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Off-late, I have been attending interviews and I have had good and bad experiences, one of which is as follows.

The interviewer asks a question and minds their own business, viz, working on their laptop or mobile, or simply utter the words "uh huh" repeatedly to everything that I say.

In both the cases, the interviewer didn't pay attention to what I said; I knew it because they would ask the same question again.

I do understand that sometimes it would be a test to see how the candidate responds in such cases, but in a case or two I genuinely felt that I was being interviewed just for the namesake. And laptop thing is not really a test.

How can I interact with an interviewer who does not appear to be paying attention to me, in order to retain or regain their attention?

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  • Hey Sara, unfortunately, we can't tell you what to do. However, if you tell us what you want to communicate to this Interviewer, we can help you with that. For example: "How can I tell this interviewer that I find they very rude without ruinning my chance?". Alternatively, you can also ask your question to The Workplace which might be better suited for your need.
    – Ael
    Nov 29 '18 at 14:18
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    I think that you may want to give us some idea of what kind of job you are looking for, as well as how desperate you are - i.e., how much does making sure you get a job vs standing up for yourself mean to you. Depending on what job you are interviewing for, those can be very much at odds.
    – Misha R
    Nov 29 '18 at 20:49
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    Hi Sara, there's a couple posts on The Workplace dealing with similar situations: this and this might be useful for you. (Their site is typically more focused on "what's professional?", while we're more goal-oriented.) The edit about retaining attention is an improvement, can I ask what industry and culture this is? I'm really only familiar with tech style ones in the US, where you often work on problems during an interview. Is it like that or more like a behavioral interview?
    – Em C
    Nov 30 '18 at 3:22
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Firstly, even though it is true that some people are terrible at conducting interviews, don't assume that they are ignoring you and working on their laptop. Many interviews in large organisations today are conducted by a manager, untrained in interview technique, but conducted to a set of rules imposed upon them by a human resource department. As such, interviews can be a point-scoring exercise. The interviewer may actually be taking detailed notes of what you are saying, so rather than ignoring you, they are trying to listen. Later on, they may use what they have written about your answers to "score" you. In some cases it literally is the highest scoring candidate that wins; other times they may consider other factors too but use the scores to justify their decision, at least in part. This is based on my own experience working in two different government organisations in the UK as a manager who interviewed and hired.

It can be easy to be negative about some interviews and assume that you are not doing very well because of the way the interviewer is responding, or not. But if you want to get a job, keep positive! Remember that some interviewers can be as nervous about the process as the interviewees, and this can account for some behaviour. Also, if they are taking notes to "score" you, you must continue your interview with a positive manner otherwise your score won't be so high. In fact, if you think that they are making notes, my advice is to say as much as you can. Don't waffle, but say for example they ask for a list of things you have done. Don't just give a couple of examples if you feel you can list them all in a reasonable time. In score-based interviews, you can't really score less for talking more.

It would probably be inadvisable to try and say something to a prospective employer that could come across as rude, like checking if they are actually listening to you or not. But at most interviews you are given an opportunity to ask them some questions. Always have some good questions prepared that show you have done some specific research about their organisation. This also is an opportunity to show them that you are interested in them (not just in getting any old job), and should also be a chance for you to interact with them properly. If they are still muttering a few words to you whilst typing at this stage of an interiew, then perhaps you are right, and they are just rude. Personally, I wouldn't want to work for someone like that and I'd consider it a lucky escape to not get that job. But always be polite, because you never know how this employer might be connected to other prospective employers.

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    I've probably conducted over 1000 interviews in my career and this is spot on. The point about being inadvisable to check if they are listening or not is absolutely correct. Remember, this is your opportunity as interviewee to put your best foot forward. If you ask "are you paying attention?", that really doesn't speak much about you. I'd add one minor point: it's up to you as the interviewee to be as interesting as possible so they don't spend a lot of time on the laptop but rather engaging you. Nov 29 '18 at 13:58
  • It is also quite possible that a prior candidate appeared to be a perfect match for the job and thus your interview is indeed a token interview. Or that the interviewer in the first few minutes of the interview (and sometimes in the walk to the interview room) has decided there is no connection. This is not your fault! A good and very polite interviewer might then feign interest and even make notes using a laptop but the die has been cast already, a not so good interviewer may appear disinterested. No reason to call them out on it because of reasons in the last sentence of the answer.
    – GretchenV
    Nov 29 '18 at 14:56
  • @baldPrussian now that you've written your own answer, the info in your comment here would make a good addition to that ;)
    – Em C
    Nov 30 '18 at 22:00
  • @EmC: thanks for the input. I've put in what I can from the Intepersonal Skills perspective. The Workplace response would be very different. Thanks again for the suggestion! Nov 30 '18 at 22:42
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There's a lot to interviewing skills that would probably be better suited to The Workplace. Think of an interview as a conversation. People find a conversation interesting if they either learn something from it, or add something to it. So it's up to you to ensure that the other party does both.

From the Interpersonal skills perspective, there are several things to do:

  1. Listen to what they say, and respond directly to that
  2. Be brief.
  3. Back up what you say with proof - what situations did you encounter? What was your response? What was the result?
  4. Ask questions of the interviewer. The good conversationalist is a person who gets the other guy talking - not the person who does all the talking. The person who does all the talking is a boor.
  5. Relate the things you are enthusiastic about with the subject at hand. Enthusiasm is contagious - so is boredom.

The trick here is to get the interviewer engaged, and they'll feel more engaged if they're putting something into the conversation.

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