June 1, 2011

When Job Interviews Turn Awkward…

We’ve all been there or at least heard horror stories – job interviews that suddenly take an awkward nose-dive leaving one or both parties speechless. While you might be able to laugh as you look back on mistakes and weird moments now, you were probably super uncomfortable while it was happening – and if you would have reacted differently, you might have been able to save the interview and ultimately get the job! Let’s take a look at some of the most awkward job interview situations and how you can best handle them.

Awkward Questions

Earlier this year, I talked about the need to go into every job interview with a few questions in your back pocket, since almost every interviewer will ask you if you have any questions. Here are seven job interview questions to get you started. While you can go into an interview with the questions you want to ask, however, it is impossible to control the questions you’ll be asked. These can range from weird questions that seem to be of little relevance to the open position to questions that are downright inappropriate and perhaps even illegal.

So how do you respond?

When you’re asked an awkward question, think about why you’re being asked this particular question. Many interviewers, for example, ask weird questions just to test your critical thinking skills or your ability to think on your feet. Answer as best you can, keeping in mind all you know about the company and the job you’d be hired to do. Don’t be afraid to take a few moments to think about your answer!

When asked an inappropriate question, however, take a different approach. You have the right to refuse to answer the question, though if you feel comfortable answering, a better response would be to note that the question is illegal, but still answer it. Again, think about why the question was asked. You might be able to reassure the interviewer without answering the illegal question. For example, if you’re applying to work at a daycare and they ask if you have children (an illegal question), you might reply, “it’s actually illegal to ask about my family status, but let me tell you about my personal experience with children…”

There’s a great list of illegal questions and advice about answering them at University of Wisconsin’s website.


Before going into any job interview, it’s important to turn off your phone so you don’t cause any interruptions – but you might not be afforded the same courtesy. If you’re applying for a job at a busy office, your interview might get interrupted multiple times by phone calls, knocks on the office door from people who have questions for your interviewer, and even emails and text messages. It’s annoying and can really interrupt the flow of your interview, but there are some things you can do to overcome the awkwardness:

  • Change the tempo of your answers. If you keep getting interrupted, keep things short and snappy, conveying the most important information without being so-long winded that every answer you give gets interrupted.
  • Be understanding – your interview will likely apologize for interruptions, and no matter how many times it happens, don’t show signs of annoyance or impatience.
  • Offer privacy. If the phone rings or someone stops by, ask if the interviewer wants you to step outside for a few moments. They’ll likely say no, but they’ll appreciate the offer.

When You’re Just Not A Good Fit

Sometimes, before the interview is even over, you can just tell that you aren’t a good fit for the company or the position. If you really need to find a job, you might want to do your best and change your own work habits for the sake of a paycheck, but if you have other opportunities or would rather keep looking, don’t endure an awkward interview. After all, you’re just wasting their time and your own.

If, before the interview is over, you simply feel like you’re not a good fit, simply speak up and say that. The interviewer might feel the same way and is simply giving you a chance to change their mind. It’s okay to note that you feel like this is not the job for you, thank them for their time, and leave. Just don’t psych yourself out! If you really want the job, keep going for it. Don’t quit in the middle of the interview because you don’t have confidence. Only end the interview early if you truly no longer want the job. When in doubt, stick it out, doing your absolute best until the end.

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