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How to be Assertive in your Job Interview

Updated on October 17, 2012
Assertive job interviewing can make you a winner
Assertive job interviewing can make you a winner


Anyone who knows anything about getting hired knows that it is the interview, more than anything else, that determines whether a hiring official will have the human resource office give you a call and tell you that you are hired, as opposed to never hearing anything from anybody, except that someone else has been for the job. The resume may be impeccably written and the qualifications may be superb, but unless the job applicant performs well in the job interview, the most he or she will probably get is a response that says, essentially, “Thank you, but no thank you.”

There have been so many books and articles written on how one should go about doing an effective job interview that they are almost beyond counting. I have written two such books, myself. But my intent here is not to rehash most of the how-to’s and do’s and don’ts in this published material, but to concentrate on what most of this material does not mention: the advantages of being assertive, as opposed to being passive in how one conducts him or herself in the interview. What is the difference between the two and how does one have advantages over the other? Let us examine each one.


The passive interviewee goes into the interview showing a great deal of stress and lack of confidence. He probably gives a weak handshake to the interviewer, takes his seat, leaning back and often folding his arms. He answers each question posed by the interviewer, but only those questions. He gives short answers and the interviewer often has to ask follow-up questions to drag out more information. At the end of the questioning from the interviewer, when given the opportunity to ask questions, he asks few or no questions even though he may want to ask questions, but he is too shy to do so. He walks away from the interview often dissatisfied with his performance and the fact that the interviewer did not ask some questions that he hoped the interviewer would ask.

The great tragedy of the passive interviewee is that he or she depends on the interviewer to ask all of the right questions to bring out the important things about the interviewee’s background and qualifications. Because the passive interviewee is passive, if the interviewer does not ask the right questions, those things about the interviewee’s background are never brought out and the passive interviewee will probably not be offered the job.


The assertive interviewee goes into the interview, gives a reasonably firm handshake-breaking the interviewer’s hand is more than necessary-sits in his chair, leaning forward to show interest and self-confidence and maintains good eye contact with the interviewer. He answers the questions put forward by the interviewer fully and without hesitation.

From what we have said thus far, it should be obvious that there is quite a difference between the passive interviewee and the assertive interviewee. But, we have only scratched the surface. There is much more. You see, the main difference between the passive interviewee and the assertive interviewee is that the former sits back and is controlled by the interviewer and the latter has learned how to control the interview enough for his own agenda. But, the assertive interviewee can never gain complete control of the interview. For instance, he cannot walk in with a list of questions he wants to be asked and refuse to answer any other. He cannot demand what aspects of his resume the interviewer must give concentration to and nothing else. Of course not. To be effective, the assertive interviewee has to straddle the line between being just passive and responsive and being too aggressive and so assertive that he turns off the interviewer.

The assertive interviewee listens to the interviewer, answers his questions fully so that a lot of follow-up or probing questions are not necessary. He waits until it is obvious that the interviewer is not going to ask the kind of questions about his qualifications and abilities that he wants asked, and then asserts his control of the direction of the interview. But he asserts that control effectively, without it being obvious to the interviewer. The following are some effective techniques the assertive interviewee uses to get his agenda across in the job interview:

Look for the Opening: The best kinds of openings are open-ended questions from the interviewer. Questions such as, “Tell me about yourself.” Or “is there anything else you would like to say?” are perfect openings for the interviewee to say whatever he or she would like to bring out regarding his or her qualities or assets for the job.

Use smooth transitions:  But if the interviewer does not give those kinds of openings, the assertive interviewee can create his or her own openings by making a smooth transition from an answer to an undesirable question from the interviewer to an answer that the interviewee really wants to make. For instance, if the interviewer asks the interviewee to elaborate on his experience in doing telephone marketing, assuming that telephone marketing is decreasing in importance to the company and also assuming the interviewee has little experience in the latter, the interviewee can move the interview in his favor in the following way, “Well, I have some experience In telephone marketing, but my company, some time ago, started to put most emphasis on internet marketing, so I started to concentrate in that area. As a result of my research, I was able to—“

Here, the interviewee has shifted the focus from an area of weakness in the interviewee’s background to an area in strength that might not have come to the surface without the interviewee’s assertive transition from the area of telephone marketing to internet marketing. This assertive transition could give rise to more questions and discussions about internet marketing and could result in the interviewee changing his entire chances of being selected for the position.

Follow-on to what the interviewer says:  Many job interviewers talk too much in the interview. They talk too much about themselves and about the job. The assertive interviewee takes advantage of this. They listen to what the interviewer says and, instead of just sitting there, they move to follow-on to something the interviewer says to assert their own advantage of perception. For instance, if the interviewer talks about a particular problem the organization or his department is having, the interviewee can wait for a pause on the part of the interviewer, and then jump in with comments on how he faced and solved similar problems in his organization.

Take advantage of interviewer pauses: While the interviewee should never have pregnant pauses in his answers to questions, many interviewers do have pauses in their questions. The reason for this is that many interviewers fail to properly prepare for the job interview. One common thing that they often fail to do is to carefully examine the resume of the interviewee before the interview. As a result, they often pause during the interview while they read it.

The interviewee should realize that pauses from the interviewer usually mean that he or she does not know what to ask next. These pauses can be opportunities for the interviewee to jump in an either talk about relevant areas of his qualifications that have not been asked about or reinforce areas of strength in his background. This both helps the interviewer out of an awkward situation and helps the interviewee to better sell himself to the interviewer.

Ask the right questions:  Often at the end of the interview the interviewer will ask the interviewee if he has any questions. Even if the interviewer forgets to give the interviewee a chance to ask questions, the assertive interviewee will not leave the interview without asking both the following questions:

1.       What kind of person are you looking for to fill this position? This is an excellent question because it puts the interviewer on the spot. He almost has to answer this question honestly. His answer, whatever it is, gives the assertive interviewee a chance to reinforce his selling of himself to the employer. For instance, “Well, I am encouraged to hear that those are the kind of qualities you are looking for. I think you will find from my references that I have most of those qualities in abundance. For instance-“

2.       When do you expect to make a selection decision? This is an essential question because the answer could guide the interviewee as to when to consider making a follow-up call regarding the selection decision for the open position. The interviewee will want to avoid being seen as a pest by following up too soon. On the other hand, no one wants to wait until they grow old until they hear if they have or have not been selected for a job.

The basic rule to successful job interviewing is that it is usually better to be assertive than passive in a job interview. But the other part of the rule is to never be too assertive that you turn off the interviewer. The key to job interviewing is probably the same for most things in life-avoid the extremes.


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      3 years ago

      that's helpful


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