5 Best Ways to Deal With a Novice Interviewer

Even a seasoned tech pro has to ace a job interview to land an offer. But what if your interviewer asks vague questions or doesn’t seem to know what they’re looking for? How can you showcase your talent when you’re dealing with an inexperienced interviewer who lacks training or even basic knowledge of what you do?

Here’s how to spot (and deal with) a green interviewer without blowing your chances.

The Interviewer Wants to Socialize Instead of Asking Questions

If the interviewer would rather swap ideas about development than ask specific questions about your background and experience, you are probably facing a rookie.

One sign of an inexperienced interviewer is that they don’t come prepared with a list of questions to ask, explained Billy Hollis, interviewing expert, speaker and partner at Next Version Systems.

“They view other developers as members of the tribe, so they meander,” Hollis added. “Unless you help guide the conversation, you may wonder whether the manager is capable of hiring the most qualified people or if this is the right team for you.”

How can you keep a rambling conversation on-track and moving forward? Ask questions about the priorities, goals, and team road map for the coming year. Then provide examples of comparable projects you’ve been part of involving similar programming languages, frameworks and tools.

It’s a lot like interviewing yourself in many respects. Asking (and answering) open-ended questions provides structure and makes the conversation more productive for both parties.

They Seem Disinterested

An interviewer who’s struggling to perform various tasks such as hiring, work allocation, and project scheduling along with administrative duties may seem distracted, rushed or disengaged.

In fact, a new manager may not view interviewing as a priority. He’d rather be focused on the project instead of spending time with you, explained Dan Miller, career coach and author of “48 Days to the Work You Love.”

“Don’t let the interviewer’s negative energy discourage you or dampen your spirits,” Miller said. “Keep your energy and enthusiasm level up.”

You never know—this could end up being a preliminary interview, and you don’t want to miss the chance to advance and meet someone with more experience, he added.

They Stick With What They Know

Inexperienced interviewers tend to test you on the skillsets and technologies they know best so they feel more secure evaluating your answers, explained Jennifer Kim, a hiring expert and startup advisor.

Many also take a “check-the-box approach” to assessing your technical skills. In other words, they don’t ask for examples or stories that demonstrate how you’ve applied technical knowledge and soft skills in the past. Instead, they run down a list to see how many years of hands-on experience you have with the various requirements.

Worse, a novice interviewer may try to compensate for a lack of experience by flaunting his authority. “Realize that a novice interviewer is feeling anxious, and show empathy rather than anger or hostility,” Kim advised.

How? Put on your consulting hat. Explain that you want to provide the best and most complete answer possible by understanding a bit more about the project or job requirements (especially when they ask about your hands-on experience). Then, seize the opportunity to expand the dialogue by describing similar projects and tech stacks you’ve worked with in the past.

Showing interest in the technical environment and ways you can contribute to projects is also a great way to build rapport with your interviewer.

They Ask Illegal Questions

An untrained interviewer may ask questions about graduation dates, previous salaries, the origin of your name or childcare needs that stray beyond bona fide occupational qualifications (BFOQ), warned John Decker, career consultant, author and EVP of MDL Partners.

You are better off sidestepping those types of questions if possible, Decker advised, since refusing to answer may make both of you feel uncomfortable. Make a note about your experience after the interview in case you feel that you were discriminated against or treated unfairly during the hiring process.

They Take Lots and Lots of Notes

Rookie interviewers have a hard time determining what’s important, so they write down everything you say. They’re so busy jotting things down they don’t really listen or process what you’re saying.

You can train the interviewer to be a better listener by taking command of the information flow. Try speaking less and stressing the things that demonstrate why you are qualified and will be a good fit for the environment.

They Don’t Know How to Use Résumés as a Guide

Novice interviewers don’t understand how to use a technical résumé as a guide during an interview.

For instance, instead of asking you to highlight your expert-level skills or focusing on critical job-related expertise, a green interviewer may ask you to describe your experience with an obscure and ambiguous tool or technology you barely know (that’s buried near the end of your résumé).

Inexperienced hiring managers have a hard time deciphering a lengthy résumé and figuring out which hard and soft skills really matter. They don’t understand that applicants list most of the technologies and tools they’ve mastered so their résumé makes it past the applicant tracking system (ATS), Hollis explained.

“If you find yourself in a similar situation, you may need to take command of your résumé during the interview, but not in a heavy-handed way,” Hollis said.

For example, draw attention to particular bullet-points in your skills and work experience sections that pertain to the job description, and offer to provide more details. Also, explain how your technical skills are organized in your résumé so the hiring manager can ascertain your strongest, most relevant competencies. By taking these steps, you can bring even the most novice interviewer onto your side.