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The Six Species of Interviewers

Over the years, I've noticed that people who interview job candidates tend to develop a distinct personal style. If you can quickly read an interviewer's style and establish rapport, you will appear more confident and knowledgeable. Here are six common types to know:

The Absentee

His Style: Sometimes an interviewer isn't mentally in the room. Maybe his boss dropped a big project on him earlier that day, or maybe he's completely unprepared.

Your Best Approach: It's almost impossible to make a strong impression on someone so distracted, so keep it simple. If this person is strapped for time, offer to reschedule. Get your most important message across, and then focus more time on your interview follow-up.

The Buddy

His Style: Smiles, jokes and tells you to relax: "Hey, let's go shoot some pool and talk about the job." There are actually two forms of Buddy I know: inept interviewers who just want to be liked, and expert ones who realize that putting you at ease can get you to reveal a lot of information you might otherwise not mention, like your salary range.

Your Best Approach: Be friendly in kind, but don't be lulled into completely letting your guard down.

The Inquisitor

His Style: Never cracks a smile or diverts from a "show me" attitude. Fires off tough questions about your experience. This is the interviewer you imagine when you say, "I hate to interview."

Your Best Approach: Stay cool, and project respect and confidence. Don't think the tough, poker-faced attitude means you won't get the job. Often, the Inquisitor believes a stressful interview unearths a candidate's hidden qualities. It's also important to remember that the Inquisitor can often become your best advocate throughout the interview process and on into the job.

The Laser Beam

His Style: This interviewer focuses on one topic, such as a sales job's quota. The Laser Beam is a common style for a line manager.

Your Best Approach: Satisfy his judgment, and move on. Save your wide-ranging questions for the HR department.

The Shotgun

His Style: Fires questions all over the place. One minute you're talking about sales quotas, and the next you're discussing company politics. The challenge is that the subjects don't seem connected, and you have no idea how the interviewer is judging you.

Your Best Approach: This is where your careful presentation really pays off, because you can relate your strengths to many different aspects of the job.

The Silver Bullet

His Style: Believes there's one magic question to ask -- and one magic response that determines whether you're right for the job. The Silver Bullet asks a few perfunctory questions about your skills, then leans back as he says, "Tell me, how do you tie your shoes?" or "If you could have dinner with three people, who would they be?" From your answer, the Silver Bullet decides yes or no.

Your Best Approach: Answer simply, and move on.

Tailor Your Approach to the Interviewer

You step into a position of power when you recognize the interviewer's style and adjust your approach accordingly. As you prepare for the interview, ask yourself, "How might my answers be different for different interview styles?"

With a Laser Beam, for example, you might offer him a choice when you begin answering a question ("Would you like to talk about this aspect of the job or that one?"). An achievement story for a Buddy might focus more on your teamwork skills, and the same story for an Inquisitor might begin by stating the results of your individual work. The more you show your emotional intelligence by understanding the interviewer's objective for that interview, the more likely he'll be to listen to you.

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