Of course everyone wants to put their best foot forward in an interview. The goal is to make the best possible impression. Unfortunately things happen. The true test of a candidate is not whether they can do things perfectly but more how they respond when things don’t go as planned.
It is normal to be nervous prior to or during an interview. You can reduce and manage your nervousness to your advantage. Be well prepared. Do your research on the company, the position and the people you are interviewing with in advance. Prepare questions you want to ask them. Confirm the details of time and place. Be sure you know how to get there, do a test run if necessary. Give yourself plenty of time to get there. Think about how you want to answer typical questions. Have examples ready to answer behavioral questions. Think about the most important things you want them to remember about you. Preparation in advance helps reduce nervousness in the moment. Do some deep breathing before you start. Go wash your hands just prior to your interview if you tend to get clammy. Remind yourself that this is the best place for you to be and the best use of your time right now. Be in the moment and focus on the interviewers. Establish and maintain strong eye contact. If in spite of all your preparation, you do something that makes your nervousness obvious, let them know it is because you are so excited about the position and move on. Don’t draw more attention to it.
Best strategy is to give yourself plenty of time. Check out the route in advance if you don’t know where you are going. Identify where you will be able to park. Have a contingency plan if needed. When the universe conspires against you and everything possible goes wrong and it appears that you will be late, immediately call the employer. Apologize and let them know you will be few minutes late. They don’t need all the gory details. Apologize again when you arrive and then move past it.
You see the job description and know it is the job you’ve been waiting for. You think the interview is going well but suddenly the interviewer starts talking about your great experience but thinks you are over-qualified for the position. Do some probing? Why do they think that? Are you over-qualified or are they worried that you are overpriced? Show the value of the experience you bring to the position and how you can help solve their business problems. Talk about their needs and how you can address them. Let them know you are still very interested.
If the interviewer instead indicates that you do not have enough experience in general or in their specific industry, focus on what you do offer. Maybe you’ve already transitioned to a different industry and can show that you learn quickly and bring a fresh perspective. Focus on the relevant experience and skills that you do bring to the table. Focus on the business needs you can address. If you really do not have the necessary experience, use it as a learning experience. Ask what additional experience would prepare you for this role in the future. What skills are most important to them? Is there a more appropriate entry point within the company and will they keep you in mind? Even if you don’t get the job, build a relationship for the future.
They ask the question and you draw a blank. You have no idea where to start. You can always buy a little time by asking them to repeat the question. You can also rephrase the question to be sure you have it right. If it is a mini-case question focus on the thought process of what you need to make a decision rather than trying to come up with a “right” answer. If it is a crazy question, give an answer that you can explain. Otherwise take a deep breath, answer honestly. Some answer is better than deafening silence. Often once you get started, the rest of the answer flows.
Even if you think the interview didn’t go well, still send a handwritten, customized thank you note. You don’t know when something else may come up and you want them to think of you.
If you are able to keep your cool and handle the rough spots in the interview it will help differentiate you among the pool of applicants. Preparation is key so you can focus your energy on things that happen during the course of the interview itself.