Let's face it: All job interviews are challenging. Even on the most pleasant interviews, you still need to keep your guard up at all times and fight the urge to become a smidge too comfortable. • What are you supposed to do, though, if a job interview begins to go horribly wrong? Is there anything you can do to salvage the situation? The following tips can help you navigate these tricky waters like a true professional.
1Be prepared before you walk in the door. A time-tested technique for feeling confident on a job interview is to be hyper-prepared. Research the company in question, of course, but also research each individual who is scheduled to interview you on the big day. You can do this by using the search engine Google (www.google.com), as well as the search engine on your potential employer's Web site. Also do what you can to learn about the person who held the job before you.
2Have a plan for dealing with frazzled interviewers. Let's say one of the people on your dance card shows up late and utterly unprepared to talk to you. Be gracious about the situation by allowing the person to get settled and offering to reschedule. If the interview can't be rescheduled, kindly acknowledge how busy the person must be, and then say, "Would it be helpful for me to tell you about myself in relation to this job opening?"
3Don't take a hostile interviewer personally. What if you encounter a hiring manager who is irritable or antagonistic? For starters, stay calm. Remember that his or her mood swings likely have nothing to do with you; the interviewer might simply be having a bad day. As you converse, try to get a sense of whether this behavior might be an isolated incident or whether you really might not want to work closely with this person. Regardless of how the interviewer behaves, remain unruffled and don't respond in kind.
4Get a word in edgewise. If you find yourself in a meeting with an overly chatty interviewer, you may have a difficult time selling yourself. No matter what, though, you can leave a good impression, look for opportunities to make the conversation more interactive, show a genuine interest in the company, and say as much as you can about yourself without interrupting.
5Tackle a group interview with class. If you're being asked question after question by a room full of people, do this: Remain cool and collected, breathe before you answer each question, and make eye contact with all the interviewers as you speak.
6Treat an inexperienced interviewer with dignity. Sometimes it's obvious that an interviewer doesn't know quite what to do. Start the conversation off in a non-insulting way. Ask questions about the company and then offer to describe your background and experience.
7Prepare answers to tough questions. Such open-ended killers include, "What would you like to tell me about yourself?" and "Why should we hire you?" Rehearse answers ahead of time. Craft a brief description of who you are professionally and what your greatest strengths are. In two minutes or less, you should be able to match your specific abilities with the list of requirements for the job.
8Help steer the car, but don't drive it. Recognize that in most cases it's a mistake for the job applicant to try to take control of the interview. Even if the interviewers are botching things, they have the right to direct the meeting.
9Prepare your own questions. Never show up at an interview without being ready to ask good questions yourself. Your questions should reveal your understanding of issues at the company — and that could turn the discussion toward your solutions and fresh ideas.
10Make your own assessment. If you leave the interview cringing because things went awry, relax: It's probably not that bad. Send follow-up notes thanking the interviewers for their time and stressing your interest in the position. But be honest when asking yourself this question: Do I really want to work here?
Laura T. Coffey can be reached at laura@ tentips.org.
Sources: Monster.com (www.monster.com); Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine (www.kiplinger.com); "The Career Coach: Winning Strategies for Getting Ahead in Today's Job Market" by Gordon Miller