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

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.

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

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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

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."

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.

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.

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 She can be reached at