(Or How to Put Out the Fire When Your Interview is Going Up in Flames)

Okay, so you’re in a job interview and for some reason the stars aren’t exactly aligning between you and your (hopefully soon) boss-to-be. No matter how much charm you exude, or how articulately you answer questions, your interviewer still looks at you like you’re an organ grinder’s monkey trying to dance with the Rockettes.

With the recession officially over, yet unemployment still around 9%, businesses aren’t laying off employees as fast as they were (so say the economists), but they’re not exactly being quick to rehire, either. So who knows when you’ll get another opportunity to dazzle a prospective employer with your wit and knowledge? Therefore, if you’re in an interview, and it’s crumbling faster than cold toast, you need to shift into damage control—quickly!

1. Turn It Up

First off, don’t automatically blame yourself if your interview starts circling the drain. Quite often an interview goes bad because the interviewer hasn’t a clue what to do. If your interviewer babbles aimlessly like a DJ with Tourettes (or worse yet, just sits there like a wart on a toad) help him get into the groove by asking about the specific experience requirements and duties for the job. Once all that comes out then you can turn it up a notch by relating your own experience and capabilities to those of the job you’re applying for. Don’t forget to preface your statements with things like, “Well then, I’m certainly the person you’re looking for because in my last job I…” If you’re lucky you’ll get a positive dialogue going, making your interviewer actually look articulate.

2. Talk It Up

Another reason interviews can go bad is because the interviewer doesn’t read your resume ahead of time. This happens due to a number of reasons, namely, the interviewer ran out of time, lost your resume, or was assigned to do your interview moments before you came in. Regardless, if it appears your interviewer doesn’t know why the heck he’s speaking with you in the first place, be prepared to fill in the dead air by talking up the strongest qualification listed on your resume. In other words, if you could tout just one thing to sell yourself, what would it be? Figure that out ahead of time and then be ready to pull it out of your pocket if it looks like your interview is going south because your interviewer didn’t do his homework before you came in.

3. Study Up

And speaking of homework, you also need to do yours. Every company has a website. Make sure you study it before your interview. Know things like when the company was started, who started it, their flagship products and services, the size of the company (in terms of staff), what the company’s known for, and their annual revenue (if it’s posted). Having this information in your arsenal of knowledge not only looks impressive (because you can carry on an intelligent conversation about the company), it also allows you to ask smart questions if it appears the conversation is starting to lag.

4. Suck It Up

Sometimes you’ll encounter a grumpy interviewer who isn’t going to like you no matter what. Could be that the position you’re interviewing for replaces his best friend (who was fired). Or maybe the interviewer is worried about his own job and thus feels threatened by interviewing potential new employees. (Or maybe the guy is just a jerk, plain and simple.) Whatever the reason, if the interview turns adversarial DON’T FIGHT BACK. You don’t want to burn any bridges, especially in small industries where bad news travels fast. (And really, isn’t that all of them?) Just turn the other cheek, suck it up, and be as cordial as you can. Afterward call an emergency happy hour with your friends so they can mend your ego by insisting how wonderful you really are.

5. Kiss Up (er, I mean Follow Up)

Regardless of how the interview goes, always follow up with a letter or email. Thank your interviewer for their time and reiterate how you’d be perfect for the job, listing all the reasons why. But whatever you do, DON’T apologize for anything you said during the interview. You may think you looked like a goober when you accidentally used the word “antidote” when you meant “anecdote” but trust me they’re not going to hold it against you, even if they remember your faux pas at all. Apologizing only makes you look insecure. And nobody wants to swap stories around the water cooler with someone who appears to be afraid of their own shadow.

The bottom line is this: If an interview is going badly, it’s probably because there’s a lot of uncomfortable silence going on. It’s up to the interviewer to start the volley of conversation but if he’s not holding up his end, then it’s up to you to save the day. Don’t be afraid to try. It could mean the difference between a new job and several more months of collecting unemployment.

4 comments on “5 Ways to Save a Bad Job Interview

  • I have found that assuming your interviewer has read your CV is a major mistake, hardly any of mine ever had and even if they do, they have just glanced through it

  • Excellent advice. Our TV station WTAE in Pittsburgh reported we had a guy rob a customer outside the Subway Restaurant he had just applied for a job at minutes before. He certainly could have used advice to prevent a bad end to a job interview!

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