The 5 Terrible Job Interviewers—and How to Overcome Them

Some interviewers are awful, writes Gary Burnison, but there are strategies savvy job candidates can use to influence them.

Gary Burnison is the CEO of Korn Ferry and author of the upcoming book, "Lose the Resume, Land the Job."

No matter how well you prepare for your next interview (avoiding the Seven Deadly Sins), you still face a big unknown: There’s no telling how skilled your interviewer will be. Only a few are good at turning an interview into a free-flowing conversation. Most stick to a Q&A script, and a few are downright awful, mumbling and bumbling along – giving you no chance to showcase who you are and what you bring.

While you’re not going to change the interviewer, that doesn’t mean you’re without influence. The better you can prepare for interviewers’ shortcomings, the easier it will be for you to redeem the opportunity. Here are “Five Deadly Sins of Interviewers” and how you can increase your chances of success.

1. The Clueless

An interviewer’s deadliest sin is cluelessness. The Clueless interviewer may admit right away to not having read your resume and even not being sure of the job you’re pursuing. Your heart may sink when you hear, “What job are you here for?” But keep in mind that Mr./Ms. Clueless isn’t that different from other managers, who typically spend only seconds screening resumes initially, and devote less than 5 minutes (and probably a lot less) to any follow-up study. Your redemption in this and every interview is your “ACT”: Be authentic, make a connection, and give others a taste of what it’s like to work with you. Especially important when dealing with a Clueless interviewer is being relaxed and able to initiate an open discussion.

Redemption: Establish a positive connection with the Clueless interviewer as you tell the story of who you are, what you’ve done, and the contribution you can make. You’ll likely distinguish yourself for how you make the interviewer feel.

2. The Bumbler

Incompetence is another particularly deadly interviewer sin. The Bumbler rambles and appears disorganized and, just like the Clueless, may not know which job you’re pursuing. You can redeem this opportunity by taking charge and providing structure for the meeting. Proactively volunteer information and direct the questions as best you can, such as asking if the interviewer would like additional details about your skills, competencies, and accomplishments.

Redemption: Proactively offer a summary of who you are and what you’ve done, which will help the Bumbler ascertain your fit and skill set—which will also make you more memorable.

3. The General

This interviewer may appear to be very competent with his/her “command-and-control style.” Often, though, the General commits the sin of trying to intimidate others. You’ll probably be on the other side of the General’s large, well-organized desk or a gleaming conference table—a real power play. No small talk here, just rapid-fire questions and expectations of concise answers. You can redeem this interaction by adopting “visitor” behavior,” acting gracious and friendly, and noticing things in the General’s well-kept office that might forge a connection. The General may prefer brief answers, but don’t forget to use anecdotes to illustrate how your experiences meet the company’s needs.

Redemption: Turn interrogation into a conversation by asking intelligent, well-thought-out questions during the interview—not just at the end.

4. The Talk Show Host

The Talk Show Host may be easy to connect to, with many mementoes in his/her office that allow you to forge a bond over common interests. The sin is when the Talk Show Host, who often focused on being likeable, talks too much and doesn’t give you the opportunity to provide relevant details about your experience. To redeem this scenario, keep track of what you want the interviewer to know and make sure you work that into the conversation.

Redemption: While keeping with the informal tone of the interview-conversation, use specific stories and anecdotes that showcase your talent, expertise, and how well you’ll fit with the culture.

5. The Scientist

Analytical and seeking details, the Scientist is most interested in how you intend to contribute now—and less in what you’ve already done. The good news is this interviewer is an effective decision maker. The sin here, though, is the Scientist’s inability to draw out the “evidence” he/she needs to ascertain your fit for the position. Your redemption is being aware of this interviewer’s need for proof of the skills and experiences you can deliver.

Redemption: Have the details of your skills and competencies at the ready so you can answer forward-focused questions that show the Scientist what strengths you will bring.

One last piece of advice: While you try to overcome the interviewer’s shortcomings and turn a sin into a success, if you can’t establish rapport, you need to think seriously about how this reflects on the company’s culture. This may not be the place for you.


A version of this article originally appeared on