You've interviewed with a few people for a job you really want. Everyone's been great until this individual. This person is asking questions to "trip you up," isn't smiling and is enjoying the fact that you are on the "hot seat." This interviewer is hostile to you for some reason.
Whatever the reason, you can be almost certain that it has nothing to do with you. He or she may be the type of person that's always negative, finding fault everywhere. They might be an egomaniac on some power trip. They may not like the idea of hiring someone for this position or they might have someone else in mind for this job. The worst thing you can do is confront the person and ask them why they appear to be "out to get you." As difficult as it may be, you want to stay focused on doing well because, after all, you want this job and why should you let some jerk stand in your way?
So, how do you hold up during 60 minutes of squeezing from a total stranger?
Stay Cool - As tempting as it may be, don't take the bait and react negatively. The best thing you can do is to keep your responses even keeled. Even if the interviewer says something that "pushes your buttons" you want to remain professional and in control. If you react negatively, the situation could escalate and you can be sure they'll report back on that. While you can't control how they interact with you, you can certainly control your reaction to them. So, don't take it personally, because it isn't.
Play Back Their Ideas - If they talk about what needs to be done to make the company successful, play that back somewhere in the conversation when it's right. If you can use their words or phrases, all the better. For example, if they said "the key is to bridge these two warring groups," then use that phrase to sell your experience, like "we had our warring groups at company x and here's how we brought them together." As artificial as this may seem it works like a charm. It does two things: lets them know that you are listening and that you also have a similar communication style. The more you're like them, the more they'll like you.
Look for Ways to Bond - As they're speaking, listen for things you share in common, like where they grew up, went to school, people you might know in common or why they got into this business in the first place. If you're able to bond with them in the interview, that's going to signal that you'll be able to bond with them should you get the job.
Compliment Them - You know the saying "flattery will get you everywhere". Find a way to compliment them that's genuine. For example, "I like your directness" or "What's been your key to success here?" That will indicate to them that you view them in somewhat of a positive light. It's only human nature for them to have similar feelings about you. To the extent that it feels comfortable, smile.
Move Them In a Positive Direction - Ask things that will elicit positive responses like "What do you like most about working here?" That will get them focused on talking about their favorite subject "themselves" and shift the mood from negative to positive. They'll start feeling positive and attribute that to you.
Even if you follow all the above, there's no guarantee this interviewer will give you the thumbs up. However, you can feel good knowing that you have done everything possible to maintain a positive demeanor in a negative environment. What's also important to remember is that this hostile interviewer's feedback will be tempered by the fact that they have a reputation for being negative, "Yeah, but that's Bob." If you've done well with the others, there's no reason to believe that this one interview is going to ruin your chances.
Fred & Gladys
Executive Search and Coaching
Authors of GOAL! Your 30 Day Career Plan for Business & Career Success