Everything was going so well wasn’t it? I mean there you were, surprisingly confident about how things progressed. You’d done your research and it was paying off as the right answers just kept coming into your consciousness at the right moments. It was getting easier as the conversation went on; your sweat glands seemed in check for once, your usual stress level was lower than usual. Then, just as all seemed right with the world for once and you could do no wrong, it happened; you sputtered, lost your momentum, panicked and drew a blank.
You’ve just experienced what is for many their biggest fear when imagining what’s the worst that could go wrong in a job interview. Sometimes it’s drawing a complete blank altogether and the other situation is when you’re 45 seconds into your answer and suddenly it hits you that you’ve got a better reply to the question asked of you and would really like a do over. Now you’re conflicted in not knowing if you should continue to fumble and bumble your way through or ask if it would be okay to start again with a different approach. Yikes!
There is one basic truth that you should remind yourself of both before and during the job interview; all interviewers want to see and hear you at your best. They want you to succeed quite frankly. It might not always appear this way, but unless they’ve got some deep-seated personal issues where they get their jollies bringing in people for the sole purpose of humiliating them, they want to spend their valuable time interviewing the people who are most likely to impress them enough to extend a job offer.
Generally speaking therefore, if you are running along smoothly in a job interview and suddenly realize that you’ve got off track in your answer to a question, you can certainly pause and regroup. I mean wouldn’t you do the same if you were at home having a conversation with someone and the same thing happened? Sure you would. You’d pause and say something like, “Wait a second, let me start again” and you would.
In a job interview however, we tend to think that it has to be a flawless execution (wait a second, perhaps I shouldn’t use the word, ‘execution’ in connection with a job interview?) from start to finish. We imagine that from the first moment we make eye contact with the interviewer(s) until they close the door behind us at the end, that everything has to be perfect; 100% error-free. One little slip up might be all it takes for them to reject us. Were that the actual reality, hardly anyone would be successful in their interviews. Why put that much pressure on yourself?
Most interviewers – the good ones at least – know that no matter how much they reassure an applicant and encourage them to relax and be themselves, people are still nervous, feeling a little anxious or even, ‘under the microscope’. What they ideally want to see and hear though I remind you, is the authentic you.
Okay so you’ve drawn a blank. It’s not likely to happen throughout the interview if you’ve prepared, so it’s likely either a question you hadn’t anticipated or a case where you’ve prepared so well, you’re just having an issue recalling the right experience from your memories. One strategy is to repeat the question; slowly. This buys you a moment to think and you come across as reflective; carefully considering your best response. Remember you shouldn’t be attempting to recall a memorized answer word for word but rather the right example from your past that demonstrates your experience with respect to the question posed.
Most people assume their short mental lapse is much longer and more pronounced than it actually is. Those 6 seconds of dead air where you’re thinking seem like 6 minutes, and you hope you don’t appear as lost as you feel. Taking a deep breath will calm your mounting anxiety because stress is a physical reaction. Smiling after the deep breath gives the impression you’ve got one – possibly two possible options of answering the question asked and you’re actually just deciding between the two ways to respond. You’ve just bought yourself a full 10 seconds of precious time which is usually all you need to organize your thoughts and continue.
Let’s suppose you’re concerned about that dangling wisp of hair that’s covering half your face….I’m sorry, I’m going to take another approach at this point; allow me to begin again. Now if you’re in the middle of responding to their question and it occurs to you that a better response has occurred to you, (such as the way I intentionally started this paragraph off track), stop, apologize, regroup and restart. It’s normal, it’s natural and more to the point, it’s acceptable.
You’re human right? You’re going to make some small mistake perhaps; some of the interviews I’ve had went smooth as can be and didn’t always result in a job offer. Sometimes I’ve been sure I blew my chance and days later received a job offer.
Consider this…making an error in an interview and demonstrating how you recover your momentum and confidence demonstrates first-hand your ability better than just talking about it. You could actually point this out in the moment and that might be the most impressive thing they take away.
You need not be perfect, it’s how you recover.