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Interview

How to handle a rude interviewer

You spent hours preparing your application materials and danced a little when you found out the employer wants to interview you. If you ace the one-on-one, you’re likely a shoe-in for the job. Your nerves shake your confidence, and you try to remember your quality answers to all the questions you rehearsed in your mind.

You expect a tough interview, but what happens when you add into the mix a rude interviewer that’d rather crack a whip than a smile to lighten the mood? Should you keep calm and not take the bait, or should you walk out? How do you handle a rude interviewer, and is it worth it to stay or time to leave?

1. Stay calm and collected

Keep a level head. Take a moment to focus on your breathing to stay calm and collected. This is the perfect opportunity to practice mindful breathing exercises, inhaling and exhaling slowly as you remain grounded. When you next answer, use an even tone. Your tone should not be sassy, robotic or matter-of-fact — it will represent your normal tone of voice in a neutral range.

Like schoolyard bullies, the rude interviewer will likely lose interest and return to asking the interview questions in a deadpan tone. During the interview, ask yourself if this experience is a rare occurrence. If your gut says it isn’t, be wary and consider if you’d want to work with this person or with people like them in the long-term. At the same time, remember that this is only one person and one awkward interview.

2. Don’t get worked up

Don’t let a rude interviewer push you to a mental or emotional edge where you feel like biting back. When you get worked up, the job won’t work out for you.

Wear your poker face over a grimace because body language is broadcast as clearly as dissatisfied word choices and will damage your self-respect and professional reputation. Don’t say something you’ll regret that may get misconstrued in professional networks. Unprofessional statements, no matter how warranted, will come back to bite you.

3. Stay positive and extend the benefit of the doubt

Focus on your skills and stay positive. That way it’s easier to remain concentrated on accurately answering the questions. If the issue persists, maybe it’s not malice you’re dealing with but distraction. It could be a deadline or pressure from someone over the interviewer. Maybe you caught your interviewer on the tail end of a minor emergency or stressful event.

Extend the benefit of the doubt because, though behavior may come off hostile, it’s not always intended to be that way. People tend to make negative attributions, linking bad behavior or comments to a person rather than circumstances.

4. Form a bridge

Is the vein throbbing on the interviewer’s forehead? Ask open-ended questions to form a communication bridge, such as “How long have you worked with this company? Please tell me your company origin story.” Smile earnestly, hinting at the superhero reference.

It takes about four seconds for a pause to be awkward, but that feels longer when there’s tension in the room. Use silence as a chance to steer the conversation to a positive subject. If you get the interviewer to talk about themselves, it relieves tension and makes the exchange go two ways instead of making you feel like your head is submerged in a pressure boiler.

5. Exit with grace

Sometimes, you can’t form a proper bridge. You tried to give the benefit of the doubt to the interviewer, but it failed as commentary and behavior drifted to a level that crossed a boundary for you. If the interviewer has stooped to discriminatory words or actions or outright insults, it may be time to formulate an exit plan.

Thank the interviewer for their consideration and time with you, as you courteously excuse yourself from the interview. Don’t comment directly on the interviewer’s behavior or words.

When you reach your car or a safe space outside of the building, take the time to sit down and absorb the shock. Make notes on your phone or paper about your experience if you plan to file an official discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) since a short description of what grievance you suffered is required. If you submit a claim, the commission will investigate it within 180 days.

Proving that discrimination occurred sometimes proves difficult since the employer can claim other motivations for not hiring you. Nonetheless, writing the event down will clear your mind, and exiting with grace will save your professional reputation and guard you against more boundary-breaking. The interview remains one of the most important aspects of searching for and obtaining a job. It allows you and the employer to see each other face-to-face and ask relevant questions.

When an interviewer is rude or makes you feel uncomfortable, it casts a shadow over the excitement of the experience. Handle hostile interviewers by staying calm and positive. Try to give them the benefit of the doubt and form a bridge of communication by asking the interviewer open-ended questions. If the situation becomes too much for you, take the last resort and exit gracefully.

You don’t have to tolerate a rude interviewer or colleague every time. Unfair commentary or inappropriate behavior takes it too far and must be met with a graceful exit. Focus on your talents and strengths and steer the conversation back to what you can do for the company, and if the interviewer can’t overcome their rudeness, it’s not your loss — it’s their loss since you’re the one who kept their professionalism in check.

Sarah Landrum is the founder of Punched Clocks, a leading career advice blog. Her career development advice has been featured on Forbes, Levo, The Muse, Business Insider and other top publications. She had the honor of participating in Mashable’s #BizChats with the biggest names in the career world and was honored to have been listed as one of the top career websites and career experts to follow.

This column originally appeared on Punched Clocks.

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