8 Ways a Job Interview Can Take a Turn for the Worse

Top career experts and corporate recruiters share situations that can derail a job interview, along with advice on how job seekers can get back on track.

Fri, May 07, 2010

CIO — So you arrive at a big job interview confident and prepared. It starts off strong. Conversation flows smoothly. You're saying all the right things.

Suddenly, the hiring manager asks you a question you didn't anticipate.

The "deer in the headlights" look washes over your face. You flounder for an answer that fails to impress the hiring manager. Your confidence takes a hit, and the interview, along with any chance of getting the job, quickly head south.

Whether it's a surprise question, a wardrobe malfunction or the hour-long interview that unexpectedly turns into a day-long affair, job interviews are filled with on-the-spot situations that must be handled deftly by the candidate. If not, these situations will sink even the most prepared professional.

To help you anticipate these unexpected twists and turns, career experts and corporate recruiters shared eight situations that can come up during a job interview. They offer advice on how to navigate them gracefully so that you can get the interview back on track.

1. You're caught off-guard by an inappropriate or illegal question.

By law, employers aren't allowed to ask job seekers certain questions, such as "Are you married?" or "Do you have kids?" But some hiring managers do so anyway, and these questions can throw a candidate for a loop.

Susan Whitcomb, a career coach who's authored a variety of books on career management, including Interview Magic, recommends a three-step process for answering touchy questions:

  1. Avoid a direct response to an illegal question if it has the slightest chance of hurting your candidacy.

  2. Address the hiring manager's underlying concern that's driving the question.

  3. Accentuate a positive character trait or skill that will resound with the hiring manager.

When asked if you're married, for instance, Whitcomb suggests a job seeker reply like this: "I'm in a solid relationship. I'm blessed to have someone who supports me wholly in my career. You may wonder about my personal life and how it might affect my ability to travel and my work hours. My last position required me to work 60 hours a week and to travel once a month. I love that quiet time in the hotel at night when I can really focus on my work."

2. You need to address the dreaded "sticky wicket."

Many job candidates have a "sticky wicket" in their employment histories, such as a layoff, job-hopping or even termination with cause. Candidates who have these issues are in a particularly sticky situation. How they handle discussing their employment history can mean the difference between staying in the game and sudden-death elimination.

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