An interviewer asking a question you cannot or do not want to answer is every job seeker’s worst-case scenario. ‘Uhhhh,’ you may worry when your interviewer asks about a weakness. ‘How can I get out of answering this tactfully?’
To get an interview back onto safer waters of what you want to answer, take the advice of professional interviewer Terry Gross. As the host of the NPR show Fresh Air, she has interviewed bestselling authors, politicians, artists, and other public personalities for the past 42 years.
In a new interview with The New York Times, she shared tips on interviewing that we can apply to our careers:
How a professional interviewer gets an interview back on track
Gross said her goal is not to assume who the person is, but to find out how her subject came to be who they are. To do this, she stays open and curious about where the interview will take her, avoiding pointed questions like, “What do you do?” that assume information.
Preparing for questions is one of the best ways to avoid being caught off guard, Gross advises. “It helps to organize your thoughts beforehand by thinking about the things you expect you’ll be asked and then reflecting on how you might answer,” she said.
But even the best-laid plans can go off the rails. If you feel that an interview is starting to go badly, Gross says you can take control of the situation by pivoting the conversation to a different topic you actually can speak to. “If somebody is asking you questions and you don’t feel that you have a strong response for it, say, ‘let me share an experience,'” she said.
That way, you can talk about an area that plays more to your strengths. It is a reminder that job seekers have the power to change the tone of a conversation. An interview is a two-way street where you are trying to find out if a company is a right fit for you, while your interviewer is trying to find out the same. A good job interview should feel more like a conversation, less like an interrogation.
Saying “let me share an experience” can help you get towards the goal of a good job interview: the opportunity to share your career story.