The stare. The jaw-drop. The raised eyebrow. The sudden change in body language. The look of disbelief. The shocked expression.
Have you ever experienced these signs in an interview? Many people have, and it’s horrible. You immediately get that sinking feeling and you feel like you have failed. And the interview has only just begun.
We all have interview war stories that we share over a Friday night drink. We all know that interviews are relatively unnatural – it’s hard to see whether two people can spend most of their days together during a 45 minute discussion – but they are the best thing we have to see if things are going to work.
So what do you do when things are just going horribly wrong in an interview? It might be because you accidentally insulted the interviewer; you may be too nervous to think straight; you might be experiencing frustrating technological difficulties (if it’s a video-conference); you may have misinterpreted a question. Whatever the cause – you think you’re doomed.
If this happens, you have two options – you can either acknowledge and address the elephant in the room, or you simply move on. Which ever way you go, you need to decide based on the situation at hand and make a judgment call. For example, sometimes you are just digging your own grave by re-hashing a situation; other times you may have too quickly moved on and your interviewer wonders why you’ve glossed over a glaringly obvious issue which needs to be addressed.
Either way, don’t get too disheartened. It may not even be your error. For example, it can be the case that interviewers’ are not used to conducting interviews and dealing with these sorts of situations. Or, the interviewer might be having a bad day – so their reaction to something you’ve said might be the reason why you get a jaw-drop in response. Think through why you’ve got the reaction and, if appropriate and if you feel comfortable doing so, address the awkwardness. You’ll learn from this situation and you’ll adapt to similar situations going forward with ease and an air of confidence that your competition won’t have.
But, sometimes you do simply have to write the interview off – it just wasn’t meant to be. And if this is the case, don’t force it, don’t take it personally, just move on, reflect and learn. Odds are, if it doesn’t feel right in the interview, in 3 months time when you’re working for them, it’s going to feel worse. Much worse.
And when I say don’t force it and just move on… here’s an example of what I mean:
Interviewer: “So John, tell me about a time when you have not completed something you set out to and what you did to rectify the situation”
John: “Um, to be honest with you, I always complete things that I have started”
[The interviewer does the eye-brow raise followed by the shocked expression…]
Interviewer: “Oh come on John, we’ve all done it, just give me one example!”
John: “No, I’m being completely truthful, I really pride myself on finishing things and completing my own goals, so I’ve actually never not finished something”
Interviewer: “Its ok, we’ve all done things we’re not proud of. Take me, for example, I never finished Year 12 – I dropped out of school. So, let’s try again… tell me about a time when you have not completed something you set out to.”
[John does the stare and the look of disbelief…]
John: “Oh my god – you’re the HR Director of a law firm! How did you get to where you are without passing Year 12?!”
[Interviewer shifts awkwardly in her seat… The interview is concluded within 1 minute…]
It’s sometimes just not meant to be.