Whenever you are in search of something interviews (or something close to) are inevitable. You must acquaint yourself with the dynamics of interviews. Acing an interview is not an easy thing to do; it takes practice and knowing how to navigate it all. In 2014 I was interviewed for a National Blood Service Zimbabwe documentary. Once it was done, it turned out I was the second-best interviewee of all the different participants that were interviewed across Zimbabwe. It takes a certain understanding to achieve that, some of which I will throw into this article. Our focus today though is on handling tough or harsh interviewers.
Tell Yourself It Is Probably Them, Not You
When treated harshly or when someone is tough on you, especially in an interview it is easy to take it to heart. You can beat yourself up thinking this is personal. Yet it is more often than not that the interviewer just has issues. It is important to make this mental note as it will keep you composed. The moment you take it personally you will lose your balance. Their toughness might be a reflection of their weak personality. In some cases, it could be the result of personal stuff of their own they are going through. Maybe they are having a bad day or they are just venting out some frustrations on you. That is the first thing to do, tell yourself in your mind, ‘it is probably them, not me, so I will not take the way they are treating me to heart’.
Keep Yourself Composed And Calm
You might be familiar with the story in the bible when a storm came whilst Jesus and his disciples were in a boat. Whilst the storm was raging, the disciples were panicking in despondency. Interestingly, Jesus was fast asleep even as the boisterous winds were violently tossing the boat. When the disciples woke Jesus up, he, still calm, stood up and calmly addressed the storm by telling it to stop. Immediately, it stopped and there was great calm afterwards.
This story tells us of the importance of being composed and calm especially in tough situations. That is the same thing you must do in dealing with a tough interviewer. They might press on your buttons or step on your nerves but keep calm; do not lose your composure. I have often noticed that being calm with someone who is infringing on you eventually tends to calm them down as well.
This is not an easy thing to do as your natural inclination might be to burst or lash out. You never know, the toughness of the interviewer might be a test to see how you behave under duress. After all, an interview, no matter how tough the interviewer is, only last a tiny portion of your existence; just be calm for that time.
Redirecting The Focus From You To Them
The whole idea behind this is to disarm them in a witty way. If you do it smartly they might not even realize you just took the gun out of their hands. Find ways to make the conversation about them even for some brief moments. For example, in your response to a question, you can add direct a question to them in your response. You can systematically choose a question that causes them to talk about something that glorifies them. Alternatively, you might not necessarily ask questions as that can be tricky. Rather you can compliment them on something so that the focus is just shifted from yourself to them. There are infinite ways through which you can do this but figure out how to subtly shift focus away from you to them.
You Can Always Walk Away – Last Resort
The game plan is to employ the preceding three strategies we just discussed. If done well things should flow well despite how tough the interviewer might be. However, you must understand that everything has a limit. You cannot allow yourself to become a literal punching bag just for the sake of an interview. Your rights as an individual must not be violated by anyone. Your mental health must not be compromised by anyone.
You owe it to yourself to shield yourself from anything that can step on your rights or mental health. If the tough interviewer continues gnawing at you it is better to respectfully walk away. Some people have done this and were later called back and were apologized to. At times interviewers go too far in their quest to be firm and tough. If you feel it has gotten too far do not hesitate to walk away but do it respectfully though.
Contexts vary greatly and there is no one-size-fits-all. These are just guidelines that can prime your mind to know which tactics to use. It is a good head start but once you encounter a tough interviewer you will have to think on your toes. In most cases, the interviewers are just being tough to test you so handle them like a pro by using these strategies.