What do you do when you’re asked an awkward interview question? We’ve all been there! It can totally cause us to um, er , what was I saying? Oh right! …lose our train of thought. That being said, it is up to you as to whether you want to continue with the interview. If you do, here are a few strategies that can help you take control of the interview process when things go off the rails!
Firstly, always prepare for the “unstructured” interview, interviewer and process. You can do this by preparing for your interview just as you would if you were on your first sales call pitching a new product to a new prospect…you ultimately control the sales call.
Continuing along these lines, you should arm yourself with documentation; resume, work samples, portfolio’s etc. At the beginning, these items can be put on the table in front of the interviewer. This powerful “tool” will allow you to drive the questions towards ones that really highlight your skills and steer things away when things get tricky.
How do you do this?
- Refer the interviewer to a section or page of the document for further explanation or confirmation of something you’ve said.
- It also has the additional benefit of showing the interviewer that you’re prepared and organized.
- Additionally, by having a “safety net,” you will feel more confident.
- Always be prepared with extra questions just in case
When the interview starts to go into a “no go zone” halt it by asking permission to ask a question or give feedback to get things back on track. This is a powerful “behavior interrupter” By having them talk, it shifts the focus. Contrary to popular opinion you don’t have to wait for the traditional “Do you have any questions for me?” portion of the interview at the end. Most interviewers encourage a two-way dialogue and reciprocal fact-finding, so it’s not unusual to ask questions throughout the process.
In the last few posts I’ve touched upon the use of body language and perception. Basically, how your verbal message should match your physical mannerisms. What I didn’t get into was how to use your body (and voice) to convey the strongest and most compelling message possible to employers.
If you think about it, it’s not just about how you carry yourself but how you use all aspects of communication to present your ideas. With so many great online talks from TED to INCITE, it’s easier then ever to watch and study the best speakers to get ideas. Great presentations are really both an art and a science and despite what many people think, IT CAN BE LEARNED!
When you’re networking or in an interview, you are basically presenting yourself, so in that context think of the following:
- The “story” you want to tell (goal)
- What you want the audience to get out of it (aim)
- Why they should care
- Keep it short and to the point (the average listener can only focus for 15 minutes at a time)
- Speak with passion!
For more info, check out Steven Knight’s 4 part Linkedin series:
How to produce and deliver a winning presentation
Present with power: voice and body language
Why passion and facial expression matter
Your voice is the key to your success
If you really want to delve into improving your presentation skills, here are two books I would recommend on the subject:
Confessions of a Public Speaker by Scott Berkun
How to deliver a great TED talk by Akash Karia
So now that you know about some of the negative things that could be coming across to potential employers through your body language, how can you change it?
Try Power Posing.
Ever since Social Psychologist Amy Cuddy’s TED talk in 2012 on power posing and confidence, this seemingly small move has become a huge sensation. Basically the pose, which consists of placing your hands on your hips and your feet apart (think Superman or Wonder Woman), when held for around 2 minutes has been scientifically proven to build confidence. Subsequently, Amy’s famous quote of “fake it’ til you become it” has quickly become a part of our modern vernacular. Check out the full talk and see for yourself:
How Power Posing can work to boost your confidence
Now that you’ve tried power posing repeat the suggestion in the last post to either record yourself or have a friend watch you while answering common interview questions. Notice the difference? You may now be using the following positive gestures while speaking without even realizing that you’re doing it!
Action: Brisk erect walk
Action: Standing with hands on hips
Action: Open palm
Meaning: Sincerity, Openness
Action: Steepling fingers
Action: Quickly tilted head
Action: Stroking chin
Meaning: Thinking about a decision
Action: Consistent eye contact
Meaning: Confidence, honesty
Now there will be no mistaking your message to employers as your confidence will match your words.
With the 2014 Winter Olympic Games under way it’s tough to imagine the grueling work each athlete had to endure to get to where they are today. I know I could never do what they do … I get wobbly just trying to walk to a skating rink yet alone trying to skate! But at the very least we can learn a few things from their mindset and how thinking like a champion is half the battle.
Expect to win
When you enter an interview, as hard as it may seem, try not to think “I hope to get this job” instead practice saying to your self “I’m going to get this job” it does make a difference in the confidence you’ll project.
Set your self up for small wins
The many small wins that qualify an athlete for the Olympics are just as important as the BIG event. So for example, if cold-calling a potential employer seems daunting, try calling a friend who’s an employer or try calling businesses you’re not as interested in first. This will give you practice and confidence when you make the more important calls.
Don’t make excuses
It’s rare to hear interviewees take ownership for why they didn’t get a job, but for those who do, 9 times out of 10 they’ll get hired much sooner. Why? This is something that most Olympians are all too aware of, human error is inevitable but instead of laying blame they use it to improve their technique make corrections and ultimately become better athletes.
Focus on what you can do
Does a figure skater bemoan the fact they can’t bobsled? NO! They focus on what they can do and make the most of the skills they have. It’s perfectly normal to focus on the negatives as to why you won’t get a job, but you can overcome this attitude. For example: Look at the job posting and list in bullet points all the ways your skills and experience fulfill the company wish list, this not only builds your confidence but it’s also good interview practice because you’ll be prepared when the employer asks “Why should we hire you?”
They don’t give up
Many athletes have an inner tenacity and desire to win that is admirable. Whether it’s called the “X” factor or “Heart” it’s clear, that after all the training and hard work this sometime it can mean the difference between gold and silver. Cultivate your passion and purpose and you too can experience victory!
Similar to asking someone out for a date, when calling a potential reference person we’re usually just happy they said YES! It’s rare that we go beyond the initial excitement and actually ask questions to find out if they’re really the best person for the job.
In reality, a bad reference can mean the difference between getting hired or not. So it’s definitely a good idea to do a bit of prep work beforehand. Not only will it take some of the guesswork out of what they may or may not say, but many referees may actually welcome the practice. Don’t forget that most HR professionals are experts at asking open-ended questions that cause referees to spilling the beans… so make sure what they spill is good!
10 of the most common questions HR asks References
- First verify the candidates’ employment dates, title and role
- If you could rehire the candidate, would you? Why or why not?
- What was the reason for the person leaving?
- What kind of duties and responsibilities were assigned to the candidate? Did he/she complete them to your satisfaction? Did he/she show initiative and go beyond what was required of them?
- What would you say were the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses?
- How would you evaluate the employee’s performance with the tasks likely to be assigned in the new position?
- Was the candidate punctual? Were there any issues with absenteeism?
- Did the employee get along with their peers, how about managers? Customers?
- How did the employee handle conflict or pressure?
- 10. Is there anything else I should know about the candidate before we hire them?
Just like in a new relationship, you wouldn’t want your date standing at your front door without any notice; you likewise wouldn’t want your references to be receiving calls from employers without a heads up! Also as a courtesy, ask them how and when they prefer being called.
Since giving references is now mandatory, you don’t have to include the statement, “References available upon request” at the end of your marketing material and PLEASE don’t include your reference contact information on your resume!! You wouldn’t write your date’s phone number on a bathroom wall now would you? It’s private and confidential and only given at the interview.
Now go out there and find that one er, I mean five special people…Happy Valentine’s Day!