Five Steps to Killing the Scrutiny-Defense Dynamic in Interviews

As a telecommuter, I often bring my laptop to coffee shops in order to find human companionship. Today, I wandered into a new haunt and found no less than three job interviews taking place. Fascinated, I strategically positioned myself so that I could eavesdrop on all of them.

Pair #1: Thin, stylish late-20s businesswoman in conservative business dress interviews college grad with cutlet sideburns. She’s leaning forward in her chair, her eyes slightly narrowed. He slouches back and wrings his hands under the table.

“How do you feel about an eight-to-five job?” She asks him. He looks down at his hands. Speaking quietly, he says the he was on a tight schedule in college and is fine with what she’s suggesting. She nods curtly and continues to scrutinize him.

Pair #2: Two women in their late 30s enjoy a much more chatty, informal interview. Interviewee nods her head with enthusiasm as interviewer describes something that sounds vaguely like a pet supply marketing job.

Interviewer: “We have about 3 established niches that we deal with. We want to see what kinds of complementary brands we can incorporate to expand our horizons.”

Interviewee: Nods with the vigor of a kitten staring at a bouncy ball. Leans back in her chair with her hands on her lap. Shrugs a few times. Looks scared and defensive.

Two heavyset men in casual business attire make up Pair #3. Again, one leans forward while the other cocks his head sideway, smiles a lot, and sits up tall.

Notice a trend? Dominant posturing on behalf of the interviewer; defensive posture from the interviewee. I imagine defensive body language is normal for anyone asking somebody else for anything—especially a gig. But the degree of submission the interviewees exhibited, especially the first two, shocked me. Isn’t a job interview about selling yourself, not putting your tail between your legs and demonstrating your kiss-up abilities?

I doubt the interviewees were trying to look like beached Stomolophus meleagri. What could they have done better to come across as confident candidates? How could they have compelled their interviewers to listen to them, rather than scrutinize them?

One word: Preparation. It’s the ultimate insurance policy against floundering. When done correctly, preparation will nullify the tail-between-the-legs factor in the vast majority of cases. Here are five steps to doing it right.

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Before you begin, set aside at least 1-2 hours of preparation time. Unless you’re a professional improviser, you can’t prepare for an important job interview in ten minutes.

1) Familiarize yourself with different interview techniques. Hiring managers use three predominant techniques. If possible, try to prepare in advance for case interviews, stress interviews, and behavioral interviews.


2) Research your interviewer’s company. Go to your prospective employer’s website and answer the following questions:
– When were they founded, and by whom?
– What are the main three products or services they sell (if you’re not sure, make an educated guess)?
– What are their three most recent press releases about?

3) Make a personal Top-10 list. Make a list of ten of your key competencies as a worker. For example, you may have the ability to rarely call in sick. Or you might be good at making presentations. Write down everything you can think of.

4) List examples. Come up with a specific example of how you’ve displayed each competency in a past position. For example, if you’re a good presentation maker, think back to the number of presentations you’ve created, whom they benefited, and what they helped achieve. This helps you prepare Situation/Action/Result answers to tough behavioral interview questions.

5) Go chic. Take more time than usual to make yourself look good. Everybody knows when they look hot. What do you do to make yourself attractive to a date? Use that mentality, but for a date who promises money and prestige rather than sexual relations. Make yourself feel attractive and confident.

These five steps should insure you against excessive slouching and hand-wringing, while at the same time making your interviewer feel more confident in you. Prepare long enough, and you may kill the scrutiny-defense dynamic entirely, positioning yourself instead as an asset that your employer wants to buy.

Now, if only you could prepare for the kinds of issues the job itself is sure to bring up…

Written by Drea Knufken

Drea Knufken

Currently, I create and execute content- and PR strategies for clients, including thought leadership and messaging. I also ghostwrite and produce press releases, white papers, case studies and other collateral.