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TL;DR - went for interview at place A, ended very badly, got referred to apply to place B instead. Turns out the most aggressive and unimpressed interviewer at place A is the chief director of place B, and will most likely be interviewing me again.

Preface note: these interviews are actually for an undergraduate scholarship (albeit one with a rather long employment bond), not for direct/immediate employment.

A few months ago I applied for a scholarship at a large government agency to fund my university education. There were several rounds of interviews and at the final round there was an interview panel consisting of three people.

The interview started off as a rather relaxed interview when two of them were asking questions, but for the last guy - not as great. He often refuted/rebutted at whatever I said either about myself or as answers to their technical questions - stuff like "Oh, really?" or "I'm not convinced at all, you need to convince me harder if you want this scholarship.". While I hesitate to call him "aggressive", I'm not sure how else to describe him when 80% of the interview went like that, especially after he said -

To be frank, your understanding of (field of study) is simply far from robust. I understand that you are still a self-taught student who's trying to learn, but what you think is not representative of what's going on in the industry.

And ended the interview right there and then. Needless to say I did not get the scholarship afterwards.

But, the agency also told me that one of the interviewers was actually the Director in Chief of a smaller but related government agency, albeit more research and military orientated, and that he suggested that I apply to his place instead. After some poking around with the secretary however, I found out that the director is the same person who was extremely dissatisfied with me at the interview, and will most likely be interviewing me again.

Now for the actual questions:

  • Should I attempt to establish some kind of bond at the start of the interview? (e.g. oh hi, I remember you from the previous interview at (place) and we had a lengthy chat about (specific subject) (we really did))

  • Or should I pretend that I have never seen him before, even if he asks?

  • Assuming he has a clear memory of what happened in the previous interview, is there anything I can do to improve his impression of me?

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    Remember, that tough interviewers are sometimes tough to see if they can rattle you. You may have impressed him more than you think. Especially since the agency told you that he suggested you try at the other organization. – HLGEM Jan 2 '18 at 18:43
  • Which approach to pick is more an interpersonal issue, for which I'd say it's more about what you can comfortably say than it being about what the "right" approach is. If you bring it up, you should obviously be prepared to discuss how it went in a way that doesn't say anything negative about either of you (except that you should be prepared for that either way - how to do that seems like a better question). Lying is lying - rarely / never a good idea, especially if you're trying to convince him he's remembering wrong. You improve his impression of you by performing better this time around. – Dukeling Jan 2 '18 at 19:09
  • @HLGEM "You may have impressed him more than you think." this is what has had me on the edge all this time, the seemingly glaring contradictions in this experience - impressing him yet being rejected from the first scholarship, and being visibly unimpressed yet inviting me to apply at his own organisation. And if he really did do that to try and rattle me, I'd say he did so successfully. I got increasingly nervous after each rebuttal during the interview and the final line he delivered kinda sealed the (failed) deal. – chesnutcase Jan 2 '18 at 20:06
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Should I attempt to establish some kind of bond at the start of the interview? (e.g. oh hi, I remember you from the previous interview at (place) and we had a lengthy chat about (specific subject) (we really did))

Trying to establish a connection with the interviewer is almost always a good idea, if the opportunity to do so presents itself naturally. Be wary of trying to hard here as it could make things awkward.

In your specific case though, I would not worry about this as the interviewer will most likely remember you.

Or should I pretend that I have never seen him before, even if he asks?

No, because then you will look like a liar or an idiot or both.

Assuming he has a clear memory of what happened in the previous interview, is there anything I can do to improve his impression of me?

Yes, you can knock this interview out of the park. Answer the questions, do not stumble, and be honest, sincere, friendly and polite.

Put the previous experience out of your head as there is nothing you can do about the past. You can change his impression of you by doing well on this interview.

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    And make note of the specific criticisms the interviewer gave last time and study up. Show that you listened to the feedback and have improved since he last saw you. – David K Jan 2 '18 at 17:04
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    OP actually has a gigantic advantage on the other applicants: he knows beforehand that he's dealing with a tough interviewer, so he won't be caught off guard. Hopefully. – Tobia Tesan Jan 2 '18 at 17:46
  • I'm really curious how this interview turns out. – kbelder Jan 2 '18 at 21:49

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