Apply, interview, get hired. These are the typical steps to landing a job, with interviewing likely being the most important. We’ve all done it and all will likely do it again, and although some of us are better at it than others, getting interview nerves is fairly universal.
Most career coaches will advise the more jittery of interviewees to combat those nerves with preparation. Ask a friend to do a mock interview with you. Prepare answers to some of the anticipated questions like the dreaded — and, in my opinion, totally useless — question: What are your weaknesses?
Particularly in competitive fields like international development, it can seem like an employer’s market. You prepare as best as you can, but ultimately it’s up to the employer to evaluate your suitability for the job.
You're interviewing for an international development job, and the recruiter gives you the opportunity to ask a few questions. So, what should you ask?
But what a lot of people don’t know is that the interviewer may be just as nervous and often far less prepared. Performing well in an interview is a skill most professionals have taken time to practice, but very few people are trained in how to interview. Being a good interviewer — knowing what questions to ask and how to evaluate whether a candidate is a good fit for a position — is not a skill many people have on their own. And with a myriad of personality types in the workplace, there are many different interviewer types.
In many organizations, recruiters and HR professionals may provide some guidance, and in large institutions like the United Nations and World Bank, the interview process is highly controlled and regulated. But in smaller NGOs and consulting firms, often the hiring managers are left to evaluate candidates on their own. And they may have no idea what to ask, how to act or how to evaluate responses based on the actual needs of the position. If you are relying on the interviewer to ask the right questions to show how you are a fit for a role, then you are likely selling yourself short.
Here are a few interviewer types you might run across and tips on how to make sure you communicate your fit for a role, even when the interview goes off course.
1. The nice guy (or gal)
They ask easy questions, smile, nod and give lots of verbal and physical cues that you are on the right track. The benefit of interviewing with this kind of person is it’s a lot less stressful and you will likely walk away feeling great about your prospects. The challenge is, they are likely this nice with everyone. They may be too afraid or uncomfortable to ask you the tough questions they need to know to determine if you are right for the job. While you walk away feeling great, they may walk away thinking you lack some of the required skills or experience that you never got a chance to talk about.
How to deal: If they won’t ask the tough questions, then you can. You could say something like, “you may be wondering how I have the requisite technical experience despite formal training, so let me tell you how my field experience has prepared me for this position.”
2. The inquisitor
This kind of interviewer comes very prepared with a list of challenging questions — likely ones they got from a book — and are borrowing famed interviewing techniques from cut-throat industries like banking. Think questions like this one Goldman Sachs has used: “If you were shrunk to the size of a pencil and put in a blender, how would you get out?” They are more intent on tripping you up than asking the right questions to evaluate you for the job.
How to deal: Since one of the goals of these kinds of questions is to see how you perform under pressure, your goal should be to answer the questions as best as you can without getting flustered. You could follow up with, “that is an interesting question, let me give you a few example of how I was able to creatively find solutions to problems in the workplace” since the other purpose of these questions is often to determine reasoning, problem solving and analytical skills.
In a job interview, how do you respond to frequently asked questions? We asked a host of international development recruiters and career experts. Here's their advice for independent consultants and others working in development and humanitarian aid.
3. The nervous nelly
This kind of interviewer hates to interview. They are likely more comfortable in desk jobs with little interaction with other people and may have a dose of social anxiety. The idea of being put in a room with a stranger to ask them personal questions is at best uncomfortable and they frankly can’t wait to get out of there.
How to deal: Since this kind of interviewer is reluctant to ask probing questions, start by asking them some friendly questions about themselves. How did they get started? What do they enjoy about the job/employer? What do they think is necessary to succeed in the workplace? Once they have (hopefully) loosened up, then you can try the technique of asking and answering your own questions along the lines of, “you may be wondering…”
4. The chatty cathy
This kind of interviewer can be similar to the “nice guy” but is more interested in talking about themselves, the company or anything other than you. One of the reasons career coaches suggest being prepared with lots of questions is that people typically enjoy talking about themselves and will often leave with a more positive impression of you when they do. The danger though is if they spend all their time talking then you will never have a chance to talk about you.
How to deal: This can be a tricky one to navigate as you don’t want to repeatedly interrupt the interviewer, and some may not leave a lot of room for air. But you will want to take cues from their conversation and help bring it back to you and why you are a fit for the role. Also, lead questions with an example of your experience. For example, “when I was implementing a new project tracking system in my previous employer, I encouraged internal adoption by our project staff by preparing concise training guides, tutorials and working closely with my colleagues to ensure they fully understood the system. How are you encouraging staff to adopt your new system?”
5. The panel interview
A panel interview is especially tricky because you may have any combination of these interviewer types together in one room. And sometimes the interviewers will talk over one another, contradict each other or delve into internal conversations right in front of you. How colleagues interact with each other in a panel interview is a good indication of the workplace culture, so make note of any particular red flags. But this is often a symptom of many personality types coming together to do an awkward task none of them are particularly well trained to do.
How to deal: It is important to know who the real decision makers are in the room versus those that are brought in to help drive consensus. A decision maker may be the hiring manager or prospective team mate vs. a colleague from another team. You will want to impress the decision makers first and foremost without ignoring the others. A benefit of the panel interview is that multiple interview styles may create an environment for your skills and experiences to shine in multiple lights.
What other interviewer types have you come across and how did you deal? Please leave your comments below.