You spend hours—sometimes days—preparing for a job interview, hoping that everything will go perfectly. In your ideal world, the hiring manager will ask the questions for which you are most ready, they’ll appreciate your skills and abilities, and they will be amazed at your insights and ideas.
Unfortunately, most of us don’t live in an ideal world. Unexpected problems often pop up at the worst possible times—say, in the middle of a job interview.
Do your best to prepare for these troublesome interview situations, to the extent that you can. But you’ll also need to deal with some things on the fly. Here are nine things that may go wrong during an interview, and how you should handle each problem.
1. You show up late.
Technically, this is something that happens before the interview begins, but it fits the category of an unfortunate problem. Whether you were stuck in traffic or accidentally put the wrong time on your calendar, a lack of punctuality can start the interview on a bad note. If you know you’re running late, it’s a good idea to call ahead to let the interviewers know, apologize, and see if they’d like to reschedule. Be humble, but don’t apologize so much that you sound whiny. Chances are they’ve been late for something in their lives, too, so they’ll probably be understanding.
2. The interviewer is switched at the last minute.
You usually know in advance who will be interviewing you, which gives you an opportunity to research the person(s) and prepare to talk to them. If someone else meets you for the interview when you arrive, it can throw you off your game. However, this is really an opportunity for you to get to know the new person, according to an article from The Muse.
“Ask questions about her position, specifically how her job relates to the one you’re gunning for, and ask about her career background in case you have something in common,” the article says. “Although it can be disquieting at first, after you get over the initial surprise of the switch, you’ll likely find that you can talk just as much to this person as to the one you planned on interviewing with originally. That displays your adaptability and willingness to take on an unexpected challenge.”
3. The technology you need for a presentation isn’t working.
For some positions, the interviewers expect you to prepare and present information on a topic relevant to the job. If the computer or projector won’t work when you try to begin, it can lead to many tense and awkward moments. To overcome this problem, try to memorize the key points of your presentation in advance. Bring a printed copy of your slide deck with you, or hard copies of other materials that will help you make your points. Instead of wasting the precious few minutes you have with the interviewers trying to get a computer to work, move along with your presentation. This will show that you can overcome problems and stay on track even when the unexpected occurs.
4. The interviewer notices an error or inconsistency in your resume.
It’s a good idea to bring several printed copies of your resume with you to the interview, both for yourself and the interviewers. Hopefully, that resume is accurate and honest. If you have exaggerated an accomplishment or made an error in reporting your past positions, chances are that’s the one experience the interviewer will further explore. If this happens, own the mistake and correct the error. Then try to salvage the point by providing a specific example of the skills you possess.
5. The hiring manager is rude or a bad interviewer.
If the former is the case, you might want to reconsider your interest in the position. Stay engaged and polite during the interview, in case they’re just having a bad day, but keep the behavior in mind as you move forward. If the person simply isn’t good at interviewing, The Muse article suggests that you remember “the points you want to discuss about yourself and the questions you want to ask about the position. Then, take an active role in directing the conversation to keep the person on topic.”
6. The interview is interrupted by distractions.
Hopefully, you remembered to turn off the ringer on your phone and stow it somewhere during the interview so you won’t be the cause of an embarrassing interruption. If that does happen—or if the interviewer seems distracted by their phone or by people walking by—you may have to work harder to keep the meeting on track.
Be polite and patient, up to a point. If the interruptions become so frequent that a meaningful conversation is impossible, ask if it would be helpful to reschedule, acknowledging that you understand unexpected emergencies sometimes develop and you want them to handle whatever has come up. No matter what, keep your cool.
7. You get angry.
Maybe those previously mentioned distractions are finally too much for you. Or maybe you’re asked about a job from which you were fired, and old feelings of anger rise to the surface. If you feel that happening, you must get yourself back under control.
“Angry people are NOT people employers want to hire. Angry people are not fun to work with,” says an article from Job-Hunt.org. To avoid such a reaction, the article says, “Stop, before you enter the employer’s premises, take a few deep breaths, focus on the opportunity that awaits you at this potential employer, put a smile on your face, and do your best to switch gears mentally so you are not ‘in a bad place’ in your mind.”
8. You zone out and miss a question.
You would think that an interview would make you nervous enough that zoning out couldn’t occur, but if the hiring manager is droning on about something and your mind wanders, you could miss a question. That will not look good to your prospective employer, according to an article from The Balance Careers. “If you feel your attention slipping away, make an effort to stay engaged. Maintain eye contact, lean forward slightly when talking to your interviewer, and make an active effort to listen effectively.”
9. You realize you don’t really want the job for which you are interviewing.
As you answer questions and learn more about the job, you may discover that the position you’re discussing isn’t a good fit for you. If this happens, and you’re still interested in working for the company, don’t get frustrated. Instead, continue to emphasize your skills. Talk about why you want to work for the organization and how you could help it prosper. Even if you don’t get the position you were interviewing for, you may plant a seed that will lead the interviewer to suggest you for a more appropriate spot. It’s always better to build bridges than to burn them.
As in all parts of life, unexpected problems will pop up during a job interview. It’s inevitable. By accepting that reality and mentally preparing to handle what might go wrong, you’ll show that you’re adaptable and unflappable if or when it does.
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