MBA Career Advice: Interview Disaster Avoided

In this weekly series, our friends at MBA Career Coaches will be dispensing invaluable advice to help you actively manage your career. Topics include building your network, learning from mistakes and setbacks, perfecting your written communication, and mastering even the toughest interviews. 

Without question, you need to be well prepared for any interview. However, as we have said, it is impossible to prepare for every single scenario—to have considered every possible answer to every possible question in advance. So from time to time, even the well-prepared interviewee just might not have an answer at his/her fingertips. That is okay. Interviews are not really about having “the answer.” They are about inspiring confidence in the interviewer. Can you do that if you flub an answer or even make a mistake? Absolutely.

Let us say your interviewer asks a detailed and tricky question: “Tell me about a time when you overcame a team conflict that involved more than three conflicted interests.”

And a quick scan of your memory reveals no new stories to tell. Do you…

A) Panic?

B) Launch into a story about a team experience that does not fit the question and hope your interviewer does not notice?

C) Repeatedly apologize for not having the right experience at your fingertips?

D) None of the above

The answer is, quite obviously, D. So, if none of these are the right answer, what should you do? You should manage the situation confidently and remember that an interview is meant to be a dialogue. Try some of these responses:

  1. “That is a very good question, and to be honest, nothing comes to mind that fits that exactly. But I do recall one team experience in which my interests conflicted with my boss’s. Shall I tell you how I navigated that one?” Then see what he/she says. The interviewer may be very pleased that you were thoughtful enough to understand the question and address it even if you did not have the exact right experience.
  2. “You know, I already told you about the benefit I planned in which I had to balance the demands of the board, the kids, and the volunteers. I am not sure I have a better example. Would you like me to discuss that one again?” Again, just be up front, and keep the conversation in dialogue form. Let the interviewer tell you what he/she prefers.
  3. Or if all else fails, “Hmmm…I must admit that I can’t think of an example of that off the top of my head. Can we come back to your question at the end?“ If the interviewer remembers, then you can try again later.

What all of these responses do is convey that you are engaged in a dialogue, you are thinking deeply about the questions, and you are confident about your experiences. Once the question has passed, be sure to focus on the rest of the conversation with your interviewer and not get lost in regret. If you keep the moment present by referencing it or just by being distracted and changing the tenor of your interview, your interviewer will definitely remember it too—compounding your problem. Instead, exhibit confidence and give yourself the opportunity to make that tough moment entirely forgettable.

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