How to Survive Encounters With Unskilled Interviewers

For members of the jobless tribe, good impressions are becoming tougher to make during interviews. My advice isn’t the kind found in the slew of available career guides. Mine is an anthropological perspective. The subject of my study is that daunting hump in the interview process: the Untrained Interviewer.

Job hunters know the Untrained Interviewer well. She can be our best friend or our nemesis. She can be relentless or pathetic in her inquisition. Ultimately, she’s the end or the beginning. As a member of this strange system of job seekers and self-sellers, I’ve had too many encounters with unprepared and unqualified interviewers. I’ve concluded that the most challenging Untrained Interviewers fit into the following two categories: Ogres and Nanas. As you read on, you’ll begin to understand and recognize both and learn how to make your next encounter with the not-so-mythical interview beast a successful one.


Like their fairytale cousins, interview Ogres are bad tempered and dumb. By dumb I don’t mean stupid, just clueless, as in inexperienced, uninformed and ignorant. Ogres never prepare for interviews. They tend to shake your hand vigorously as you walk in the room and launch into your resume on first glance as you sit down. They don’t explain about the position or the company; they head instead immediately into a battlefield of questions.

Make a note that Ogres don’t listen well. They’re aggressive in their questions but barely pause for your answers. They often repeat questions, rephrased, but thinly disguised, after you’ve already answered them. Ogres are known for bad hearing and short-term memories. Their attention span is brief, and they’ll be thinking of their next question before you even answer the previous one. In addition, they tend to have tunnel vision, fixating on one part of your resume and probing for examples from one job, instead of taking in the gamut of your experiences.

Ogres are flabbergasting for the Job Seeker, because they seem to take pleasure in exercising their strength and running you down purposefully. Some believe Ogres like to play mind games and push your buttons. I say they have inferiority complexes and overbearing spouses.

When you encounter an Ogre in your job search, my advice is to put on your patience hat. If Ogres don’t get the exact answer they’re looking for, they’ll push and prod until you begin to feel resentful and eventually disoriented. Try to remain calm and collected and address their questions as directly as possible. Speak clearly and concisely to Ogres (remember their bad hearing and memory); they like succinct and accurate responses. Ogres often will forget to ask if you have questions at the end of the interview, so be assertive. By asking questions, you can learn whatever the Ogre forgot to share earlier. Don’t forget to ask what position your Ogre has in the company. If he’s your direct supervisor, you may want to reassess whether the job is right for you.

Just a note: Ogres can be perfectly nice outside of the interview. I’ve had fascinating and friendly chats with some otherwise awful Ogre Interviewers. After the interview door is closed, they usually morph back into regular people. There’s just something about the Ogre that goes berserk in an interview. Perhaps it’s the position of dominance, since in reality they’re usually only one in an army of managers.

Just remember, when you encounter an Ogre, you’ll rarely walk away completely satisfied. This doesn’t mean you won’t get a callback. Impressing an Ogre means making your point sound like his point, and saying it clearly and loudly, of course.


Nanas are the polar opposites of Ogres. Like their grandmotherly namesake, Nana Interviewers gush. They’re kind, friendly and complimentary. For the most part, Nanas are nice people who want to share their working world with you. They always introduce themselves and open with small talk. Nanas are very good at describing the company, its environment and discussing the position. They find the positive aspects of your experience and home in. Nanas are easily impressed. They love to smile and nod their head or emit agreeing sounds while you speak.

Nanas are often poor questioners. This can make the progression of the interview difficult for job seekers. Nanas also are known for favoring tangents. This can be dangerous for those among us who are easily swayed into non-job-related prattle. Many Nana Interviewers just like to hire people with whom they’ll get along.

The problem with Nanas is that they rarely give you the time to substantially lobby for the position. You walk away from an interview feeling like you’ve just made a new friend, but uncertain whether that friend has any idea why you’d be perfect for the job. After all, it’s a job interview and you have to sell yourself and your skills.

When dealing with a Nana, you must be ready to jump in with examples of how your experience and background complement the position you’re seeking. Never be rude to a Nana and don’t brag too much; they don’t appreciate self-aggrandizing behavior. If you can, gently try to insert relevant facts about yourself and your career during the discussion. Let the Nana see how smart and together you are, while also illustrating that you’re well-behaved and easy-going.

Interviewing with a Nana can be a dream, especially after multiple Ogres. Above all, Nanas make you feel wanted. But beware, because sometimes you can find yourself convinced you want a job that you really don’t, just so you can be as content and at ease as the Nana is. Also, don’t give in to any temptation to take the interview reins from the Nana, at least not obviously. You may find yourself wanting to overcompensate for the Nana’s lack of interview savvy, but you must do so carefully. Nanas are first and foremost nice, and you don’t want to offend them. Plus, you really may walk away from this interview with a new friend, so enjoy the Nana.

The Rest of the Kingdom

In addition to Ogres and Nanas, you may meet other unsightly interviewers, possibly mixed-breeds or new mutations. If you’re lucky, you’ll encounter neither Ogre nor Nana along your travels in the Land of the Jobless. If you’re even luckier, you’ll meet the elusive ideal of the Untrained Interviewer tribe, whom I call the Magnet and who possesses a style that draws you out of your resume and into the interview. For Magnets, interviewing is innate. They come prepared and ready to be engaged and engaging. Magnets have achieved the status equal to that of a Well-Trained Interviewer. They’re a golden but rare find, almost as rare as the Well-Trained Interviewers themselves. Prepare yourself for Ogres and Nanas, and bless yourself if you find a Magnet instead.

Remember, you’re a hunter, and to catch your prey, you must study it. Learn what you can from the unfortunate interviews, and apply it to future meetings. Preparation is your greatest weapon. Happy hunting.

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