You practiced, rehearsed typical questions and psyched yourself up for the big day. By all counts, you should ace your interview. However, things don't always go the way we plan. What can you do to rescue an interview that's spiraling out of control? Situation 1: The interviewer asked you a question you are not prepared to answer.
Do not panic or appear obviously rattled. Take a breath -- give yourself a few seconds (even if it seems like minutes to you) to formulate a reply. Feel free to ask the interviewer to clarify the question. (Don't ask him to repeat it -- that will make it seem as if you are not paying attention.)
If you still can't think of a reply, choose one aspect of the question and respond with a succinct comment. Watch any politician or political operative interviewed on television for examples of this technique. If they don't like the questions, they reframe things and tell a story that frames them in a positive way. Do not plan to use those tactics as a rule, but for the occasional question, it could help save your interview.
If your answer is short and sweet, the interviewer may recognize your subterfuge, but it's just as likely that she will just move on, and may not even notice that you were on the brink of interview disaster.
How to prevent this: You do not need to memorize 501 interview answers. Instead, craft a narrative and several talking points to prove you are a good fit for the job. Plan to tell stories where you explain problems you faced, actions you took and the results. You should be able to use these "PAR" (problem-action-results) stories to address many different types of questions and avoid situations where you don't have a good answer.
Situation 2: Your interviewer is totally unprepared and appears hostile to the process.
Do your best to try to steer the interview in your favor. If you've prepared key talking points -- and stories -- to support your skills and accomplishments that are relevant for this job, start making a mental checklist and begin to insert those points into the conversation.
If the interviewer appears disinterested in you, try to incorporate some questions for him into your responses. Most people enjoy talking about themselves; maybe you can win the interviewer over by inviting him to engage in a discussion. Watch your body language, too. If you lean toward the interviewer, avoid crossing your arms and make friendly eye contact, it may help ease an uncomfortable situation.
How to prevent this: Obviously, you don't control the interviewer's attitude or mood. However, if you do some research about who will be questioning you, it's possible to start things off on the right foot. Use Google and LinkedIn to learn as much as you can about the interviewer in advance. Maybe you went to the same school, or share some of the same causes -- you can find this out from LinkedIn. Perhaps you know some of the same people?
Sometimes, knowing a little about the interviewer can help you overcome a testy situation; it certainly cannot hurt.
Situation 3: You are visibly nervous.
On televised reality contests, showing nerves can help humanize the candidate, but in an interview, it's less than charming. If your palms are excessively sweaty and your heart is racing so fast that you can hear it beating, you need to relax, or your interview will spiral downward quickly. If you are in the midst of the interview, it is a good idea to remember that life will go on, no matter the outcome. Take one question at a time and try to reassure yourself.
How to prevent this: It's better to try to collect yourself before heading into the meeting. Take a few deep breaths. (Be sure the receptionist doesn't think you are hyperventilating, though!) Smile, and picture yourself answering the questions confidently. If you prepared for the meeting, it shouldn't be too difficult to assume things will go well.
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