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Interviewing for a Teaching Position

Author(s): Tracy Volz, PhD

Handling Tough Situations

People may ask questions for a number of reasons. Obviously, an interviewer’s primary goal is to learn about you and your qualifications for the position, and most times, an interviewer’s questions will be sincere professional inquiries designed to help the employer decide upon the best person for the job. Sometimes, an interviewer will ask follow-up questions to obtain clarification or more information about a portion of your response. Perhaps he or she will seek a recommendation or description of how you would respond to a certain situation. While such questions might give the impression that the interviewer is challenging you, do not assume the interviewer is hostile just because he or she is tough. Usually, even difficult questions are founded on nothing more than the desire for more information.

Of course, there are rare occasions when an interviewer really is being confrontational. He or she may seek to embarrass, belittle or intimidate you, or simply to make you feel uncomfortable. The best way to handle these moments—or any interview situation—is to remain cool and maintain your composure. Do not get defensive, angry or sarcastic, for this will certainly ruin your chances of landing the position.

If you find yourself fielding hostile questions, always pause to think before you reply. Gather yourself before you answer. You can buy some time and diffuse some tension by restating the question back to the interviewer in neutral terms, removing an aggressive tone or charged language in your version. Continue to make direct eye contact with the interviewer and if possible, identify common ground between your position and his/hers. Try to respond with specific facts and figures to support your argument. If all else fails, rather than continuing along an unproductive or negative line of questioning, simply state that you have nothing more to add to your response. This will place the burden back upon the interviewer to move along the interview.

Also, remember that not all interviewers are trained at this job, or particularly good at it. Some may be as uncomfortable as the interviewee during the process.

Finally, keep in mind the old “it’s me, not you” line. It is entirely possible that a hostile interviewer is not upset with you, and may not even be aware that he or she is being hostile. You do not know what the interviewer may be experiencing in his or her life. And while it is unprofessional for an interviewer to allow outside events to influence his or her conduct in an interview, this certainly can happen. Then again, perhaps the interviewer is always unpleasant! So keep in mind that his or her perceived foul mood may have nothing to do with you. Maintain your poise and professional demeanor, and keep focused. You may receive a positive review even if you got negative feelings during the interview.