Five Ways to Get an Interview Back on Track

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If you haven't been in this situation, it might be your worst nightmare: You've prepped and rehearsed the standard interview questions, researched the firm. But something happens and the interview goes south. You stumble. You say something stupid. The interviewer starts fidgeting. The feeling of doom starts a downward spiral which ends with you exiting the office, tail between your proverbial legs.

But the situation isn't necessarily hopeless. Try these tactics to get the interview back on track.

Stop, Drop and Ask

There's nothing wrong with pausing in the middle of an answer to ask the manager for feedback, says Lilly Zhu, a former Morgan Stanley vice president of investment banking who currently runs Kuaguoren, a career coaching business aimed at Chinese professionals. "Pause and say, 'I just wanted to check and see if I'm headed in the right direction,'" Zhu suggests. "I've seen this done by very thoughtful interviewees when I was recruiting. It made me think, 'Maybe I can help this kid give more meaningful answers.'"

Rework Your Answer in Real Time

Pennell Locey, senior consultant with Keystone Associates, urges candidates to take charge of the process - especially when they flub. "Candidates often let the interviewer drive the interview, but it's okay to say 'I realize I may have created a wrong impression earlier when I said X. Actually, I meant Y,'" Locey says. "Whether it's an example of a skill, experience you want to highlight, or even an opinion expressed that you want to soften, you can go back." And if you don't think of it until the way home, use your thank you note to address the correction.

Help Them Help You

If you can't seem to strike a rapport with the interviewer, ask them what they are looking for. "Their response to, 'In your opinion, can you describe your ideal analyst candidate?' can give you an opening to showcase some experience or education," Zhu says. "This creates a new point in which you can enter the conversation. Interviews are just an opportunity to deepen a relationship."

Strut Your stuff

If you get stuck blabbing about a part of your career you find challenging, shoehorn in an example where you shine. It's even better if this example is on paper - such as the outline of a project you successfully executed, or a report you wrote. "When the verbal exchange becomes stiffened, you have something non-verbal to regain traction," Zhu says.

Counter with Creativity

If the hiring manager rejects you, ask why - and find a way to diplomatically challenge their reason. One of Locey's clients found herself on the defensive when the manager deemed the candidate's relaxed manner "too Type B for a Type A environment." She countered with the suggestion that her personality could serve as the calm in the center of the office's storm. She got the job.

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