How to Handle the Jealous Interviewer

You’re face-to-face with someone who was passed over for the very position you’re seeking, or is still pursuing the job themselves. How do you deal with such a hairy situation without jeopardizing your chances?

By Sonia R. Lelii

Dice News Staff | October 2008


It’s rare, but it does happen.

When pursuing a job with a new company, candidates are likely to go through five to seven rounds of interviews, with different individuals, on their way to being hired. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that one of those interviewers may be the person who was either passed up for the very job you’re seeking, or is actively pursuing the position themselves.

It puts candidates in a difficult situation. So, how do you deal with such a hairy situation without jeopardizing your chances for getting the job?

“What you do is keep that interview impersonal,” advises Jack Downing, founder of the Chicago-based recruiter WorldBridge Partners. “You almost have to distance yourself. You have to go from personal to impersonal, and it’s really hard.” In such situations,  Downing says, keep the conversation focused on your skills. “Keep it objective, like ‘Yes, I know how to do this’ or “No, I don’t know that,'” he says. “I would stay away from  management ideals, your views on strategies and leadership.”

Joe Redshaw, a corporate recruiter at the Lexington, Mass.-based web application firm Gomez, agrees candidates should try to keep the interview neutral. However, he also believes the interview can be an opportunity to find out more about the position and the company.

“In a way, I would be inquisitive and ask if they are a candidate,” Redshaw says of your interviewers. “If they’re not being considered, then ask why. You don’t want to be confrontational. But you don’t want to blow it off, either.”

Redshaw points out you may be working on the interviewer’s team if you take the job, so you should get to know the person as best you can. “You need to figure out whether this is a team you really want to be on,” he says.

Dan Rodriguez, chief executive of the Florida IT staffing firm Veredus, has heard of times when a person who’d been passed over for a job is involved in the interviewing process.  When that happens, he encourages job candidates to “give everybody the benefit of the  doubt.” While it helps if a company tells the candidate one of the interviewers is being considered for the job, you can’t always count on that happening.

On the flip side, the situation may offer some indications about what it would be like to work at the company you’re interviewing with. Downing recalls one client who included as an interviewer a person passed up for the job because he was the only person who could evaluate the candidates’ skill levels.

“That is not a good practice that a company should do to people. It’s just not a good practice,” Downing says. “It doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a bad company. It means they have not thought through the process. But companies should be careful of it and candidates should be careful of it. It’s an uncomfortable situation.”

Write Sonia R. Lelii is a technology writer at Dice.com. She can be reached at sonia.lelii@dice.com.

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