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Dealing with “The Jerk”

image Someone in one of my job search classes had a terrible experience at a recent interview and wasn’t sure how she should have responded.

The interviewer/hiring manager was rude, confrontational, aggressive, and belittling. Essentially… he was a Jerk!

It’s pretty rare that it happens… but sometimes it does. What should you do if you are confronted with that kind of situation, and does it necessarily mean the potential opportunity is a bust?

Here’s what happened to this woman, and how she might have responded…

“Carol” had an interview for a Director Level position at a very large company. She was to meet 3 people on that day… the VP she would potentially report to, and 2 potential peers. Her first meeting was with the VP, and the interview seemed to go very well. She then was to meet with the 2 peers and finally debrief again with the VP. The first peer interview went well, and then was asked to wait in the lobby for a couple of minutes while the 2nd peer was coming from a building across their campus to meet her.

A few minutes later, the 2nd peer’s assistant came instead to pick Carol up from the lobby, explaining he would escort her to the Director’s office across campus. He walked very quickly, across a grassy, wooded path to the other building instead of using the sidewalk. Carol was wearing high-heeled shoes, had trouble keeping up, and was beginning to break a sweat on this warm day… but didn’t complain and walked along.

When they arrived at his office, he wasn’t there and Carol was told he would arrive shortly. A few minutes later, when he did arrive, he walked in quickly, didn’t say hello or shake her hand, sat down in his desk across from her and immediately asked “Why are you interviewing for this job?”

Carol, taken off-guard at first, gave her answer as to why she is interested in the company and the position. He didn’t seem as if he was listening to her answer, but was reviewing her resume intently. Before she completed her answer, he told her that her resume didn’t seem to be a fit for the role (even though her most recent position was the same role at another large, well respected company). Before she could answer, he pulled out his cell phone, and told her he just remembered he had left some important papers on a printer and wants to have someone pick them up. He made the call, that lasted several minutes while he was arguing with someone who couldn’t seem to find the documents he wanted.

After his phone call he immediately began to challenge her about her related experience, belittled projects she had worked on, cut her off as she answered questions, and had a very harsh tone throughout. Finally he said… “This is a waste of my time.” He called his assistant to escort her back and their meeting was over.

Needless to say… Carol was taken aback!

Debriefing with the VP, she did not relate all that happened, however, the VP was surprised to learn that the peer made her walk across campus and that he didn’t think she fit the role. Carol had a pleasant few minutes with the VP and the interview was over. She’s now waiting to find out what happens.

There could be two reasons for what happened… either:

  1. The peer was simply a jerk!


  2. The style of the meeting was intentional to see how Carol would deal with stressful and confrontational situations.

Either way, her best response should likely have been the same.

Particularly for a Director level role, addressing the tone in a confident, assertive, yet polite and respectful way would create the most positive impression and potentially diffuse the situation. She could have said something like:

Pardon me ‘Bob’, we may have gotten off to a bad start. Our meeting so far seems to be confrontational and I hope I haven’t done anything to cause that. I’ve been through 2 other interviews here today and they seemed to go well.  I hope we can have a constructive dialog for each of us to effectively determine my fit for the role so we can each make the best decisions. What questions can I answer for you to help you gain a better understanding of my related experience?”

Some keys to changing the tone of the interview are:

  • Address it directly
       (our meeting seems to be confrontational)
  • Make it a mutual problem, don’t be accusing
       (I hope I haven’t done anything to cause that)
  • Establish the common goal
       (I hope we can have a constructive dialog… to determine my fit)
  • Ask a question to move the conversation forward
       (What questions can I answer for you…)

Certainly it’s possible that he may have continued to be a jerk even after that. However, it’s also likely that he may have mellowed and addressed things in a more civilized way at that point.

If his style was intentional as a “stress test”, the approach outlined here would have satisfied his curiosity as to whether Carol can handle things in an appropriately assertive way. If it wasn’t a test, he would have hopefully still seen that Carol can stand for herself and not just allow herself to be bullied. In either scenario, Carol may still be a strong potential candidate for the role… and then she can decide if it’s a position she would like to accept or not!

Hopefully you don’t encounter “The Jerk”. However, if you do, be sure to address the problem and show that you can effectively move a conversation forward in a positive way.


Donna Svei aka AvidCareerist said...

Well, if she gets an offer and accepts it at least she won't be surprised when her colleague turns out to be a jerk and the job turns out to be stressful.

Job seekers, remember, you're assessing them as much (I hope!) as they're assessing you.

Karen said...

The "jerk" interviewer was either really a jerk and/or had somebody else in mind for the position.

devans00 said...

It's a mystery to me why Carol would like to work there? Unpredictable aggressive behavior and lack of consideration for other people are not traits I'd like to deal with on a day to day basis.

(He walked very quickly, across a grassy, wooded path to the other building instead of using the sidewalk. Carol was wearing high-heeled shoes, had trouble keeping up, and was beginning to break a sweat on this warm day)

Anonymous said...

This is a tactic sometimes used by firms who know the role will deal with jerks - Goldman Sachs sometimes uses this as do others.

They want to see if you are a shrinking violet or if you will put up with the crap. I think you know how you should respond.

Yellowjag said...

The advice about how to respond to this situation is excellent, the interviewee is taking control and including the peer in the solution to the problem.

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