Job Interview Nightmares (and how to recover from them)

Job Interviews are critical career moments!

In a perfect world, you nail your job interview. It's so easy, it feels like you're just chatting with an old friend, the time just flies by. Before you know it, you've been offered the job!

That almost NEVER happens.

There may be a a few moments that go well when you get questions you've prepared for, but you're also likely to get the "deer in headlights" feeling at a question or two.

In this post, I'm not going to tell you how to answer the question "where do you see yourself in 5 years?" or "what is your greatest weakness?" Instead, I'm going to talk about rehearsed improvisation. Wait, what? Isn't that a contradiction in terms? Yup.

Rehearse to improvise for a job interview

How can you rehearse to improvise? In the world of drama, rehearsed improvisation is acting which was unscripted, but run through in advance of a performance. In the specific case of improv comedy, it can additionally mean preparing a pattern that can be used in response to unpredictable stimuli. If you're an improv comic and you've got a terrific Elvis impression, you'll be on the lookout for audience suggestions that lead into Elvis songs. When the audience is asked to yell out random topics, you're ready.

  • A stray dog? You break into "Ain't Nothin' But a Hound Dog"
  • Where you might go on a vacation? "Viva Las Vegas"
  • When you bomb a job interview? "All Shook Up" or maybe even "Heartbreak Hotel!"

Now obviously I'm not suggesting you break into "Love Me Tender" in your next interview. But think of an all-purpose, universally relevant anecdote from a previous job. Recall a situation where you had to deal creatively with a client who was angry, but because you could not give them exactly what they asked for, you resolved the issue in another way.  Tell that story to a friend a few times until it's succinct but understandable, with clear language about the transferable skills you used to handle the irate person. Then when you get a question that you're not sure how to answer, see if this story could fit. For example:

"Tell me about a time when you dealt with a customer who was upset." Sure, your irate customer story works easily here! But here's a tougher one:

"What do you enjoy most/least about customer service?" The story could work either way, by saying you least enjoy when you aren't able to make a customer happy, OR by saying that you most enjoy when you're able to resolve an issue with a customer in a creative way.

"What makes you the best candidate for this position?" Start by identifying a couple of the skills you demonstrated, then tell the story as an example.

Difficult interview questions do happen.

What if you get a question that you must answer truthfully but that may reflect negatively on you, like: "What experience have you had with handling international clients?" If you've had exactly zero international clients, own up to that fact. THEN look for a way to segue into your story. You might say that even though you haven't had any international clients, you've had some clients who were extremely challenging, leading you to your example.

Prepare 3 or 4 anecdotes to use in response to different questions, and you've mastered the art of rehearsed improv!

For inspiration, check out the job interview scene from "The Pursuit of Happyness." Will Smith's character is asked if he really was first in his high school class--then asked how many were in the class. (Only 12.) He doesn't have the smoothest segue, but he changes the focus to his greatest strength - his dogged determination to find out any answer he doesn't know.

If you've got an interview coming up and would like to work with a career coach, drop me a note.

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