Troubleshooting Difficult Interview Situations (page 2)
Tricky Questions the Top 25 Interview Mistakes the 50 Most Commonly Asked Questions and How to Get Another Interview after You've Been Declined
NOT EVERY INTERVIEW is ideal: There are times when you get thrown off by a question or panic because you haven't been able to convey what you wanted to say. You might feel the need to correct something you've said or even change the course of an interview, but you don't know how. An interviewer may ask a question about your private life, your previous job, or your family background that you are not prepared for. Any of these situations can result in a disappointing interview.
Fortunately, there are ways to salvage interviews that go off course. The best strategy for steering the conversation away from dull, dead-end, or uncomfortable topics is to learn as much as you can about the job and the company ahead of time and prepare success stories and specific questions for your interviewer. If you've read about recent events or trends that might impact the company, or if it has developed a new product or service that might influence the job, talk about it. Ask questions. Try to keep sending the message that you showed up for the interview because you are interested in the job. Remember that an interview is a two-way process: If you give the interviewer the impression that you are bored or ill prepared, you will not get the job. On the other hand, if you are interested and engaged, your interviewer will likely match your enthusiasm.
So, if you feel that things are not going your way, take responsibility for the outcome. If you're interested in the job, you want to leave feeling that you did everything to put your interviewer at ease and convince him that you are the best-qualified person for the position.
This article arms you with information and strategies to help you anticipate tough questions, formulate responses, and get an interview back on course. With preparation, you should be able to go into any interview feeling confident and without fear of surprise or embarrassment. Preparation is the key: By researching and rehearsing what is likely to be asked, you are free to answer unanticipated questions with less stress and more confidence.
Getting Unstuck: Changing the Course of an Interview
You've showed up for your interview feeling alert and reasonably comfortable. The conversation was going well, but now the atmosphere has changed and your confidence is slipping. This can happen for a number of reasons, some of which were discussed in the introduction to this chapter, but in most cases, an interview goes off course because:
- You have trouble answering a question
- Your interviewer is giving you a lot of information but not asking questions, and you're not sure how to convey your qualifications
- You wish you had answered a question differently
- You feel rushed by the interviewer
- You feel that the tone of the interview has changed
- You are asked unexpected or illegal questions
The next sections offer advice on how to handle each of these situations.
Problem #1: What to Do If You Don't Know the Answer
Remember that most questions interviewers ask have no right or wrong answer. Agood interviewer asks lots of open-ended questions that leave plenty of room for a variety of responses. But if you find that the http://www.education.com/admin/content/entries/edit/reference/all/59852/only answer you can give to a question is "I don't know," relax. It's a temporary setback. You can always ask for clarification from the interviewer by saying, "I'm not sure that I understand the question. Would you mind restating it?" or you can ask that you come back to the question at the end of the interview.
If you have no information to add to an "I don't know" answer, you can always try adding a question of your own. For example: The interviewer has just asked you whether you know anything about the cosmetics division of the company. You might respond: "No, I don't. What part does it play in the major scheme of things here?" This response tells your interviewer that although you don't have the specific information she wants, you are nonetheless curious about the big picture. Your interest in learning more about the company's operations is a good sign and will not be lost on your interviewer.
It's one thing to feel dejected by an "I don't know" answer, but it's another to look it. If you hang your head, shuffle your feet, look terrified, or freeze up to the degree that you can't hear, let alone respond to, the next question, you will compromise your professionalism. So, even if you don't know the answer to a question and can't add either information or another question to it, don't let yourself get stuck. Stay poised and alert and wait for the next question.
It is important to remember that your interviewer is not trying to trap you or make you look uninformed. You can be sure that you and the interviewer share the same objective—to exchange information effectively, pleasantly, and in a timely fashion. Both of you have a vested interest in keeping the flow of conversation easy and open.
Sometimes, your conversation with an interviewer may drift or come to a complete stop. To re-focus the interview, ask questions or use your resume as a guide to highlight your strongest qualifications and assets.
Problem #2: How to Create Opportunities to Present Your Credentials
Sometimes an interviewer focuses on the company or the position without giving you many opportunities to talk about yourself. In these cases, the best thing to do is to turn the interviewer's approach into an advantage. If the interviewer seems most comfortable talking about the company, start asking questions about it. For example, if the company has changed direction in the last year, ask your interviewer what led to the change of direction. At some point, you will exhaust the subject. But, by then, your summaries of information and the questions you've asked will demonstrate not only that you've been listening, but that you've taken the time and initiative to research the company.
In addition, there is an acceptable way to interrupt. Everyone pauses, no matter how briefly, at the end of a sentence. When you hear that pause, make a statement about yourself that relates to what the interviewer just said. Look at the following example:
Interviewer: The company has grown so much in the last several years. We spend a lot of time communicating to our employees about our new business developments and new products.
You: I have some experience in that area. Last summer, I worked as a market researcher in a company that was promoting a new paint product. One of my tasks was to figure out how to get product information to the salesforce on a timely basis. I conducted interviews with the sales reps and they told me they wanted an electronic newsletter, which I initiated. It was quite popular and eventually became an internal newsletter as well.
At this point, the interview can go in one of two directions:
- The interviewer is ready to hear about you
- The interviewer thinks the interview is over
If the interviewer is ready to hear about you, highlight your accomplishments by making a connection between yourself and what you've learned about the company. For example, if the company has taken a bold initiative to capture a new market this year, tie it into a story about risk taking. Perhaps you can tell the story of how you devised an unusual promotion that doubled the number of subscriptions to your college literary magazine. Or perhaps you have another story to tell that emphasizes a tough decision you had to make, or a strategy that paid off. The point is to link your own risk-taking experiences with the needs of the company. Think back to some of the other points your interviewer made about the company and try to match your success stories to some of them.
On the other hand, if the interviewer gives you the message that the interview is winding down, don't leave before getting in at least one or two of your success stories. You might say, "Before I leave, I'd like to tell you a couple things about myself that relate to what we were talking about." Then launch into a success story.
For example, perhaps your interviewer has just mentioned that the company is expanding its services to include foreign markets, such as Ecuador, Argentina, and Costa Rica. This is the perfect time to mention that you are bilingual. Maybe you majored in Spanish. Perhaps you even spent a semester in South America on a work-study program and can describe some of your experiences in the South American business world. Choose stories that show your interviewer you understand the challenges of doing business with another culture and that you have the skills to meet those challenges.
We all learn by making mistakes. If possible, don't schedule your first interview with the job you want most. As you get more interview practice, you will feel more confident, know what kinds of questions to expect, and learn how best to present yourself. Practice your skills in informational networking interviews or in roleplays with a friend or mentor in the business world.
Problem #3: How to Say What You Want to Say
Your interview is going well, when your interviewer asks, "What accomplishment are you most proud of?" You've prepared an answer to this question, but you have a sudden attack of nerves and draw a complete blank. You rack your brain and finally come up with a story, although you know it doesn't really show off your strengths. As soon as your interviewer asks the next question, you remember the story you had prepared. What do you do now?
If you've accidentally misspoken, continue with the interview and try not to let the statement throw you off track. Talk about your skills and accomplishments and ask questions, but wait to the end of the interview to correct a misstatement. After you've thanked your interviewer, tell her that you've been thinking about the way you answered one of the questions, and that you would like to expand on it quickly before you leave. If you don't realize that you misspoke until after the interview, you can always include the corrected answer in a thank-you note.
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