There’s lots of advice about interviews on this blog already, from what you should wear to what questions to ask at the end. But students still ask us for help and interviews continue to surprise and unnerve, so here are my top five tips on how to deal with different situations which might confront you on the day.
1. You don’t know the answer to a question.
This might be when you simply can’t think of an answer to a competency question. Perhaps you genuinely haven’t had a relevant experience? One way to buy a few moments is to repeat the question while you muse. Another option is to say “That’s a good question”. But beware, I have known the interviewer come right back with “Yes, I know, so could you answer it then!” Don’t be afraid to ask for a moment, but if inspiration isn’t coming you can also ask to come back to the question further on in the interview. You might just find that the perfect answer comes to you.
So what about the question that’s so difficult you can’t answer it? One option is to admit defeat and sometimes if it’s a technical question within your field you might have to do this. But generally you’d be much better off starting to work through the logic of what the answer might be. It could be that there isn’t a clear answer and it’s the logic that the interviewer is after. A great example of this kind of question is “How many bricks are there in Birmingham?” There’s not going to be a right answer to this but you can show a clear and logical thought process.
2. You get a really long complicated and multi layered question.
This can be very hard when you are panicking and here repeating the question may help you to remember it. Be really clear as you start to speak about which section you are addressing. Once you have finished the first part you might want to check you still know what else was being asked. Don’t be afraid to do this. It’s bad interview technique to ask convoluted questions and the interviewer has an obligation to remind you of the rest of the question. When you think you have covered everything you can always reconfirm that with the interviewer.
3. You’ve already answered a question before it has been asked.
This is also tricky to deal with and occurs in very structured interviews where all candidates are asked exactly the same questions. I once went through a whole interview which felt like a comedy sketch. I opened with a presentation (as requested) and found that it had answered the first question really fully. Faced with the question I referred to my presentation but tried to add a bit of value by covering something which was only tenuously relevant. To my horror my additional bit of answer had covered the whole of the second question and the entire interview proceeded like this. I should have had the confidence simply to say “I’ve answered that already, do you have the notes of what I’ve said? Do you need me to add anything?” Hindsight is a wonderful thing, even when you’re a careers consultant!
4. Your interviewer is rude.
Perhaps the interviewer is in a hurry, It could be that it’s a busy day and interviewing was not what he/she had in mind as a preferred activity. You might find that questions get barked at you and it looks like a pretty instant response is needed. Before you resort to defence mode and start firing back answers, think – what are the key skills for this post? If you’re being interviewed for an empathetic helping role you need to hang onto your softer side. If, on the other hand this post is about commodity trading you’re probably being tested and barking right back might be the thing to do!
An alternative (and equally unsettling) way in which the interviewer may be rude is if he/she appears completely uninterested. This is going to affect your own performance. You have a few options:
Ignore it and try to plough on, try to engage with a humorous comment or by injecting a bit of energy, or confront the situation and comment on the attitude you face.
Your reaction might depend on the type of job you’re going for and how much you want it. There are stories though of the direct challenge paying dividends and resulting in a job offer. At least you’ll have made your mark!
5. You realise you’ve got the answer wrong.
Sometimes there really is a right answer and you might realise that you’ve got it wrong when an employer starts to cross question you. This is not the moment to stick to your guns. Best to accept your error. Remember we all make mistakes and an employer will respect the worker who can put his or her hand up to an error.
I hope that in the event you don’t meet any of these problems, but if you do, don’t panic!