There’s potential for awkwardness in every social interaction, but being asked personal questions by your potential new boss takes the cake. The job searching path is littered with tricky convos. Survive the awkwardness and turn hard-to-navigate moments into interview gold with these tips.
Awkward moment 1: You need to explain a past firing
If you were fired, you’re probably terrified of being asked about it in an interview. But, look, plenty of people get fired and go on to find great jobs in the future! Being fired is not the be all and end all for your career. They key here is to be calm, concise, and to practice ahead of time. Avoid sounding defensive or bitter. You want to sound like you’ve learned from what happened and have moved forward. Remember, your interviewer is really only looking for a few sentences about what happened, not expecting a detailed account of what went down. Don’t get stuck nervously rambling about it. Structure your answer like this: try to sum up in a sentence or two why you and your employer were mismatched or otherwise what went wrong. Follow that up with a sentence about what you’ve learned or do differently now as a result. Easy.
Awkward moment 2: Your interviewer asks about your religion, plans for children, or other inappropriate topics.
We all know they’re not supposed to ask these kinds of things. Does that mean they don’t? Unfortunately not. Especially if it’s a smaller business or if they think they can get away with being more informal. Sometimes interviewers even do it as part of making small talk without realising about how, in the context, it might freak you out. If it truly seems like small talk and that your interviewer is just trying to be friendly then you’ll generally get the best outcome by responding in the same spirit, as an attempt to build rapport. If you think they’re really sussing you out, then work out what you think the underlying concern is. If you think they are concerned, for example, that having kids means that you won’t be at work reliably, respond with something like this: “There’s nothing in my personal life that would interfere with my ability to work the hours needed and make the job a top priority.”
Awkward moment 3: You’re getting conflicting information about the job from different people
Sometimes talking to multiple people throughout a hiring process can be really beneficial – you get different perspectives on the culture, the team, the challenges of the role, etc. But you might notice that you’re hearing conflicting things about the important stuff — like what your tasks will actually be, or what’s most important for you to achieve in the first year, etc. At this point, you want to clarify what’s going on. Say something like: “I’ve heard different perspectives on the job from Chris and Peter. It sounds like some people want to see the role focus on expanding the sales team and some people want to see it focus on improving customer experience metrics. I’d love a better sense of how these different aims will be balanced. Is there alignment in the team about what people want to see from the person in this role?” That should kick off a helpful conversation.
Awkward moment 4: Asking about perks like working from home and whether you have your own office
You may have heard that everything is up for negotiation when it comes to job offers. The reality is that what you can negotiate depends on how much the employer wants to hire you and how in-demand your skills are. If you’re just starting off in your career, you don’t have that much. If you’re more senior with a solid reputation you can go for more. That doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed, of course, but it becomes more reasonable to ask. This is where working out what is reasonable to request is key. You should try to get a sense of what the standard perks are in your field and at your level so that you can talk about these things accordingly. It’s never a good idea to sound presumptuous, of course. It helps to frame it like this: “I’d like A because of B. Is that an option on your end?” Or, “Would you be open to A?” That way you’re being open and straightforward about what you want, but you’re not demanding it like an egotistical and potentially painful future employee.
Awkward moment 5: Negotiating salary
Don’t be scared by the thought that negotiating salary is about presenting a formal case to justify your worth. In a salary negotiation, most of the time, that’s not necessary. Often you can get more money than what is being offered while keeping things casual. You could try the following: “I’m really excited about this role, but I was hoping the salary would be a bit higher. Would you be able to go up to $X?” Or, “I was hoping you’d be able to go up to $X. Is that possible at your end?” You could also try: “Do you have any flexibility on the salary? I was hoping for $X.” Or, “If you were able to do $X, I’d be thrilled to accept.”
Even if nothing has been offered yet, you can tailor these slightly if they flat out ask you how much you expect. In that case, something like this can work: “If you were able to do $X, I’d be thrilled to accept.”
Now, after you say one of these, the key is to stop talking! Yes, you might be nervous or uncomfortable or freaking out about what they’re thinking, but that’s ok. That’s normal. Just stop talking and wait. There might be an awkward pause, and that’s totally ok. Eventually, the interviewer will speak and you want to wait for that to happen. If you keep talking, you may end up undercutting yourself simply to ease the awkwardness of the silence. It’s a classic tactic used in negotiations of all kinds. Wait for the answer and then go from there.
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Ready for more tips? Don’t miss The 5 Interview Questions You Must Prepare For
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