NEW YORK (MainStreet) — There is little, and in many cases, no margin for error with a job interview. For applicants, it's the best and maybe only chance to shine face-to-face with a future employer.
"It's hard enough these days just to land a job interview," says Tracy Cashman, senior vice president at WinterWyman, a Boston employer recruiting firm. "So it's crucial for that interview to be stellar. Job candidates need to be at the top of their game and know how to assess the interview situation and be able to turn the interview back in their favor if it does goes awry."
Catching negative job interview signals can go a long way in saving a job interview and turning it around in your favor. One common signal is when the interviewer is unprepared or noticeably distracted. Cashman advises taking control — even offering to come back at a better time, if need be. "Try to get a sense of the most important aspects of the role and hopefully discover where the negativity is coming from so you can address it," she says.
If you feel the interviewer is too distracted to have any kind of real conversation, acknowledge the distraction politely and offer to reschedule. "You have nothing to lose except a terrible interview. And the person may appreciate your insight, honesty and flexibility," Cashman adds.
Having to explain awkward gaps in your resume or a lack of direct experience for a job is another problem that needs fixing fast. That was the case for Derek Handova, a business-to-business content marketing writer in Silicon Valley. "I have been in about a dozen in-person and on-the-phone job interviews over the last year or so," Handova says. "I've been in job interviews where I've had my professional background experience questioned as not being an exact fit for the current opening."
"As I always find out the interviewer's background on LinkedIn prior to an interview," Handova says, "if possible I'll mention that just as the interviewer was able to negotiate the change from financial planning software to the online marketing industry, I can also make the transition equally well."
Handova also says he's had to explain short-term gaps in his career. Again, tell your story honestly and with clarity, he says. "You've got to be specific," Handova says. "In one situation, I explained my old company endured a bond refinancing crisis at the bottom of the 2008-09 Great Recession and the bankruptcy court ordered layoffs of all support personnel, which was obviously not my choice."
There are other quick ways to save a job interview. If you think you goofed on a response, don't dwell on it; you'll draw more attention to your mistake. "Instead, focus on putting your best foot forward during the remainder of the meeting," says Robert Hosking, executive director of OfficeTeam, an employee recruiting company in Menlo Park, Calif. "It's totally acceptable to take some time to pause and collect yourself before continuing with your responses."
Even if you get the impression the interview isn't going well, try to remain optimistic, Hosking adds. "Look for an opportunity to demonstrate any additional knowledge you may have of the company or the industry from the research you did to prepare for the interview."
In the end, a bad impression or a mistake doesn't necessarily take you out of the running. "Emphasize the skills and experience you have and how they add value to the open position and benefit the company, and use the thank-you note as an opportunity to clarify your responses and address any concerns the hiring manager expressed," Hosking says.
As Hosking points out, you may think a mistake just cost you a job, but the hiring manager may not feel the same way. You are likely the harshest critic of your own performance, and that's OK. Just think on your feet, draw on your experience, and be alert but relaxed.
— Written By Brian O'Connell For MainStreet