How to Avoid Interview Question Mistakes

Interview Mistakes: You want to be prepared so that you can avoid interview mistakes. These strategies will help you bravely and successfully handle the questions you’re asked, and sidestep embarrassing interview mistakes:

Interview Mistakes Avoidance Strategy #1: Buy Your Brain Some Time to Produce a Stellar Answer- Most of us panic a little whenever a question is presented, and making interview mistakes is a possibility. “Oh no!” you may think. “What if I can’t answer this?” This is a typical and perfectly normal response, as your brain begins to get its act together. Yet beware: It’s a crucial time to avoid interview mistakes. Often, all you need is a little extra time to allow the great answer to surface, so that you can avoid embarrassing interview mistakes. When you get that, “Oh no!” feeling, buy yourself a little time by saying, “That’s a really good question. May I have just a minute to think about it?” Not only does this give you a few extra seconds to ponder (and steer clear of interview mistakes), it also gives the interviewer a little stroke, as he or she realizes, “Gee, I asked a really good question!”

Interview Mistakes Avoidance Strategy #2: Look at the Question from a Different Angle- At times, the question you’ve just been given will make no sense to you, either because your brain is in “Oh no!” mode, or because it was expressed confusingly. Yet you don’t want to make interview mistakes! If you don’t understand the question that was asked, rather than making any interview mistakes, say, “Would you please rephrase that in a different way?”

Interview Mistakes Avoidance Strategy #3: Make “Answer Sandwiches”- An Answer Sandwich allows you to state, and restate, the question, inserting your answer in-between (and steering clear of making interview mistakes). This method allows you a stress-free start to your reply (you’ll know exactly what to say), etches the question in your brain so that you stay on track with your answer, and communicates to the interviewer that you’ve successfully understood what’s being asked of you. An Answer Sandwich is built like this:

First slice of bread: Rephrase and restate the question you’ve just been asked, such as, “So, Mr. Interviewer, you want to know about my experience in creating databases…”
Middle of the sandwich: Give your answer.
Second slice of bread: Again, rephrase the question you’ve been asked as part of your summary. “So that is some information about my experience creating databases.

Interview Mistakes Avoidance Strategy #4: Ask for a Postponement- If you’re stumped on how to respond (but believe the answer is lurking in your brain somewhere), avoid interview mistakes and ask if you can come back to the question in a few minutes. Make a note of what you were asked so that you don’t forget it (another one of the common interview mistakes). You can even say, “I’d like a minute to recall the details of an example I want to describe. Could we come back to this question in a few little while?” Often, this has the effect of programming your brain to do its thing—and helping you to avoid interview mistakes. And be sure you do come back to the question eventually. You don’t want the interviewer to think you’re trying wiggle out of a tough question (yet another one of those popular interview mistakes).

Interview Mistakes Avoidance Strategy #5: Draw It Out- Answer not coming to you—and worried you’ll make damaging interview mistakes? Pull out your notepad and “draw it out”. Write down a few key phrases. Or, if you can, diagram out the problem. As you do, verbalize your thought process for the interviewer. This can be an effective way to demonstrate how you solve problems while offering an interesting visual twist—and save you from falling into the pit of embarrassing interview mistakes.

Interview Mistakes Avoidance Strategy #6: Give a Parallel Response- If you don’t have experience with the topic presented, but you do have background in an area that’s similar, provide a comparable answer. Ths will help you avoid crucial interview mistakes. So you might say, “While I don’t have direct experience with what you’re describing, I do have experience with something I believe is similar…” This is a super way to sidestep interview mistakes where you might instead say, “I don’t have any experience in that area”.

Interview Mistakes Avoidance Strategy #7: Use Your Cheaters- Your resume, Accomplishments list, and portfolio—can save you in a situation filled with potential interview mistakes. When you know you’ve had experience with a particular topic, but can’t think of the instance immediately, avoid interview mistakes and instead say, “I believe there’s a good example of my experience right here. Let me locate it for you…”, then look over your Cheaters and see what comes to mind.

Interview Mistakes Avoidance Strategy #8: Manage Inappropriate Questions- You may be asked a question that seems strange or inappropriate, such as “What is your religion?” or “Do you have any children?” This can be a sticky situation, because you don’t want to come across as defensive or difficult—two interview mistakes. If the question seems blatantly improper, assume that you don’t clearly understand what you’re being asked, and request that the interviewer ask the question in a different way. If the question is still off color or rude, say, “I hope you won’t mind, but I have a policy of not discussing personal matters unless they relate directly to the position. Does this job require that I practice a particular religion?”

Another question that could be considered inappropriate—depending on when it’s asked—is the subject of salary and compensation. Keep in mind that ideally, the topic of money should not be discussed until you’re made an offer—a key area for interview mistakes to happen. If you’re asked, “What kind of money do you want to make?” respond with, “I’d feel more comfortable discussing that once we’ve determined that I’m the right person for the job. I hope you’re okay with that.” If you’re pressed further to provide a number, bounce it back to them with, “Since you know the company’s pay scales, how about if you tell me what range are you thinking about, and I’ll let you know if that sounds like it’s in my ballpark?” If the interviewer holds the line on having you provide a compensation figure, offer a salary range that you’ve researched to be fair for the position. This strategy will help you avoid a number of interview mistakes.

Interview Mistakes Avoidance Strategy #9: Fess Up (with a Plan)- If you absolutely, positively don’t know that answer to a question, admit it—but do it in a way that helps you avoid interview mistakes. Describe how you would solve that problem in real life, as in, “Mr. Interviewer, I don’t know the answer to that question. But the way I would find an answer would be…”, then talk about what you would do to find the information you needed.

Interview Mistakes Avoidance Strategy #10: Put Things in Perspective- Say you end up bombing on a question or two—and you are making a few interview mistakes. It’s unfortunate, yes. But it’s not the end of the world. If you do find yourself making interview mistakes and are creating a train wreck with your answer, keep it in perspective. If you want to start over, ask for permission: “I’d like a chance to answer this one again if I can…” The hiring manager isn’t looking for the perfect candidate, he or she is looking for a qualified person who can manage themselves successfully in stressful situations.

Excerpted and adapted from “Career Coward’s Guide to Interviewing” by Katy Piotrowski, M.Ed.