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.
Problem #4: What to Do if You're Feeling Rushed
Occasionally, you may feel rushed by your interviewer. Perhaps something has come up—a deadline or a meeting—and your interviewer's body language and verbal cues say: "I don't have much time." Or maybe your meeting has been delayed for some reason—perhaps the interviewer is still speaking with another candidate—and there isn't much time for your interview.
If you've scheduled back-to-back appointments or if your lunch hour at your current job is coming to a close (which means that you won't have enough time for this interview), simply say that you need to reschedule. What you do not want to communicate is disappointment, frustration, or, especially, anger.
Instead, reiterate your interest in the company and in the position. Be understanding. Reassure your interviewer with a comment, such as "Unfortunately, I have another appointment in 30 minutes. It will be no trouble at all to reschedule the interview. I understand that appointments are sometimes delayed by other meetings or emergencies." Showing that you can be flexible in this situation will work to your advantage.
Salvaging a rushed interview takes a little more work—and confidence. Suppose your interviewer says, "Usually I take an hour for these interviews, but I only have 20 minutes." Take control of the process by asking, "What elements of my background would you most like me to talk about in the time we have?" If the interviewer begins talking, track where he or she is going. For example, the interviewer might want to discuss employment history, or your college major. After you've given a concise response, it would be perfectly appropriate for you to mention that there are only a few minutes left. At this point, you could ask, "What are the most important things for me to tell you about myself in the time we have left?" If you know yourself and your success stories well, you will have no trouble finding one or two to illustrate those things.
Problem #5: How to Deal with a Change in the Tone of the Interview
Say the interview has been going well, but now your interviewer has been called out of the room. When she comes back, she has a different demeanor and the mood in the room has definitely changed.Obviously something has happened. Once again, try to be flexible. Perhaps you could say, "If we're short on time, would it be helpful for me to tell you anything else about myself in particular?" In other words, take a proactive stance. Try to save the interview, but be diplomatic, especially if your interviewer is still visibly upset. Don't say, "What happened to you?" Communicate that you are aware that something has changed and offer to make things easier.
If the conversation has petered out or become too uncomfortable to move forward, suggest that you meet again another time. You could broach the subject in this way: "If you would prefer to meet at another time, I would be more than happy to return when it is convenient for you."
Problem #6: How to Handle Surprise or Illegal Questions
What if you're in the middle of an interview when you discover that you'd be working the third shift if you got the job? The challenge here is not to spill your coffee or burst out with, "Really? Nobody told me!"
Instead, try to be as calm as possible and say something that won't take you out of the running, such as:
- "I wasn't aware of that. Can you tell me more?"
- "How often and for how long would I work a late shift?"
- "Is that the permanent schedule, or would it apply only to the first 90 days?"
In other words, keep the lines of communication open before you decide the job isn't for you.
Anumber of state and federal laws make it illegal for interviewers to ask questions about your marital status, sexual orientation, age, nationality or ethnicity, or religion. On rare occasions, such questions may arise (usually because the interviewer is not aware that the question he or she asked is illegal).
Think about how you will handle such a question if it comes up. You might ask how the information relates to the job, tactfully change the subject, or even answer the question if you feel comfortable doing so. For more information on illegal interview questions, visit the website of the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), at www.eeoc.gov. Many of the websites listed in Appendix B also provide information on illegal interview questions.
Finally all employers need to know if potential candidates can work the scheduled hours for the open position. You may get the question, "Does anything prevent you from working from 8 A.M. to 6 P.M. Monday through Friday?" Although this question is perfectly legal, it can cause a candidate to disclose unnecessarily personal information about marital status, religious practices, or child or elder care. You must answer this question honestly.
If your religious observances prevent you from working certain hours, you need to tell the interviewer when you're asked that question. However, you should also add that in the past, your religious practices have not interfered with you completing your class work or work with former employers. Be prepared to back up that claim with a list of references that will support your statement.
Top 25 Interview Mistakes—and how to Avoid Them
Familiarize yourself with the list that follows so that you know which actions are inappropriate, what comments to avoid, and what not to forget. You will be glad you did—it could mean the difference between getting hired and getting passed over.
- Don't be late. Be sure to allow yourself ample time to get to your interview. Be sure to factor in unexpected circumstances, such as train delays or heavy traffic. If you know you're going to be late, get to a phone at all costs so you can let your interviewer know—and apologize.
- Be prepared to describe your experiences. An interview is a test—and you should never walk into a test unprepared. Take time to prepare your success stories, and think about how you would handle the questions your interviewer might ask. Practice describing your experiences aloud or conduct practice interviews with friends.
- Don't answer questions with only a "yes" or "no." Your interviewer needs to get to know you, and that will be very difficult if you don't volunteer information about yourself. Be sure to support your answers with stories and examples.
- Don't fidget. If you are tapping your foot, playing with a bracelet on your wrist, or constantly shifting in your seat, you won't look professional. And if you don't look professional, you won't get hired.
