Have you ever been in a two-on-one interview, where one of the interviewers just seems hell-bent on making life tough? Picking holes in everything you say, or just seeming to ignore you?

This is the classic Good Cop / Bad Cop approach, where the Good Cop is all smiles and friendly questions, while the Bad Cop takes delight in making the interview a misery for you.

I was giving a talk on interview techniques at the CFA Society of the UK recently, where one of the audience asked me precisely about this kind of scenario. They had experienced it themselves and were wondering how to deal effectively with the Bad Cop.

The fact is, the Good Cop / Bad Cop interview situation is pretty common, and so it makes sense to be prepared, just in case you end up in this scenario at your next interview.

Before we dive into how to handle Bad Cop, let’s understand the purpose – from the interviewers’ perspective – of arranging the Good Cop / Bad Cop show. I’ve been Bad Cop myself when interviewing candidates, so I have some real experience to share here.

The main purpose of Bad Cop is to make you uncomfortable and put you under pressure.

The point of putting you under pressure is to see how you react. After all, being effective in day-to-day work situations is often about remaining calm and able to think clearly whilst under pressure.

A friend of mine, a Managing Director in the Global Markets business at UBS Investment Bank once told me that his main aim in an interview is to take the candidate out of their comfort zone, just to see how they react. Find the limit of their knowledge and then take them past it to see if they handle themselves well, or just melt down.

So the Bad Cop is really trying to unnerve you, asking you nasty questions, trying to push your buttons, identify your weaknesses.

So what’s the best way to handle Bad Cop?

Firstly, let’s be clear on what NOT to do. Do not, at all costs, ignore Bad Cop.

Directing all your attention to the friendly Good Cop is not the answer. It might feel the easier option at the time, but it will just leave Bad Cop thinking you couldn’t handle a tough approach – not an encouraging sign. You need to build rapport with all interviewers in the room to ensure you can build trust.

If ignoring Bad Cop is not the answer, then the only viable strategy is therefore to engage Bad Cop.

Share eye contact and answers equally between Good Cop and Bad Cop, irrespective of who asked the question.

If Bad Cop seems to be ignoring you, direct a question right at him/her, using their name if necessary to ensure you get their attention.

You need to show confidence that you can look a difficult person in the eye and engage with them. It also suggests negotiating skills, critical when trying to win over a tough client.

Of course it would be a mistake to relax when Good Cop takes over. Although friendly on the outside, you can bet that Good Cop is also looking to test you, albeit in more subtle ways.

Ultimately, once you recognise the Good Cop / Bad Cop routine is under way, the absolute best way to handle yourself is to treat them both with the same amount of respect and attention.

I was always impressed with candidates who remained both calm and positive under fire. It provides real evidence of self management which is critical when it comes to good decision making in the workplace.


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Image credits: Shutterstock

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