January 17, 2021


Helping You Choose The Right Career!

What To Do When an Interviewer is Distracted

4 min read

You applied for your dream job, and got the call. The hiring manager wants to interview you! You are surprised and nervous and your mind is whirling. Is your suit clean? Do you need a haircut? How will you calm those nerves?

You get your clothes together and set aside time for clear thinking the night before. You sit with a pen and notebook, and write down all the ways in which you contributed in your previous positions. You think of the challenges you faced, the actions you took, and the results that happened. You wrap up your thinking session in time to get a good night’s sleep, and wake up the next morning in time to eat a healthy breakfast. You know you are ready. You’ve got this!

Fast forward to later that day. You’ve researched the best route to take, so you arrive at your dream company in plenty of time. You smile at the receptionist and sit down gracefully in the waiting area to review your notes. Time starts to slow down as you realize you’ve been sitting in that waiting area for at least 20 minutes. Now 30 minutes. Now 35.

Suddenly a man rushes into the lobby, talking on his BlackBerry. He points to you and mouths the words, “Follow me”. You hesitate for just a moment, and he hurriedly waves you towards him. You realize with a sinking feeling that your interview may be very different than the fantasy you had envisioned in your mind.

As he leads you into his office, he puts the phone down and motions for you to sit in the only available chair not covered in paper files. He seems to be shuffling through papers on his desk. Is he looking for your resume? You pull an extra copy out of your leather portfolio and ask if he’d like to see your resume. He seems relieved, takes the paper out of your hand and settles in his chair, wiping his brow. You can see his eyes darting quickly down the page, skimming for details. “So, uh, why don’t you tell me a little bit about yourself?” he asks.

You respond with a succinct few sentences about your background and previous position, providing exactly the kind of services this company is looking for. While you’re speaking, you notice that he keeps looking at his watch. He’s not making eye contact, and you just don’t feel like you have his attention. This whole situation seems to be going down the drain quickly, and you’re watching your dream evaporate in front of you in thin air. What can you do?

First of all, understand that it’s not about you. A myriad of things may be happening to take the interviewer’s attention away. Here are some possibilities, as well as recommended approaches.

Scenario 1

The person that’s interviewing you may be involved in a major client crisis or other challenging situation that arose right before you walked in the door.

There probably wasn’t time to contact you, and the interviewer is doing the best they can to manage the situation. If you feel as though they have something pressing going on, one simple question to ask may be, “It seems as though you may have a client issue that needs attention right now. I can certainly come back at a later time if that would be more convenient for you.” The person may be relieved at your ability to perceive the urgency, and may ask you to return at a better time.

Scenario 2

The person that’s interviewing you may not be a stakeholder in the decision, and is simply going through the motions.

Perhaps the person that was supposed to speak with you is out sick. Or the department is being restructured and this person just received bad news. Regardless, one way to deal with this situation is to answer the questions as best you can, and at the end of the interview ask if there are any additional key contacts he or she would recommend you follow up with. One way to do that is to say, “Thank you so much for your time. Will I be hearing back from you, or are there any other key contacts you’d recommend I speak to?”

Scenario 3

It’s a disorganized company that doesn’t take talent development seriously.

One of the hardest parts about putting so much energy and excitement into preparing for an interview is realizing that the company environment is not a place you want to be. It’s hard to form full opinions on company culture based on limited observations, so be careful here. Still, pay attention to see if the interviewer is in line with the other behavior in the work area, or if this seems to be a unique situation. A distracted interviewer may be a blessing in disguise, and point to larger issues of company dysfunction. And really, who wants to work at a place like that?

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