- Don't speak too quickly. You may want to get in a lot of information, but you don't want to speak so fast that your interviewer can't understand you. Take a deep breath before you begin answering questions and slow down. Conduct a practice interview with a friend to make sure that your speaking voice is steady and even.
- Make eye contact. If you avoid making eye contact, you will be unable to establish a personal connection with your interviewer. You should be attentive and engaged in what your interviewer is saying.
- Research the company. Q: "What do you know about our firm?" A: "Uh … not much." Answers like this will not get you hired. Similarly, when your interviewer asks if you have any questions, you don't want to answer with, "Yeah. What exactly does this company do?"
- Don't lie. Don't lie about or embellish your job experiences or academic record. Your interviewer is going to check these things. If an interviewer catches you lying, you won't be hired. If your employer finds out about your misrepresentation after you've been hired, you will be fired.
- Make sure you answer the question asked. You want to use your success stories in the interview, but you should be careful to always answer the question being asked. Don't be so intent on launching into a story that you avoid the question altogether—your interviewer will notice.
- Don't reveal too much. Your interviewer is neither your best friend nor your therapist. She wants to learn about the skills and qualities you will bring to a job. She does not want to hear about your personal life or problems.
- Make sure you "sell" yourself when you answer questions. You should answer questions in a way that demonstrates the qualities that will serve you on the job. If ou are asked how your best friend would describe you, don't say, "She thinks I'm a fun person and that I have great fashion sense." Instead, say something like, "I think my best friend would describe me as loyal and dependable. People always know that they can count on me."
- Don't speak poorly of or belittle past job experiences. Disparaging other employers or jobs will make you sound unprofessional, negative, and hostile. And it will make the interviewer wonder what you would say about his or her company to others. Try to focus on what you learned from other jobs.
- Don't dress too casually. Your interviewer wants to hire a responsible professional. Make sure you look like one.
- Be sure to ask questions about the company. By asking some good questions, you will prove that you are interested in the job—and that you were motivated enough to research the position and the company.
- Don't forget to send a thank-you note. Demonstrate your professionalism and courtesy by sending a note. You will also be more likely to stand out in the interviewer's mind with this reminder of the interview.
- Be sure to thank the interviewer at the end of the interview. In the business world, a little courtesy goes a long way. Your interviewer will appreciate and notice your good manners.
- Don't forget to bring a few extra resumes to the interview. You may be asked for another copy of your resume, and you may have to submit an extra copy with any forms you have to fill out. Make sure that you're prepared.
- Be sure to prepare a list of references. Type up your references (with contact information) for your interviewer. Your interviewer will not be interested in taking down all the names and numbers by hand, and it will be an inconvenience if you have to send the information at a later date.
- Don't forget your interviewer's name. You should always bring a note pad (preferably in a professional leather portfolio) to an interview. Write down the interviewer's name if you think you won't be able to remember it. Thank the interviewer by name at the end of the interview.
- Don't go to an interview on an empty stomach. Remember when you took your SATs? You were probably warned not to take the test without eating, even if you usually skipped breakfast. The same goes for interviews. You will feel more alert if you've had a nutritious meal, and you won't get hungry if the interview ends up lasting much longer than you had anticipated. And, of course, you won't have to worry about your stomach rumbling in the middle of a question.
- Don't use filler words and slang. Nothing makes you sound more unprofessional than peppering your speech with like and y'know. Likewise, nothing will alienate your interviewer more than dropping slang into your responses. If you can't speak like a professional, your interviewer will question whether he or she can trust you to interact with clients or supervisors.
- Don't chew gum, eat, or smoke. These are obvious no-nos.
- Don't answer your cellular phone or pager. Turn off your cell phone or beeper before you get to the interview.
- Don't interrupt the interviewer or talk excessively. Don't ramble or go off on tangents. You want to tell your stories and give the interviewer a good sense of your accomplishments, but make sure you don't cut the interviewer off or preclude her from asking questions. She has limited time to speak with you.
- Don't freeze up. Relax! It's only an interview. If you're well prepared, you should feel confident and stress free. Smile and be yourself. Your interviewer wants to hire a person, not a robot.
Experiencing the occasional tricky question or unexpected situation is inevitable. But if you think about how to approach—if not resolve—some of these situations beforehand, your chances of doing well and perhaps even acing an interview will be that much better.
The secret is to stay relaxed and not to let temporary setbacks erode your confidence. Most potential problems are easily avoided if you maintain a poised and professional state of mind. You can even approach an embarrassing or difficult situation so that it works for you instead of against you. In the working world, tricky or delicate situations arise constantly; therefore, you might want to think of your interview as a test of how well prepared you are to handle them.
By rising to each new challenge, whether it's thinking your way around a difficult question or putting a positive spin on it, you demonstrate your ability to adapt and be flexible—two skills that are well worth developing. Finally, taking a proactive stance to steer an interview away from inappropriate queries shows that you know how to take initiative and at the same time conveys persistence and endurance, qualities that will serve you well in the working world.
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