Sometimes, no matter how much you’ve prepared and researched before your interview, something completely unexpected happens. And no one would blame you if it threw you off your game. After all, interviews are stressful enough even when everything goes pretty much how you imagined it would.
The good news is: There are ways to prepare for the unexpected. You can still make the best possible impression—even when everything goes awry.
Here are five situations that come up more often than you think, and how you can be ready for them so you don’t get caught off guard.
1. The Replacement Interviewer
When you apply for a position, more often than not, you’re contacted directly by the team who’ll be hiring you. (Or, at the very least, you’ll see a schedule in advance with the names of the people you’ll be meeting with.) So, you spend days checking out your interviewer’s LinkedIn page and background. You’re well-versed on his position, and how it relates to the position you’re interviewing for.
Then, when the door opens, a completely different person walks in.
Your stomach may have dropped to your ankles, but don’t panic—or dwell on how you researched someone else. Instead, use the opportunity to get to know your interviewer and let her get to know you. Ask questions about her position, specifically how her job relates to the one you’re gunning for, and ask about her career background in case you have something in common.
Although it can be disquieting at first, after you get over the initial surprise of the switch, you’ll likely find that you can talk just as much to this person as to the one you planned on interviewing with originally. That displays your adaptability and willingness to take on an unexpected challenge. Remember: No reasonable company would expect you to be fully prepared for this switch—and it’s completely OK to ask those introductory questions.
2. The Time Mix-Up
There are plenty of great articles out there about what to do when you’re running late for your interview. But what about when you made a simple mistake of getting the time wrong?
One of the worst moments of my career came right before I interviewed for a position I was incredibly excited about at Clopay Door. I was 15 minutes early and took a seat in the waiting room to get ready when a woman my age walked in and sat down next to me. I noticed she was also dressed for an interview and had her resume out. A bit flustered at thinking I might be sharing this interview, I started looking through my notes and stopped in horror when I saw that although I had written 2 PM on my calendar, the notes from my initial call said 1 PM.
The key in this situation is to remain calm, apologize sincerely, and ask what works best for the interviewer. Make sure you’re not overdoing the apology, as this demonstrates a lack of confidence and can actually backfire.
In my situation, I was tempted to just walk out from sheer embarrassment, but the interviewer was very understanding and let me schedule for a later time. Remember: The hiring manager is human and makes mistakes, too. Even if you sense a little frustration initially, odds are high he or she will understand.
Want proof of that? I ended up getting the job!
3. The Bad Interviewer
As I just stated, the person sitting across from you, asking you all these questions, is human. Not everyone’s going to be good at interviewing candidates for a position. A few reasons you may encounter a bad apple could include inexperience, unpreparedness, distraction, or a negative outlook on the job or company.
So what can you do in the event you’re meeting with someone who doesn’t know how to interview you?
Make sure you have in mind the points you want to discuss about yourself and the questions you want to ask about the position. Then, take an active role in directing the conversation to keep the person on topic. For example, if there’s a lull, you could say, “Would you like to hear more about my experience working at my last company?” Or, “Did I answer your question, or would you like to hear another reason why I’m interested in the job?” Or, even if the interview’s not winding down, you could give it a kick in the pants by asking one of the questions you’ve prepared.
This strategy will help keep the interview going and ensures you’re coming across as the right candidate for the job.
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4. The Periodic Interruption
When you’re sitting in an interview, you’re totally focused on the task at hand. After all, it’s your (possible) future on the line. But what happens if your hiring manager isn’t on the same page?
If she keeps being interrupted by colleagues, or can’t resist checking her emails every time her phone dings, it can be more than a little distracting.
There are a few things you can do in this situation. First, make a note to yourself that this may be culturally appropriate at the organization—and this could be the future of your reviews, meetings, and presentations. (Of course, it could be the day of the major annual event, but you’d hope the interviewer would have the sense to tell you that.)
In the moment, just try to work with it. Pause for the interruptions, resist the temptation to roll your eyes, and if it fits, say something empathetic, like “I remember the great server crash of 2012 at my old organization, it threw off our whole month!” This could help you find that elusive common ground with your interviewer and shine light on how normal (or not) these interruptions are.
If it still seems like something is preoccupying the interviewer’s attention, ask politely if he would like you to come back at a more convenient time (but feel free to reconsider—for yourself—if you’d like to try again or decline).
5. The Equipment Breakdown
You were asked to prepare a PowerPoint presentation and you’ve rehearsed it over and over. Then when it’s time to present, their equipment isn’t working. To say you’re frustrated is an understatement—but it doesn’t have to sink your interview.
Say that you’re willing to give the presentation anyway, even if told you don’t have to. In an ideal world, you should have your presentation so well-prepared that you don’t necessarily need the computer. Or, at the very least, prepare for this kind of mishap by bringing your own computer and having handwritten notecards ready just in case there’s a complete failure in technology.
Use this to your advantage to show that you can adapt to changes easily. Bonus: if you’re asked later on in the interview to give an example of a time you had to think on your feet, you can say, “I just did!”
A glitch in the process doesn’t have to mean a bad interview, or that you won’t get the job. Keep these situations in mind when you’re prepping, and you’ll be ready for anything that comes your way.