When television executive H.U. Nguyen was a recent college graduate seeking employment, it became obvious to him that a job interviewer didn’t like his response to a particular question. He didn’t panic. Instead, Nguyen was able to “change the dynamics by not reacting, remaining calm and continuing on with the interview, answering questions and engaging in a cordial dialogue.” He ended the interview by showing the interviewer his portfolio and eventually he received an offer from the company.
Sooner or later, when you are looking for a job, you will find yourself in an interview that, for whatever reason, does not seem to be going well. When this happens you need to change the trajectory of the interview.
John Jensen, director of career development at Washington and Lee University, advises that “when you are struggling to answer questions, or feel yourself rambling and don’t know where your answer is going, take a deep breath and just stop. Pause for 10 seconds, which will feel like an eternity, and collect your thoughts.”
He suggests you remind yourself why you applied for the job in the first place, what sets you apart from the other candidates and how you can help the organization immediately. “Go into the interview with these three main points, and refer back to them if things start to go wrong,” he says.
How do you know that the interview isn’t going well? Jane Trnka, executive director of the career development center at the Rollins College Graduate School of Business, suggests you watch the recruiter for certain reactions: the look on the recruiter’s face, a sigh or the recruiter being easily distracted.
Erik Bowitz, a senior résumé expert at software firm ResumeGenius, recommends taking control of the interview. “This doesn’t mean not answering questions or speaking over the interviewer,” he points out, “but it does mean you should ask your own questions.” Asking questions will enable you to recover from any mistakes by directing the conversation to subject matter with which you feel comfortable.
Michael J. Vigna, president of staffing firm Mainz, suggests you ask the interviewer about him or herself: questions like: “What do you like about the company?” “Why did you join the company?” and “What would you change about the company if you could?”
Michael Timmes, senior human resources specialist at human resources provider Insperity, suggests the following if you sense things aren’t going well:
- Circle back to a critical question later in the interview, stating that you would like to clarify your answer to an earlier question.
- Elucidate upon a key skill or competency with a behavioral example that will demonstrate your self-awareness.
- Invoke humor to acknowledge a gaffe. If done correctly, allowing yourself to be vulnerable shows that you are human. Doing so can engender trust and promote connecting on a personal level.
Samantha Lambert, director of human resources at public relations firm Blue Fountain Media, advises candidates when they make a mistake to just “be human.” Pretend you are having a conversation with a friend or family member, she suggests. At home when you fumble your words, you don’t start sweating and turn beet red. You say something like “that did not come out the way I intended, let me start over.” Most interviewers “will respect the applicant for asking to start over, especially if take two shows that you are right for the position,” according to Lambert.
Anthony Graziano, a regional managing director at placement firm Randstad, counsels applicants to end strongly, especially if, in your opinion, the interview did not go well. Ask if the interviewer has any other questions or concerns with your background. Use their response as an opportunity to reiterate why you think you are a good fit for the position and address any concerns they raise. Show enthusiasm and let the interviewer know that you want the job. Then write a fantastic thank you letter. Your thank you letter will provide one last opportunity to explain why you are right for the job.
Finally, Vinnie Dicks, CEO at Career Gaudium, a company that helps young adults find employment, reminds us that no matter how bad you think the interview is going, “do not give up.” Remember, he points out, that “your idea of a bad interview may not be so bad to the interviewer, and you are not the one doing the evaluation, he or she is.”
A veteran human resources executive, Lee E. Miller is a career coach and the author of “UP: Influence Power and the U Perspective — The Art of Getting What You Want.” Mail questions to Lee@employability-expert.com