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How to Take Control of Even the Worst Job Interviews

How to Take Control of Even the Worst Job Interviews

Anita Bruzzese / USA Today

If you think you’ve had a bad job interview, consider the true story of a woman who became so physically ill during her interview, that she grabbed the trash can and … yes, puked in it.

She got the job.

Not because of what she did, but because of the way she handled the nightmare scenario. She excused herself to the restroom and took the trash can with her. She returned later to the interviewer and said she needed to reschedule because she was too ill to continue.

She also said that had she known she was sick, she never would have shown up at the interview and potentially exposed everyone to her illness.

“The interviewer said later that he appreciated her attitude that she would never come into work sick and expose others to an illness. Employers do not appreciate those who sit on the ‘martyr bench’ and come to work sick and infect the whole place so that then everyone is out sick,” says Dr. Paul Powers, a Boston-based management psychologist. “This woman took a bad situation and turned it into a chance to make a good point about who she was.”

And that, Powers says, is what gaining control of an interview is all about.

“A job interview is a stressful event, but stress isn’t necessarily all bad. If we don’t have stress, then we wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning. Stress makes you a little bit sharper, it gives you an edge,” he says.

To make sure that you’re not “too ramped up” or “too laid back” for an interview, Powers suggests you take your “emotional temperature.”

“Think about the best interview you’ve ever had, and your worst one,” he says. “This is where you learn from your own history. What did you do right, and what did you do wrong?”

Then, he says, you must always make sure you’re prepared for those parts of the interview process that you can control, such as:

Appearance:

Powers agrees with the rule of dressing one level up for the job you are applying for, but he adds that you should always have at least two outfits that “you feel really good in.” In addition, he recommends not getting your hair cut the day of an interview, but about a week before so that the style and cut look more natural.

Doing your homework:

Research the company where you will be working, and know things like the company’s mission statement. “Think of it as going out on a blind date,” Powers says. “You want to know everything you can before you go to meet them.”

Make yourself memorable:

When you leave a job interview, you should have left behind not only a resume but a real sense of who you are and what you can contribute to a company. “Try to make the interview more like a conversation,” Powers says. “Have prepared questions, because the kinds of questions you ask often tells an interviewer something else about you.”

Also, try to get the interviewer to tell you what they want, and then you can tailor your answers to better fit what they are looking for, he says.

Practice:

Powers advocates talking with headhunters or attending job fairs at least three or four times a year to keep your interviewing skills sharp. If you’d like more practice, ask a friend or family member to sit down and interview you, and then videotape the sessions — and don’t stop for mistakes.

“If you review that videotape, I guarantee that you’ll go from Richard Nixon to Bill Clinton in an hour,” Powers says. “You’ll find every mistake you made, and work on it. You’ll also see how you handle it when you bobble something, and what you can do to improve.”

Finally, Powers says to accept that there are going to be some things you can’t control, such as the interviewer who is having a bad day, and unexpected interruptions like fire alarms and pictures dropping off the walls. (All true events, he says.)

“The main thing is to keep your cool, and to keep your sense of humor,” he says. “They’re going to be watching everything, and it’s often your reaction to the unplanned-for events that get you the job.”

For more information, check out Powers’ book, Winning Job Interviews(Career Press, $12.99).