Employers today are all too aware of the costs associated with hiring the wrong person, so they want to be sure they hire the best candidate. That desire can lead them to try to "trick" you into admitting background weaknesses, questionable ethics, and personal secrets that indicate you cannot handle the job. Although some interview techniques appear quite innocent, their effects can be deadly if you are unaware of what is happening.
Keep in mind, though, that turnabout is fair play. You can prepare for these devious interviewers by knowing what to do when subjected to scrutiny. As always, though, I do not encourage you to lie but to know in advance that your task in an interview is to emphasize your strengths, not reveal your weaknesses. If you have been honest in assessing your skills and have targeted a job that you feel confident about, you need only tell the truth and leave out all irrelevant information.
Although most interviewers will know less about interviewing than you (because you have read this book), some will be masters of the craft. Books have also been written to help professional interviewers, and one of my alltime favorites is entitled The Evaluation Interview. Written by Richard Fear (I just love the irony of his name), this book is a must-read for interviewers wanting to increase their ability to manipulate an unsuspecting job seeker. Following are some of Fear's suggested techniques for eliciting negative information. Learn to recognize them so they cannot be used to eliminate you from consideration.
Misleading facial expressions. Just as you use your posture-leaning forward, smiling, good eye contact-to express interest, the interviewer may also attempt to guide your answers with facial clues. For instance, lifting the eyebrows a little and smiling slightly conveys that the listener is receptive and expectant-and that is all it takes to convince some people to divulge negative facts about themselves to their new "friend." This half-smile and raised eyebrows routine also takes the edge off a delicate or personal question. Don't be misled: You must still answer these sensitive questions with the careful wording you have rehearsed, no matter how concerned and nonjudgmental the interviewer appears.
The calculated pause. Experienced journalists have long elicited information from hard-boiled criminals, slick-tongued politicians, and interview-savvy celebrities by using the calculated pause. The technique works even better on job applicants. Most of us are not comfortable with silence and rush to fill the void with verbal noise. Therefore, when the interviewer says nothing but maintains eye contact, most job seekers feel pressured into either giving more details to their answer or starting another topic altogether.
The best way to handle silence is by remaining quiet and appearing pleasant. This response creates a non-hostile standoff; and, in the interest of time, the interviewer eventually asks the next question. Most pauses are measured in seconds, and it is rare for more than two to pass without the interviewer realizing you have not fallen for this ploy. If you are compelled to say something, at least turn the tables. "I think that answers the question, unless there is something else you wish to know," forces the interviewer to become the respondent.