Is a Job Interview Just One Big Mind Game?

Google “job interview” and it comes back with no fewer than 110 million results; you don’t even have to go past the first page to find a website dedicated to them, some “dos and don’ts”, and what is (currently) considered the 31 most common questions. The good news is that the most basic advice doesn’t change. The bad news is that yes, an interview is a mind game. You can follow every piece of advice in every link you can find, and there’s no guarantee they’ve predicted what your interviewer will do. Here are some games they might play that show interviewers are more than just straightforward question-and-answer sessions.

See also: How to Always Have the Answer to All Interview Questions

The game begins

Before you can even start worrying about the interview, you need to get the application response, which can take anywhere from a few days to a month when you’ve forgotten about it. Except that that’s the first trick – if you’ve forgotten about it, you can’t have wanted it much in the first place. Yes, I know you’re applying for hundreds of jobs, and they know it too, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to feel special.


They like you and they want to meet you, great! Time to research the company and find out everything you can about the position. Oh, and worry about what kind of interview it’s going to be: are they just going to ask about you and your history? Will they give you a test? Will they do most of the talking? Or will it be...

Game 1: The ridiculous-questions based interview

You know the one. Where you get asked how to put an elephant in a fridge or what you’d take to a desert island rather than, I don’t know, anything even slightly relevant to the job. Supposedly, these kinds of questions show how quick thinking and logical you can be, but why do they happen? The good news is that they’re going out of fashion.

Reason 1: You’re this close to getting the job

They like you and they just want to see how you really think in a high pressure environment; they know you (should have) taken your time crafting that résumé and covering letter. The good news is they’re usually more interested in your thought process than you actually getting it right, if there even is a right answer.

Reason 2: You don’t stand a chance

They can’t call you and tell you they want to cancel the interview because they’ve chosen someone else, or you’d sue. So they let you come in, and instead of hearing about how great you are and regretting their choice they decide to get some entertainment out of it by finding out how many penguins can fit on the North Pole.

Game 2: Chicken

No, not your chance to race towards each other on the rolling chairs and joust. Can you remember the last time you were faced with an awkward silence? Did you panic until you or someone else finally broke it? In a job interview, the interviewer is trying to make you squirm and start talking in the hopes that you’ll say something juicy without the guidance of a question.

“When faced with an uncomfortable silence, people will start talking 95 percent of the time,” according to Mark Murphy. “[The recruiter] risk[s] feeling a millisecond of discomfort, but it’s worth it if it elicits the facts [they] are looking for.”

The Business Insider has taken tips written in a book for recruiters and turned them into eight tips for interviewees, including several about being wary of even the words you use as the interviewer could be taking into account what tense you’re speaking in, what pronouns you’re using, and whether you’re using the passive or the active voice. Break out the grammar books!

The cruelest game of all

You can walk in fully prepared, ready for whatever type of interview they’re going to throw at you. The one thing you can’t control? What kind of day your interviewer’s had so far. If they had a terrible commute, got shouted at by their superior, or have had to deal with a clueless intern, there isn’t much you can do to stop it affecting you other than trying to cheer them up with your sparkling wit. What interviews really come down to is luck; luck that you haven’t ended up running late, luck that your interviewer’s in a good mood, luck that the job really is as described. Maybe you should spend some of that research time practicing your mind control skills and play them at their own game.

Games take two

To be fair, it’s not all on the interviewer; you can get so wrapped up in your own thoughts and assumptions that you cause problems for yourself without their help. Between trying to work out what to say to be the model candidate they’re looking for, worrying about how you’re going to explain gaps in your CV and being conscious of your body language, it’s no wonder that you might end up not sounding like yourself.

See also: How to Handle the Good Cop / Bad Cop Interview Game

What kind of interviews have you experienced? If you’ve conducted interviews, what are the trickiest questions you’ve asked your interviewees? Let us know!