Coping with interview techniques

A well known method of interrogation is the good guy / bad guy routine. One is friendly, the other is standoffish, asks difficult questions, and seems hostile.

This technique is intended to draw out information to the sympathetic interviewer. At its extremes, it's positively threatening, intentionally, but job interviews aren't quite that bad.

It's also a test of how you handle situations. You can expect this in stress interviews, and in the more advanced behavioral interview situations.

The good vs. bad routine is actually pretty effective. If done subtly, you may just think the bad guy is a jerk, and give minimal answers, concentrating on the nicer interviewer(s).

That's a mistake. You have to deal with all sorts on the job, particularly in public contact, and if you're avoiding a possibly difficult situation, you may not be right for the job.

You're also doing yourself no favors in terms of your answers. Giving minimal answers isn't a good move. You inevitably reduce the amount of information you give to the interviewers.

Meaning that your competitors, if they aren't put off by the interview technique, will do much better.

Experienced interviewees aren't fazed by this technique. Even if they've seen it before, they've got a job to do, and that's get a job. That's usually what they do, too.

A point of interest:

You're not there to win a popularity contest, you're there to get a job. You're there to prove you're the best applicant. If you dodge one interviewer, you have no hope of making any sort of positive impression, either on that interviewer or the others.

Some interviewers aren't particularly professional, and are actually not particularly friendly or helpful. They're like an obstacle course, and they're obstacles you have to overcome.

They're the ones you should be trying to get onside. They ask a question, you give the right answer. What are they going to do about it? If you're right, you're right. You win.

The strictly formal approach to the two types of interviewer

It's difficult to like the good guy bad guy approach, but there is a way of handling it effectively, and neutralizing the bad guy motif.

  • When asked questions, you engage the bad guy. You look at the interviewer, bring them into the question, even if someone else asked it. They may say nothing at all, but make it clear you're talking to them, too.
  • With their own questions, you don't hold back. You give the full answer. Never mind if they look unimpressed or unfriendly. They asked for it, literally.
  • Never give the impression you're avoiding one of their questions, under any circumstances. Do the best you possibly can.
  • Make it clear you're not overawed by the negative effects. Don't even look like you're reacting. In stress interviews, that's crucial. It's also crucial on the jobs where this interview technique is important. Think of it as further education.


You said million sales was your greatest achievement. Here, we deal in hundreds of millions. What makes you think you're right for this job.

Explanation of the question

This is confronting the applicants with a contrast. In point of fact you're at the interview, so you're in the running for the job. What they want to know is how you will deal with this big jump in budgets and responsibility.

That's as well as seeing how you react to the pressure. With big budgets, pressure is unavoidable, and if you can't tackle an interview, you're not the guy for the job.


Well, I was a low level clerk, then. I had to learn how to handle amounts of money I'd never seen before. We did it, we made money, and we stayed on our own budget while we were at it. We were even under budget, in outlays.

(Looks directly at the interviewer)

I know big money brings big responsibilities. This is my career. I work hard, and I get good results with my budgets. I expect to get bigger responsibilities as I progress up the ladder.

I say, (looks at interviewer again, expressionlessly) Bring it on. I can handle it.

If the bad guy interviewer pretends he's even scratched the paint of the interviewee, after that answer, he's in denial. The other interviewers won't agree with him, either. In a stress interview, it would be a winning response, because there's no way of contradicting the answer.

Never be a doormat. You can be polite, and make your points without even raising a sweat.

If you get caught by this technique, you're likely to clam up and silently talk yourself out of the job.