Let’s say you’re in the interview room, coolly answering questions about your leadership style and career accomplishments.
You feel confident, maybe even a little over-confident…and that’s when it happens.
The “gotcha” question you didn’t expect.
So you start talking. But the more you talk, the less your answer makes sense. And the less it makes sense, the more you get inside your own head, frantically trying to find a way out of the hole you’re in. Eventually, you just trail off. And there’s an awkward silence, where you know you flubbed the answer, and even worse, THEY know you flubbed it too.
What to do now? Ignore the situation?
Take one of the corrective actions below to get back on track:
Ask for a Re-Do
A simple way to recover from a flubbed answer is to take a deep breath and ask, “Actually, may I respond to that question again?”
What’s critical here is to stay CALM. Your demeanor under stress will tell an interviewer far more about you than how you answer any one question. Remember: executives aren’t hired because of perfect answers. They’re hired because of who they are as individuals, their vision, and the sum total of what they bring to the table. No one question has the power to destroy all of that, so if you think of a better way to answer it, by all means take another crack at it!
Humor is a wonderful way to break the tension. Leaning back in your chair and saying something like, “Well, that was a swing and a miss! Let’s see if I can do a better job on the next one,” shows employers that you don’t take yourself too seriously.
A new hire isn’t just a collection of skills. It’s a person who will become a part of these people’s lives, sharing struggles, celebrating wins, and revolving in each other’s orbits on a daily basis. When you have the wherewithal to make a joke, you come across as likeable, a “member of the tribe”…and oftentimes reduce the importance of the flubbed answer in the process.
Also read: 5 Reasons You Bombed the Interview
Share a “Core Story”
Instead of waiting for them to ask a follow-up question, why not take the bull by the horns and GUARANTEE an impressive comeback? You can do this by having a few “Core Stories” in your back pocket, each designed to communicate something essential about what you’re bringing to the table.
For example, a CFO who wants to highlight his ability to “move the needle” in the face of crisis can share a powerful story about coming on board a startup that was weeks away from running out of capital, and working 24/7 with the CEO to establish new funding sources, re-negotiate supplier agreements, and address cost overruns.
Taking the proactive approach here can work wonders in removing the stain of a bad answer. As a bonus, it shows that you came in prepared and have a genuinely strong understanding of self.
Use the “Closing Argument” as a Means to Address the Real Issue
Let’s say you mess up a question about a short-term position (1 year or less) listed on your resume. What’s the real issue they’re concerned about? Not the job itself, but your LEVEL OF COMMITMENT. So during the final moments of the interview, specifically call out the fact that you’re interested in this position, and are looking to make a long-term commitment to the company’s success. Offer a few examples of long-term improvements you’ve made at previous companies. Address the underlying issue, and the flubbed answer becomes inconsequential.
And finally: use the Thank You Note that you’ll send post-interview as a chance to either re-answer the question, or provide greater detail and insight to an answer which sorely needs it. The true purpose of a Thank You note isn’t simply to express gratitude, but to continue the conversation. So, by all means, use it to put a bad answer to rest, and move forward from a place of strength.