Earlier today, I was reading a how-to book for hiring managers and recruiters, and it brought me back to a situation I had encountered in one of my previous jobs. The chapter I was reading discussed ways of dealing with an aggressive interviewee and suggested that a hiring manager should not automatically discard such an individual’s candidacy. It suggested that an arrogant demeanor could simply mean a person’s way of covering up his or her nerves and interview jitters. I am not so sure I buy it!
I was once helping a manager recruit my direct report. During our selection process, we met a contender who hardly answered any of my questions, constantly looked away and nearly sighed in exasperation every few minutes. Following the meeting and during debrief with my manager, I suggested that the candidate was definitely not a fit for the role. My manager, however, offered a different explanation: “She is a fantastic candidate. She simply didn’t like you!” Naturally this made me wonder. Is an interviewee ever justified in being rude or even simply impolite during the interview process? Can someone fail miserably during the interview, yet be a great hire?
Here is my conclusion. Some people are naturally fantastic interviewees. They automatically click with the person on the other side of the table and give excellent answers to every question asked of them. Does it mean they are necessarily a great hire? No. And I have seen examples of that many times. On the other hand, I have met candidates who were so painfully shy and uncomfortable that I could hardly get two sentences out of them. Nonetheless, they had outstanding references and were among the best I ever placed.
However, in my opinion, there is a line you do not cross. Since the interview is at the very least a small window into your personality and soft skill set, any sight of aggression is an automatic red flag. If you raise your voice, roll your eyes, sigh loudly or use inappropriate language, who is to guarantee that you will not exhibit the same traits when on the job? If you cover up your nerves by being rude or if you allow your personal impressions of your interviewer get in the way of acceptable behavior, it should definitely be a concern for the hiring manager. There is place for confidence in the workplace; there is place for those that are shy; there is place for both outgoing employees and those that are introverted. Unprofessional and aggressive interviewees, however? I will stay away from those and will keep them away from my clients!
Oh, and my direct report we had hired? Major flop.