After months of preparation and endless application submissions, you finally have a job interview. You have prepped for interview questions that have hidden meanings and rehearsed answers that focus on the interviewer first. You have a lot of ground to cover in a short period of time, and you are prepared to impress. The last thing you need is for your interviewer to stop listening or drift off to sleep while you sell yourself.
Job interviews can be tricky due to the lack of a relationship. After you have worked with someone for a while, you’ll be able to tell when you have his utter attention, when he isn’t listening, and when he doesn’t even remember you are in the room. But when you are meeting with an interviewer for the first time, how can you tell if he isn’t listening?
Here are five signs you are being ignored during the job interview:
1. Your job interview is filled with interviewer mumbles (“uh huh, yeah, mmm-hmmm”) instead of questions or longer statements.
Have you ever called a friend to tell her about a funny story at the checkout line in Target, and all you received back was “uh huh… wow… that’s nice…”? Now imagine that same response when you’re face-to-face during a job interview. While active listening dictates head nods and verbal agreement to show the person is listening, some interviewers go on autopilot. You may not have captured the person’s attention with a relevant example, or you may not have kept the person’s attention with a focus on solutions, or maybe you just chose the wrong thing to say. Don’t be discouraged-keep in mind that some interviewers are quiet because they are taking notes about your responses or mulling over the job description in their heads.
2. Your interviewer interrupts you to get to what he thinks is your point (“Yeah, yeah, so what you’re saying is…”).
If the interviewer is rushing you through your part of the conversation, four things could be happening: (1) you are taking too long to get to a relevant point and respond directly to the interview question, (2) the interviewer is pressed for time and has a lot of questions to ask, (3) the interviewer is impatient, or (4) all of the above. When you are in a job interview, remember that your answers should be concise, meaningful, and directed toward solving the interviewer’s or hiring manager’s problems. Don’t let interruptions fluster you, but take them as a sign to move forward or move on.
3. Your interviewer interrupts you to say what he wants to say (“Yeah, the same thing happened to me once. I had to…”).
Even worse than an interviewer interrupting you to move you along is when an interviewer interrupts you just to fill in his own answer. Unless he takes notes, he is likely to return to his office, think about the job interview, and decide that you are unexceptional because you didn’t say anything (even though he didn’t let you say anything). If this scenario happens to you, it is your turn to move the interview back to where it needs to be. Be polite, but steer the conversation back to you, your experiences, and how you’re going to be an excellent addition to the team because of all the solutions you will bring.
(Incidentally, this type of interviewer interruption is not always a bad sign. Occasionally the interviewer will feel such a high level of rapport with you that he wants to go “off script” and just have a normal conversation. Be aware of clues-tone of voice, gestures, body language-and act accordingly.)
4. Your interviewer focuses on his computer, Blackberry, window, empty coffee cup, or anything else instead of the job interview.
It’s like driving a stick-shift, doing a drum solo with your favorite song, circling for an open parking spot, and arguing with your spouse at the same time. One or two actions are going to take priority and everything else is going to lose priority. If your interviewer is distracted, he’s not hearing everything you have to say and he’s bound to give you a negative assessment. You may not be able to find a delicate way to ask your interviewer to put his pen aside and pay attention, but you can address the situation and ask if he would prefer to return to this job interview at another time. Hopefully he will get your hint and jump back into focus.
5. Your interviewer sends a few text messages or talks to someone else while you are speaking.
Do you remember being in class, talking to your best friend at the back of the room and hearing the teacher suddenly ask, “Can you tell me the last sentence I just said?” Ummm….umm… Our brains may have the power to multitask, but we can really only retain one major situation at a time. The rest goes on autopilot. If your interviewer is talking to someone else, he’s not listening to you. Repeat your interview answers and work harder to focus on solutions that will capture (and hold) the interviewer’s attention.
Overall, you must pay attention to the situation and adapt accordingly. In almost all job interviews, the interviewer is in control. Rarely is he begging us to take his open job. By staying aware of distractions and boredom, changing your interview answers to promote curiosity and conversation, and continuing to plug along, you are bound to put the job interview back on track and get the position you deserve.