Job interviews can be tricky to master. Not only do you have to impress with your skills and abilities, you need to talk about your experience and what you’ll bring to a role — all while coming across as friendly and confident and suppressing any nerves.
In some cases, you may end up in a discussion with the interviewer about the way you would carry out a hypothetical project. They may test you to come up with ideas on the spot, or ask you to give an opinion about a previous project to see if you would do anything differently. But what do you do if you don’t agree with the interviewer on an issue?
We’re always told to be ourselves in an interview, but saying what you think can be easier said than done. So is there ever a good way to politely disagree with an interviewer without it blowing up in your face?
Victoria McLean, CEO and founder of City CV, an outplacement services and career consultancy firm, says there are some benefits to giving your honest opinion.
“An interview is a two-way street. Obviously, you want to impress the interviewer, but that doesn’t necessarily mean nodding along in agreement to everything they say,” she explains.
“In a healthy work environment, you should be able to express your honest opinions — but you have to do it in a positive way. You want to come across as thoughtful and collaborative, rather than someone who enjoys engaging in conflict and is difficult to work with.”
However, this can be difficult in an interview when it’s likely that you don’t know the interviewer very well. You don’t know how they are going to take having their opinions challenged by someone who they haven’t yet employed.
The interviewer may be receptive to new ideas and appreciate a candidate who thinks for themselves, rather than simply agreeing with everything they say to get into their good books.
“If you’ve done your homework and know your subject, you can disagree in a civilised manner,” McLean says. “That shows your ability to think critically, problem-solve and communicate effectively.
“How your interviewer responds speaks volumes. If they’re dismissive or rude, you might want to consider whether you really want the job. After all, wouldn’t you rather work somewhere that’s receptive to new ideas?”
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That being said, disagreeing with an interviewer can easily backfire, especially if you come across as egotistical. So what is the best way to go about it?
Firstly, it can help to do your research and know what kind of environment the company has. If it’s somewhere that values creativity and openness, the interviewer may be interested in hearing your views.
Check out reviews left by former employees, speak to people you know who have worked at the company and have a look at their website and social media. If you get the impression the interviewer won’t be amenable to a discussion or new ideas, it’s probably best to keep quiet.
Your tone and language can also help keep things civil and professional too. “It’s all about how you frame your response,” McLean says. A healthy debate may be a good sign that you are good at solving problems and thinking on the spot, which are attributes employers often look out for in a new hire.
“Simply saying ‘I disagree’ will shut the conversation down. Instead, you can try something like: ‘This is how I see it’, ‘This is what I’ve experienced’, or ‘It’s interesting that you use that approach because I’ve found that…’.”
Another good tip is to take a pause if you need to and to think carefully before you speak.
“Don’t just blurt out answers,” McLean adds. “If you need to gather your thoughts, try saying something like ‘That’s an interesting point of view. Let me think about it for a moment’. Remember, it’s not about forcing your opinion on someone; you’re just inviting them to consider it.”