Why Taking Control of Your Interview Is a Bad Idea

Most advice counsels job seekers to take control of their interviews. Sadly, this can be an interview etiquette disaster. 

Poor Interview Etiquette

It’s common for recruiters and hiring managers to run into applicants who have taken too much “advice” about being aggressive in their job searches.

When that happens, the applicants’ execution almost always lacks finesse. Rather than impressing the people involved in the selection process, they end up annoying them and not getting job offers.


Because of that, it’s important to respect a company’s hiring processes. Doing so shows respect for the people involved in the process, and it shows your ability to work within processes. If you step on toes during the interview process, people will assume (rightly) that you will be an inconsiderate colleague.

Also, taking control of an interview might convey contempt for the interviewer. Don’t expect the interviewer to like you if they think you don’t respect them. If the interviewer doesn’t like you, it will be hard to get to the next round of interviews.

Smart Interview Etiquette

Thus, rather than disregarding the interview process, go with it and add to it. Answer the interviewer’s questions and add to them with information or questions of your own. You can respect the process and show leadership. They aren’t mutually exclusive actions.

At its best, an interview is a balanced exchange of information between two or more people. As in any productive conversation, no one should dominate.

As a candidate, make sure the interviewer learns everything they want to know about you. Cooperate with them. Help them. Otherwise, your chance of a next round goes to about zero.

If you think the interviewer missed some good points about you, or that you haven’t had an opportunity to show what you can offer, add on at a natural place to do so. That might be during the conversation or when the interviewer has finished with his/her questions.

In adding on, be sensitive to signals of interest or disinterest from the interviewer and adjust your behavior responsively.

I always liked it when a candidate added relevant information that I missed. Doing so shows self-confidence, and it’s helpful. I also liked that they showed courtesy in letting me ask all of my questions.

Your Turn Will Come

As your interviews with a company continue, and you feel reasonably sure the company is interested in you, the dynamic will start a natural shift toward your concerns. That’s when you can start asking more questions about what matters to you. If they’re interested, they will want to have that exchange.

If You Really Want to Control Your Interview…

University of Missouri researchers have found that when you make a good first impression, interviewers are more likely to:

  1. Take a positive approach to your interview.
  2. Allocate a higher percentage of interview time to selling you on the job.
  3. Ask you fewer questions.

Thus, the better their first impression of you, the more likely it is that they will try to impress you in return.

What’s your first impression? Almost always some combination of your resume, cover letter, and LinkedIn profile.

Control Your Interviews the Smart Way

Don’t ever underestimate the value of a cover letter, resume, and LinkedIn profile that differentiate you from the crowd.

As described above, they help you control your interviewers’ behavior without alienating them. And when you make a good first impression, you gain a significant advantage in the selection process.

Image: Fotolia/pathdoc
Updated September 2019

© 2010 – 2019, Donna Svei. All rights reserved.

Comments 5

  1. I had an interview last week – straight through the door – “you should complain to your agent about your cv being modified and showing markup”

    How do you control that interview?

    The next day – an agent sent off my CV again with her own markup – which was rejected by the company. How do I know – because in a panic she asked me to remove the markup so she could send it again.

  2. Hi David,

    One way to prevent this is to only give agencies a pdf copy of your resume. That way they can’t mark it up.

    Best wishes,


  3. Hi Donna,

    Thank you so much for writing this post! I must say, until recently I’d never heard a true career professional use the phrase “control the interview.” It’s always some version of the advice you put so well: to treat the interview as a two-way conversation. Not too long ago, for the first time, I heard someone in a career advising capacity (not someone with a career counseling/career development background) state that they always tell their clients to “control the interview.” It sounded exactly the way you suggest in your post. Thank you for writing this post.

    Perhaps some who are trained or inclined to say this phrase to their clients will read it and find a much better substitute (the advice in your post would give them a good place to start!). I love the suggestions you share that show how to appropriately engage in the application/interview process.



  4. Thank you Shahrzad. I appreciate your support and everything I learn from you on Twitter.

    Shahrzad practices in the greater Washington DC area. She can be followed on Twitter at @CareerConsult.

  5. I actually said “YES!” out loud when I read this, Donna. Thank you for writing it. I worry so much about job seekers ingesting all the “you gotta do this” advice out there, and, as a result, losing a job they otherwise might have gotten.

    Having interviewed many people, I can assure job candidates that if you take control during an interview, showing no respect for the interviewer or process, we are most likely going to assume you are not someone who will respect us later on either. As you explain, Donna, an interview is a balanced exchange. Certainly it’s a chance for a job seeker to find opportunities to show who they are, but also to understand that the employer has their own idea of what they want to know – and part of that is how easy the person would be to work with.

    Thanks for saying this so well!

    ~ Ronnie Ann

    Thank you Ronnie Ann. Donna

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