Steve Berman / GovCentral
Everything was going so well. Your solid handshake was met with a warm smile from the hiring manager. The interview started off with some small talk that segued into some skillfully answered questions. You can already see what your desk is going to look like. Then, as suddenly as a lightning strike, the interview takes a turn for the worse. Whether it’s a question you weren’t prepared for or not-so-well-received answer it’s easy to tell when an interview has gone off course. And it’s quite possibly the most nerve-wracking, upsetting, desperate experience a job seeker can suffer. Like Charles Sullenberger approaching the Hudson River, one can make the best of a bad situation, no matter how dire. However, saving a bad interview takes quick thinking and persistence. Are you up to the challenge?
Sticky Situation No. 1: Drawing a Blank
You studied the company’s website and memorized the answer to every common interview question you could find. Then the unimaginable happens: you’re faced with a question you weren’t expecting. You can’t figure out what to say and the impending silence feels so awkward, you might as well be wearing nothing but your birthday suit. How do you fix this?
Solution: Focus on something you were prepared for.
While you don’t want to get in the habit of doing this, sometimes it pays to give a non-answer, especially when the alternative is a seemingly unending chasm of silence. Hey, politicians do this all the time. If the interviewer threw you for a loop with a question on how you handled a conflict with a coworker, change the subject to something semi-related that you did prepare for, like your collaborative skills on a challenging project where you excelled.
Sticky Situation No. 2: The Devil’s Advocate
No matter what, you and the person on the other side of the interview table aren’t going to agree on everything. Hopefully you won’t find much resistance to any of the answers you give during your interview, but you should prepare for scenarios where the two of you don’t see eye-to-eye. After all, some interviewers argue with candidates just to test how they’ll react under scrutiny. Still, a disagreement can be very unnerving, making you wonder if you just lost your chance at landing the job.
Solution: Find Common Ground
You don’t want to position yourself as someone who’ll change their opinion based on who they’re trying to impress, but you do want the interviewer to feel comfortable. Don’t get defensive or combative — try to smooth over disagreements with statements like, “I can understand that point of view,” or “You know, I never thought about it that way.” Then, even if you didn’t give the perfect answer, you’ll look flexible. That’s a better idea than changing your answer entirely, as that will lead the interviewer to think you’re just saying what they want to hear.
Sticky Situation No. 3: No Chemistry
You want the job. You spent days preparing for the interview. So why does it seem like your interview has all the excitement and energy of a bunch of turtles running a marathon? No matter what you say or do, the interviewer is yawning, looking at his watch, and pretty much doing anything besides showing you the attention you deserve. Since you can’t exactly suggest that they take five minutes to drink a cup of highly caffeinated coffee, how do you make sure you don’t put this person who has your future career in his hands to sleep?
Solution: Involve the Interviewer
You might be the one getting interviewed, but everyone likes to talk about themselves. If you sense a lull in the questioning, ask your own open-ended questions. See what the employer is looking for in an employee. Ask what they like about working for the company (and if they have a hard time answering this question, you might want to take that into consideration).
Sticky Situation No. 4: Sweaty Palms Syndrome
To be nervous before and during an interview makes you human. To suffer the jitters to such an extent that you are shaking, stuttering and sweating profusely will sound the alarm to employers that you aren’t a stable enough person to work with every day. After all, if you’re freaking out so much that you can’t give reasoned responses, you won’t give a very good first impression.
Solution: Practice, Practice, Practice
The way to avoid rattling the table with your nerves is to prepare. Preparation can take many forms, depending on what works for you. For some, visualization is enough. Others need to practice reciting answers in front of a mirror or friend. The key for most people is to practice the same answers several times — if you only do it once, you might forget it when the spotlight’s shining on you. Practicing the same answer five times (or more) will trigger your brain’s memory. So even if you get flustered during the interview, you’ll find yourself reciting the intelligent responses you’d planned on giving.
Sticky Situation No. 5: Too Little, Too Late?
The hour’s almost up, and you have this lingering feeling that you haven’t done enough. Some of your answers were flat, or maybe you weren’t able to hit some of the talking points you’d prepared. However, the interviewer’s time is undoubtedly valuable; if they’re clearly wrapping things up, you can’t exactly beg for more time. How do you turn a mediocre interview into a good one when time has run out?
Solution: Post-Interview Damage Control
Focus on what you can do afterward. Thank you notes are required these days, but you should know that by now! You don’t need to keep it simple though, especially if you want to make a couple of points you didn’t get to during the actual interview. Don’t write a novel, but feel free to touch on additional skills and reiterate your interest in the position. In the case of a good follow up letter, sometimes the last impression can mean more than the first one. Just getting an interview should boost your confidence. Something about you, your resume, cover letter, or references got you this far. No interview goes perfectly, but as long as you keep your wits about you and prepare for the worst, you have a good chance of staying in the running.