is a good fit for this position?

3. Based upon what you've seen, how do you think I'd fit in here?

As for your former job. "While I did very well there, I wanted s position that would allow me to...Work with children (or whatever makes sense to say given the job description.)
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:07 PM on December 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Honestly, it just sounds like she is a terribly inexperienced interviewer.

Don't overthink it. She tanked the interview, not you.
posted by 26.2 at 9:48 PM on December 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

When the interviewer says "I see you worked at X/went to school at X", follow that with something about yourself or X. Treat it as a conversation. Sometimes interviewers need a little help here.
posted by zippy at 11:58 PM on December 10, 2012

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