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7 Awkward Interview Moments and How to Avoid Them

You think you’re ready to interview job candidates, but then things get awkward. You can’t get a conversation started, you don’t know how to answer certain questions, or the things you say come out wrong. Now neither you nor the candidate knows how to act.

You both walk away from the interview feeling embarrassed, and you both miss out on a potentially great opportunity. Don’t let awkward moments ruin relationships with awesome candidates.

Awkward job interview moments are bound to happen, but you can avoid these common ones with these tips:

What’s your name again?

You’ve been interviewing candidates for the same position all day. Your last interviewee arrives and you’re ready to finish up the day strong. You reach out your hand as she walks into your office and say, “Hi, Ashley! So nice to finally meet you!”

The candidate stares at you for a moment and says, “Oh, actually, it’s Allison.” You feel stupid, and the rest of the interview has a weird vibe — both you and Allison never get over that first awkward incident.

The reverse can also happen and sabotage what would be a great interview. In a 2014 report of more than 95,000 candidates conducted by Talent Board, 31.9 percent of respondents said they weren’t given any information from the employer to prepare for a job interview, and less than 40 percent were given the names and background information of their interviewers.

That means most job candidates walk into the interview without knowing your name. And accurately remembering the name of someone you just met isn’t easy — especially when dealing with the stress and pressure that accompanies job interviews.

Don’t embarrass yourself or your candidate. Prepare before the interview and provide candidates with the information they need to do the same. If you are interviewing multiple candidates in one day, schedule enough time in between each one to review the resume and application materials of the next candidate. 

Pro Tip: Use interview scheduling software to create a consistent scheduling pattern for your interviews.

Sorry I’m late!

Your meeting ran later than expected. While you’re dealing with an unexpected situation, your candidate is sitting in the lobby, anxiously waiting for the interview to begin. Twenty minutes after the scheduled interview time, you finally greet the candidate and welcome them into your office.

No matter the reason, starting an interview late isn’t a great way to start off the interview and can reflect poorly on the company. Imagine if the situation was reversed. You would likely feel annoyed and probably write the candidate off immediately.

In the same way, your candidate can be late due to circumstances beyond their control. There’s unusual traffic caused by an accident or road work, they need to find someone to watch their sick child — the list goes on and on.

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Avoid the awkwardness of lateness on both ends by exchanging contact information before the interview, that way you can shoot the candidate a quick text if you are delayed and vice versa. Another way to avoid being late is to conduct video interviews instead of interviews on-site; especially early in the process.

A one-way video interview doesn’t require a scheduled time to complete. Candidates can complete them at their convenience, and you can review them when your schedule allows. While two-way interviews need to be scheduled, there’s less that can go wrong to make either party late.

Can I finish?

Instead of interviewing candidates one by one, you opt to save time and interview a few at once in the form of a group interview. Your candidates are expecting to walk into an office and have a one-on-one interview. Now they’re faced with a room of competition and potentially a panel of interviewers. The stress level just got dialed up.

You ask a question, and two candidates start answering at the same time. They go through an awkward apology before one agrees to answer the question first. During the next question, a candidate interrupts another while they’re giving an answer.

Needless to say, this isn’t going as planned. Your candidates don’t know when to speak and when to listen. Meanwhile, your introverted candidates feel uncomfortable and aren’t contributing much to the conversation.

Group interviews can quickly escalate to an awkward situation, so lead candidates through the process. First, prepare candidates and let them know of the interview format so they don’t feel surprised and overwhelmed. Most importantly, help lead the conversation. Direct questions to a specific candidate, and then ask others to share their opinions when they’ve finished their answer. If one candidate is shy, ask them questions and encourage them to speak up.

I have to take this.

You’re in the middle of an interview and your phone rings. You glance at the caller ID and see that it’s a hard to reach co-worker. You’ve been waiting for their call all day, and you know if you don’t answer now, you’re unlikely to reach them again until next week.

You apologize to the candidate and tell them it will just be a minute — you have to take this call. You chat for a few minutes before hanging up the phone and turning your attention back to the candidate. “Now where were we?”

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Answering a phone call during an interview is rude and shows the candidate that you don’t value their time. What would you do if a candidate answered their phone or checked their text messages during the job interview? Chances are, you wouldn’t hire them.

In the same way, candidates won’t want to work for you if you pick up the phone mid-conversation. After all, a survey of more than 20,000 professionals around the world conducted by LinkedIn in February and March found that 83 percent of respondents said a negative interview experience can change their mind about a position or company they previously liked.  

Not only is answering the phone rude, it disrupts the conversation. The candidate is left to listen to your conversation, and is then expected to pick up the interview again when you’re done. After such a large interruption, recapturing the flow of a conversation is near impossible.

Don’t answer your phone in an interview. Keep your cellphone out of arm’s reach and off. Remind your co-workers, boss, and employees that you will be in an interview at a certain time and that they shouldn’t contact you.

Ummmm…

Silence in an interview can be a good thing. It can give the candidate a chance to think about their answer before responding, as well as give you a few seconds to process an answer before you move on. But there are times when silence can be awkward.

You ask the candidate a question, and they respond with a short “yes” or “no.” You wait for them to elaborate, but they never do. The silence seems to go on forever, and it’s difficult to get a conversation going with the candidate.

In this situation, your reaction may be to keep moving the interview forward to get passed the awkwardness. But in doing so, you’re missing out on getting the information you want and on making a connection with the candidate.

If a candidate gives a short answer, don’t rush to move to the next question. Instead, ask them follow-up questions to get them to open-up and answer the question in more detail.

Funny story…

In the interview, you’re trying to build rapport with the candidate and make them feel more comfortable. But you could be trying too hard.

At the start of the interview, you open with a joke. You tell a funny story from last year’s company picnic or you tell a joke you heard from a co-worker the other day. You get to the punchline and there’s no reaction from the candidate.

After a few seconds, they try to fake a laugh, but you know it’s forced. You feel awkward because your joke didn’t land, and the candidate feels awkward because they’re nervous and not sure how to act in the situation.

Just because jokes can go bad, doesn’t mean you should stay away from them in the job interview. The interview doesn’t need to be strictly serious, beginning to end. But forcing jokes can make things uncomfortable for both you and the candidate.

Instead, try to use humor organically. If you have a funny story about a similar situation a candidate discusses, tell it. This shows that you’re listening and engaging with the candidate, and gives them insight into your company culture.

Humor can help break the ice and make the interview more personal and comfortable, but opening with a water cooler joke sets you up for an awkward moment.

I’m not sure.

At the end of the interview, you open the floor to questions from the candidate. But their question takes you off guard. You don’t understand the question or you’re not sure of the answer. Maybe they asked about your high turnover rate, why the last employee left, or about team collaboration. You stare at the candidate, struggling to find the right words.

If a candidate asks a difficult question or about a sore subject, tell them the truth. They will appreciate your honesty more than a superficial answer. In fact, 81 percent of employees surveyed by 15Five in March would rather join a company that values open communication than trendy perks.

Be open with candidates. Don’t badmouth past employees or mention anyone by name, but you can tell them about problems without giving too many details. If you don’t know the answer to a question, offer them the contact information of someone who would know. You can also tell them you will follow-up with them after the interview with an answer. Write the question down, get the answer from your boss or colleagues, and remember to actually send it to the candidate.

In any situation where people meet for the first time, things can get awkward. Although you can’t prepare for everything that can happen, you can avoid awkward interview moments with some preparation and forethought. Doing so makes the process easier and more enjoyable for both you and the candidate.

What’s your most awkward interview moment? Tell us in the comments below!