5 things that could go wrong in an interview (and how to fix them)

Jan 29, 2020

5 mins

5 things that could go wrong in an interview (and how to fix them)
Javier Lacort

Redactor freelance especializado en tecnología y startups

You’re sure that you covered everything during your interview preparation and you go into the room convinced that everything will turn out fine. However, one dreaded and rather uncomfortable scenario is hard to anticipate: what happens when we start to feel the interview is going awry? If this happens, what can we do to try to get it back on track?

Professional careers are long and, sooner or later, you will come up against a problematic scenario that catches you off-guard. This also applies to job interviews. However much effort you put into your prep work, there can always be something on the day that does not go as expected. Among the problems that may arise during an interview, these scenarios are more common and easier to anticipate:

1. A bad case of the jitters

It’s a classic scenario: you were all prepared to be confident and self-assured, but the pressure to make a good impression and for a positive outcome can mean that you end up letting nerves get the better of you. Feeling anxious can make you babble, misinterpret a question or make you come across as excessively nervous.

Nerves are something that can be worked on before the interview. Remind yourself that acting naturally and staying calm under pressure are desirable attributes that every company in the world covets in its employees. If you still end up being a bundle of nerves during the interview—to the point that it affects the quality of your responses—it’s time to act before it’s too late.

Be frank with your interviewer, who will surely be accustomed to nervous candidates. Explain that you are excited about the possibility of getting the post and because of this you are a bit nervous. On most occasions, they will empathise and try to help you calm down. It is also good for the interviewer to know how you’re feeling in case some of your previous answers were a bit shaky.

If possible, have a sip of water, then take a deep breath and make sure you’re sitting comfortably before continuing with the interview. When you’re nervous, it’s best to take your time and think about your answers for a few seconds, and then respond to the questions calmly.

2. The interviewer pulls a face

If the interviewer makes a face after one of your answers—or shows any other negative body language—put yourself in their position. Be honest with yourself and consider whether your answer really was adequate and whether you want to reformulate it. However, if your nerves on the day get the better of you, the best thing to do is to apologise and rework your answer. Play it down by blaming your moment of confusion on a common case of interview nerves.

You should also be aware that you might happen to get an interviewer who does not act kindly towards you: it’s either not in their nature or it’s part of their strategy to test candidates. One method sometimes used to determine which candidates are suitable for the position, and which are not, is to try to unsettle the candidate to see how they respond to pressure or confrontation. If this happens, keep calm and answer questions in the most assertive way possible.

3. You don’t have the answer to one of the questions

First, the best way to be prepared is to rehearse a lot. Cover common interview questions such as why you want to change jobs, what your shortcomings are, your salary expectations and so on, plus the usual ones related to your area of work. Also think about analysing your professional career to help you come up with possible topics that they might ask you about.

It is important to understand that not all responses have to be instantaneous. The interviewer will understand that you need to take a few seconds to think about your answer. If you still remain blank when faced with a question, buy yourself some time. For example, repeat the question, just to be sure that this is, in fact, what they asked you—“You want me to explain why I was promoted at my previous company, despite not having any financial training, right?

If there’s a question that you really don’t know how to answer, honesty is the best policy. A simple “I don’t know” or “the truth is that I don’t know the answer” will suffice.

4. You can’t think of any questions to ask

This is one aspect of an interview that you can definitely rehearse at home. In a job interview, particularly for a specialised position, both parties have a mutual desire to know what the other is looking for. In the same way that the interviewer will want to know everything about you, it is assumed that you also want to know more about the role and about the company that might end up hiring you. Not asking any questions could look like disinterest on your part. This means that thinking up some questions to ask about the company forms a basic part of interview preparation. The questions should focus on how you could fit into company culture and they should be related to the position you have applied for. For example:

  • What projects does the company have lined up for next year?
  • What is company policy regarding remote working?
  • Are there professional development opportunities within the company?

If you think that nerves might make you go blank, write down the questions you have prepared. Many candidates attend interviews with a notebook for jotting down essential information.

5. The interviewer tells you openly that he has doubts about your profile

During the interview, the recruiter may choose to be honest with you and express doubts about your candidacy. First, put this into perspective and take this honesty as something positive: it gives you the opportunity to prove that you are the candidate they are looking for. Ask the interviewer exactly where their doubts lie and try to alleviate any concerns by highlighting your strengths.

For example, if the interviewer tells you that they think your knowledge of a specific programming language is lower than what they need, you can argue that you have already mastered other languages, so it wouldn’t take a lot of effort to reach the same level in another one.

It’s important to put yourself in the interviewer’s shoes and remember that nobody is perfect—neither him, nor you. Don’t be afraid to play on this point and reinforce the positive aspects of your candidacy.

Tips to redirect any negative situation

For whatever reason, if your job interview starts to go downhill, keep calm and follow these tips:

  • Don’t become aggressive. The situation will deteriorate if you get defensive or adopt a hostile attitude with the interviewer. Instead of looking for confrontation, use calm dialogue as a way to resolve conflict or counter the fallout from a poor response.
  • Prioritise communication. If you know that you gave a mediocre answer, ask if you can address the question again. If you are too nervous, tell your interviewer. If you don’t understand a question, ask for it to be repeated. Communication problems will not only go against you in an interview, but they also reveal a possible source of future problems.
  • Don’t assume you know everything. There’s always room for improvement or information that we don’t know. We all have our flaws and shortcomings—the important thing is our attitude when faced with different situations.
  • Be honest and talk about your weaknesses positively. We all have our faults and pretending to be perfect is counterproductive. If something is posing a problem in the interview, speak openly about a flaw, or about a skill you are lacking, but go on to explain how you plan to overcome this. For example, “I am aware that I reached this position with only a fair level of English, but I am already attending daily classes and I have started to use the language on both a professional and personal level.”
  • Show interest. If you struggle during the interview it’s easy to assume that you’ve ruined your chances. However, this attitude will reflect a total lack of interest in the position as well as a poor ability to respond to negative scenarios. Instead of disinterest, show that you are willing to make an effort to improve the situation.

Translated by Sunita Maharaj-Landaeta

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