Come the day of that big interview, you know you'll ace the tell me about yourself question. You've Googled tons of interview questions. You're ready. Yet no matter how much preparation you do for an interview, things don't always go so smoothly.
It happens when they come out of left field with a question you weren't ready for.
Maybe you're totally stumped. Or you can't think of the right response at this very moment.
Um...well...I don't know...skip? None of these are the appropriate way to answer a question you aren't prepared to answer.
So take a page out of the playbook of Terry Gross. As the host of NPR's Fresh Air, she's done a lot of question asking over her 42-year career. She's conducted 13,000 interviews--and counting. In speaking with New York Times, Gross offered her best tips for having good conversations. The whole piece is gold and worth a read.
Here are her pointers for acing an interview, even when it's not going super well.
Turning around a bad job interview
Gross is a big fan of honesty. If you're not sure how to respond to a question, she says you should say so.
You can do it gracefully, without sounding like a total moron. Not "I don't know." She suggests going with "I'm having a difficult time thinking of a specific answer to that." Case closed. Now the interviewer can move on to the next question.
You can also deflect if you feel you've been put in an awkward position. A classic job interview question is, "Why do you want to leave your current job?" The real answer might have to do with your low salary, toxic work environment, horrible management, or any number of other sensitive issues that you'd rather not share. Gross has the perfect response here: "I'm afraid by answering that I'm going to hurt somebody's feelings and I don't want to do that."
Run your script ahead of time
Gross also recommends that you plan out what you want to say in the interview ahead of time. Think about questions you would expect to be asked. If there are gaps in your résumé or you're looking to switch industries, plan how you will address questions on those topics.
Before you go for that firm handshake, you should have a few key points you'd like to make to showcase your skills and expertise. If a certain question throws you off, you'll have something to circle back to. Bring it back to your strengths.
Lastly, Gross suggests you have an anecdote on deck. This should be a story that reflects your strengths. Perhaps it's about a problem you solved at work or an unlikely success you achieved in your career. Keep the story short, engaging, and to-the-point. Look for an opportunity to share this story at some point in the interview.
Your interviewer is more likely to remember a personal experience than a stock answer. This can help set you apart from the other candidates and make you more memorable.