Ask the Headhunter: How to handle unprepared interviewers

BY Nick Corcodilos  March 18, 2014 at 10:56 AM EDT
When interviewers ask you questions that you've answered on your resume, they may not have read it or are struggling for ways to engage you. Photo by Klaus Vedfelt/Riser via Getty Images.

When interviewers ask you questions that you’ve answered on your resume, they may not have read it or are struggling for ways to engage you. Photo by Klaus Vedfelt/Riser via Getty Images.

Nick Corcodilos started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979, and has answered over 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community over the past decade.

In this special Making Sense edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards, or salary negotiations. No guarantees — just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.


Question: How do you handle interviewers who haven’t read your resume? An interviewer asked if I have done any programming. My resume states that I’m a programmer. Sometimes I’m asked whether I know this software tool or that one. If I did, I would have listed them on my resume! I can learn new tools quickly, but they don’t want to hear it. What’s up with clueless interviewers who ask questions that are answered clearly on my resume, and who want a perfect match of skills? (They drive me crazy!)

Nick Corcodilos: It means that the interviewer either didn’t read your resume, or is at a loss for what to ask. Just the kind of person I’d love to work for — unprepared!

Some managers will argue they are very busy and haven’t time to review your resume carefully before the interview, yet they expect you to be well-prepared. That’s the sign of a lousy manager.

But if I’m the manager, I can’t assume you listed everything on your resume. If I ask questions about your resume, I may be initiating a discussion about a specific detail. “Do you know this tool?” might be just another way of asking, “Tell me about your expertise with this tool,” and that is a legitimate question.

I agree that some employers dismiss quick learners too readily. They aren’t interested in your ability to learn almost anything in a few days given some good manuals and a little peace and quiet. They’re interested in hiring someone who can do the job “yesterday.”

The fundamental problem, of course, is that many managers are not good at assessing a job applicant. Other than ticking off buzz words from your “skill set,” they have no idea how to judge whether you can ride a fast learning curve without falling off.

Many employers complain there’s a “shortage” of qualified technical people, but I believe that’s mostly nonsense. Anyone can hire an employee who can do one particular task today; that is, a person who has been doing exactly that work at his old job. But it takes a good manager to hire and coach a good employee who can master new tasks as they arise. That’s talent.

A good question to ask interviewers is this: “How many of your team members are doing work today that exactly matches the job description they were hired to do originally?”

That will tell you a lot about whether the manager knows how to manage talent rather than just skills.

What all this means is that you, the job applicant, must find subtle ways to commandeer the interview so you can demonstrate that you’re the profitable hire. This article can help you get started: “The Basics: The New Interview.”

The key message in that article is this:

Be ready to do the job. You must take responsibility for being able to solve the employer’s problem in the interview. Do the job. Sound intimidating? Well, if you can’t do it, why bother interviewing for this particular work? You have to be able to do it. You might as well get ready to do the work you’ll have to do daily if you win the job.

If you really want to wow the interviewer without resorting to silly tactics recommended by some of the “experts,” try this: “The Single Best Interview Question… And The Best Answer.” Caution: This is a lot of hard work. But, then again, so is that great job you want, right?

Dear readers: Do interviewers behave like clueless dopes? How do you raise the bar when you interview? And, how do you avoid having your time wasted?


Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth “how to” PDF books are available on his website: “How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you,” “How Can I Change Careers?”, “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps” and “Fearless Job Hunting.”

Send your questions to Nick, and join him for discussion every week here on Making Sense. Thanks for participating!

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