The 90-Day Career Diet: The Face to Face

Korn Ferry CEO Gary Burnison breaks down interviewer personalities you’ll encounter. Sixth in a series.

Gary Burnison is CEO of Korn Ferry and author of Lose the Resume, Land the Job. For more information, see

Now it’s go-time.

All of your hard work on the 90-Day Career Diet—knowing yourself, targeting opportunities, networking, revising your resume, and conquering the mental game of interview prep—is about to pay off. Sure, you need to bring your A game: Did your homework? Check. Polished appearance? Check. Arrived in plenty of time? Check.

But as much as you prepare, you’re going into the unknown.

Be the Perfect Guest

From the moment you arrive for the interview, you’re “on” and with everyone you meet from the parking lot attendant to the receptionist to interviewer. You’re friendly and smiling, respectful and hyper-aware (which may feel like an odd mix between going to a wedding and attending a funeral). You’re on “high alert” for those commonalities—a picture, a piece of art on the wall, sports or collegiate mementoes—anything that can help you break the ice with “getting to know you” small talk. If you’re in sync with the interviewer, the exchange of information will feel much more relaxed, like a conversation rather than an interrogation.

Some things, however, remain completely out of your control. Some hiring managers are very skilled interviewers; some do okay, and others are just downright awful. Some people stand by a standard Q&A script; others throw in oddball questions. Some do most of the talking. No matter who you wind up getting as an interviewer, you can still come out on top if you follow the playbook.

Your Homework: Your Playbook—Five Interviewer Types

Interviewers fall into five categories based on their style and approach. Knowing how to make the most of your interaction with them will go a long way towards success.

  • The General – This no-nonsense interviewer will probably sit across from you, keeping the desk or conference table between the two of you. The general is more interested in what you would bring to the job than in your personality and will likely ask short questions and expect concise answers. But you should still look around the general’s neat and well-organized office for possible connecting points such as a photograph, a piece of art, or even the view out the window. Be prepared to relate brief anecdotes and examples that effectively translate how your experience meets the company’s needs. And don’t forget to ask the general questions.
  • The Talk Show Host - This personable interviewer will most likely meet you in an office that reveals this interviewer’s style and personality with photos, art, and other glimpses into his or her personal life. The talk show host will probably sit next to you, which means you’ll probably let your guard down—which is the whole point! The talk show host is less concerned with the details of your experience and focuses more on how well you fit the company’s culture and environment. The talk show host will speak of “we” and emphasize commitment to the company. Respond in kind, and emphasize your people skills.
  • The Scientist - This analytical interviewer wants to know how you intend to contribute and is less interested in what you’re doing now or have done. The scientist appreciates lengthy, detailed answers, and will probably be frustrated by answers that are too short or lacking specifics. It’s all about how well you would do in the job, the skills and experiences you would apply to problems, and the kind of results you can deliver.
  • The Bumbler ­- This incompetent interviewer will likely ramble, appear disorganized, and may be unclear about the position you’re interviewing for. Be the “gracious visitor” and share more of the “hosting” duties by volunteering information and directing the questions as best you can. Proactively summarize your skills and accomplishments so the bumbler learns the necessary information about you and your skill set.
  • The Clueless – This befuddled interviewer may not even know what position you’re interviewing for. Don’t be frustrated by this, and just go with it. Stay grounded in your “ACT”—be authentic, making a connection, and give the interviewer a taste of who you are and what it would be like to work with you. With this approach, even an interview with a clueless manager can be a success.

Your Stretch Assignment: Be Memorable

Take the extra step by standing out in ways that people might not expect. Pick up on perceptions (positive, not negative) or assumptions that people may have about you because of your profession or background. A perfect example is military leaders, who are known for being disciplined, loyal, and mission-oriented—all great traits valued by organizations. The “value add” would be for a military veteran to showcase these expected qualities plus discuss being a creative, out-of-the-box thinker. That would really stand out. Or a Harvard MBA might balance that very impressive credential with a show of genuine humility and a willingness to learn from everyone. Ask yourself: What would make you appear well-rounded and more memorable?

An interview is like going to a party where you don’t know anyone. You just never know who’s going to show up. So, be prepared, be aware and be flexible.

Follow the steps in the 90-Day Career Diet

Step 1: Learn About Yourself

Step 2: Set Your Targets

Step 3: Nurture Your Network

Step 4: Refresh Your Resume

Step 5: Prep for the Interview

Step 6: The Face to Face

Step 7: On to the Next One

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