What to Do When You Realize Your Job Interview is Going Horribly
By Jacquelyn Smith
We recently solicited readers to submit their most pressing career-related questions.
With help from Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert and the author of "Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant: How to Manage Childish Boss Behavior and Thrive in Your Job," we've answered the following: "What should you do if you realize a job interview is going downhill?"
"This is every job candidate's worst nightmare," says Taylor. "It's a great question, because the interview process is not just about how well you respond to questions. It also about how you regain traction after challenges."
Maybe things are going south because the interviewer is asking really tough questions to see how you perform under pressure. Or, perhaps you're having trouble articulating your thoughts, or there's just no chemistry between you and the hiring manager. Whatever the culprit, you never want to find yourself in this situation.
But if you do, here are some tips for getting your job interview back on track:1. Don't be too hard on yourself. It's easy to be self-critical during "the inquisition," feeling you're under a microscope. "But cut yourself some slack," says Taylor. Chances are you're over-thinking it and you're actually doing just fine. And even if your game feels a little off, remember that most savvy interviewers take into consideration the fact that interviews can be challenging and nerve-wracking for even the most qualified, confident professionals.
(Here are some signs the interview is going horribly.)
2. Keep your cool. In your zeal to make a good impression or take back the interview, you might fall prey to the chatterbox zone. "Take a deep breath, smile, and pause as needed so you can better collect your thoughts before you answer the next question," she suggests. "Remember that sometimes less is more."
3. Rephrase or explain. This is a two-way exchange. If you misspoke or want to elaborate to better refine your answer, do it. "You have the opportunity to create segues and add depth to a prior answer," Taylor says. "For instance, even though the interviewer has moved onto the next question, you're entitled to say, 'If I may, I'd like to clarify something on that last question ...' Pause, and then give your input."
It's helpful to watch for body language, such as a nod, to guide you. If the hiring manager seems is listening attentively, you have the green light to elaborate even further - but be careful not to dig an even deeper hole.
4. Don't rush to judgment. Interviewers are also under pressure. They're tasked with hiring the right person, which can be daunting. "It's easy to make quick judgments about the situation, such as, 'He looks annoyed, I probably answered that poorly.' But in reality, you don't really know what's on their plate; they may have a tight deadline or something unexpected to deal with, so try to assume the best and let it play out," says Taylor.
5. Listen carefully. Increase your laser-focus on the questions you're given. If you feel you've drifted during the interview, make a concerted effort to listen more closely, she says. "You can easily miss information and nuances by strategizing too early on your response."
6. Continue smiling. One of the best approaches in any interview, especially the backbreaker variety, is to maintain a pleasant smile, no matter what comes your way.
"First, it will help relax both you and the interviewer," Taylor explains. "Second, it conveys a confident persona - which will help you give you a greater sense of power."
7. Stay positive and energetic. The absolute worst thing you can do is let the interviewer know you're upset about how things are going. (Plus, this might all just be in your head - and the change in attitude could end up being the thing that makes the interview go downhill.)
"Put your mindset into an assumption that you've already aced the interview, despite any setbacks," she says. "By envisioning this, you'll help fulfill a positive outcome. Keep your energy up, even if things are, or seem to be, looking down. "
8. If you don't understand a question, ask your interviewer to clarify.
If your interviewer looks confused, maybe you didn't answer the question they were asking. "Ask for clarity," Taylor suggests. "If you don't, you risk looking like you're not on the same page or a poor listener."
An even better approach is to paraphrase the question yourself, rather than requesting that of the interviewer. For instance, you can say: "You're asking if I reported the results on those meetings ... correct?"
9. Be honest. If you don't know the answer to an inquiry, don't make one up. "It's much safer to segue to what you do know," Taylor says. "Your best bet is to say something like, 'That's a great question, and I'd like to get back to you on that. I do know that X ...'"
10. Get the interviewer more engaged. "If you're faced with disinterested or distracted interviewers, and start to wonder if they'd notice if you sprinted to your car, don't lose heart - just change the dynamics," recommends Taylor. Ask the hiring manager open-ended questions (versus "yes or no" ones). They can be a follow-up on their inquiry, or you can ask about what they enjoy most about their work or the company, for example.
"Once you get them to talk, they're more likely to stay involved. And if you have the gift of clever, well-timed humor, use it to 'refresh' the conversation and break tension barriers, but tread carefully."
11. Know that it may be a sign. If you feel that you're tanking during the interview, you may have received a gift: This may be a glaring indication that it's a bad fit. "An interviewer who's rude or disinterested could also be a tyrant of a boss," Taylor says. "It's easy to feel like you're losing the game in an interview. But if, despite your good performance, it felt like an office duel, just imagine reporting to a daily fencing match."
There are so many variables in the job interview, and some are out of your control. But if you seize the opportunity to stay focused, upbeat and can "hit reset" real-time, you'll vastly improve your odds of success.
Readers: Want us to answer your questions related to your career or job search? Tweet Careers editor Jacquelyn Smith @JacquelynVSmith or email her at jsmith[at]businessinsider[dot]com, and we'll do our best to answer them.