Having worked on Wall Street and in startups for the past 10 years, I’ve been on both sides of the interview table and have interviewed about a dozen candidates for roles. Now, I’m the managing partner of Spry Ventures, an opportunistic early stage fund and advisory firm in San Francisco, and the founder of Ambitious Grads, a collection of training guides for college students and graduates who are interested in high-powered, six-figure careers.
One thing that always comes up: how to ace an interview. Hiring isn’t easy, and interviewees often forget that there is a real person on the other side of the table. That’s why what’s always stood out to me is a candidate’s ability to treat the interview as a conversation, rather than a high-pressure game show. But sometimes, no matter how well prepared or personable you are, things can go wrong. But don’t panic—I’ll help you navigate a few common awkward interview moments so you can still come out on top.
Scenario: Your interviewer doesn’t appear to be paying attention to you
How to Handle It: Interviewing is a two-way street where both parties should be invested in the conversation. If the interviewer doesn’t seem engaged, he or she could be dealing with other issues in his or her life, or just be checked out. The best solution here is not to get discouraged, and don’t match the energy your interviewer is putting out. If you bring your positive energy to the interview, the interviewer will become engaged, too. If that doesn’t happen, it may not be the best work atmosphere for you and you may be better off looking elsewhere.
Scenario: A recruiter goes dark on you
How to Handle It: It’s not personal; recruiters are paid for the connections they make for employers. Sometimes things don’t click but that doesn’t mean you did anything wrong. If your recruiter goes dark on a particular position, the best move is to get on with researching the next opportunity. This will keep you focused and help you avoid getting stressed out.
Scenario: You botched an interview question
How to Handle It: Let it go and move on. It’s not the end of the world. All you can do is regain your composure and keep moving forward with the rest of the interview. I’ve had many interviews that I thought I messed up only to receive a surprising phone call a few days later. To avoid mess-ups in the future, prepare properly for the interview. Find out as much as you can about the company, position, and interviewer beforehand using tools like Linkedin.
Scenario: Your phone rings during an interview
How to Handle It: I don’t have to tell you to turn off your phone or put it on silent during an interview. But if you forget, apologize for the mistake and quickly shut it off. If you typically take notes on your phone, don’t do it during an interview. We get used to fiddling around with our phones in uncomfortable situations so it’s best to remove it from the equation. Bring a pen and notepad instead.
Scenario: The interviewer asks why you’re leaving your current job
How to Handle It: It’s inevitable that an interviewer will ask you why you’re leaving your previous job. Make sure you don’t talk bad about your current employer. Instead, use the question as an opportunity to explain why this job is a better fit for you. No one wants to hire someone with a negative attitude and if you badmouth your previous employer, the interviewer may wonder what you might say about their company after you leave. Keep things on a positive note, no matter what.
Job interviews can be tough but remember: All prospective employers want to know is if you can get the job done reliably without too much hand holding. As long as you approach every interview with a professional mindset, preparation, and a good attitude you will find yourself gainfully employed. Good luck!
This article originally appeared on The Well, Jopwell’s digital magazine. The Well is the digital magazine of Jopwell, the career advancement platform for Black, Latino/Hispanic and Native American professionals and students. Subscribe to receive weekly stories and advice in your inbox.