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5 awkward job interview moments – and how to handle them

How to get yourself out of a tight spot. (Photo: Getty)

Job interviews are nerve-wracking because you don’t know what to expect – so it’s best to expect the unexpected.

What do you do when your interviewer throws you a curveball? Here are five sticky situations you could find yourself in, and how to get out of them smoothly, courtesy of tips from author Alison Green as seen in The Cut:

1. You’re asked about a past firing

You’ll likely be dreading this question, especially if the firing is recent – but fear not; plenty of others get fired and go on to find new jobs. The key here is to therefore practice your answer beforehand. Make sure to keep your cool, as sounding emotional will be a bad sign, and keep your answer to-the-point.

2. You’re totally stumped

It’s happened – the recruiter has asked you something you just don’t know how to answer. But if it’s an important question, don’t try to bluff your way through it as they’ll be able to tell. Be up-front about it instead and aim to talk instead about how you’d go about finding the answer, or provide comparisons to other scenarios if the question allows for that.

3. The job isn’t what you expected

As much as you have high hopes for the role, you may realise in the middle of the interview that the position isn’t what you thought it would be. But you don’t have to burn bridges – respond authentically and make a good connection, as a good impression goes a long way, and it might come full circle if a different role pops up in the future.

4. They ask you an illegal question

If the interview has taken an uncomfortable turn, you may have just been asked an illegal question – and 82 per cent of us who have been in that situation have answered, according to SEEK data.

You’re not allowed to be queried about your age, weight, marital or parental status, as well as a number of other things.

You’ll need to use your judgement for this one. If it seems they’re asking out of small talk and an attempt to build rapport, you might choose to answer it.

But if you get the sense it may have an impact on your chances of getting the job, ask amicably and carefully: “Why do you ask”, or “• “I’ve never been asked that before in an interview. What makes you ask?”

5. You’re asked about salary expectations

The interview has gone very well, and now it’s time to get to the nitty-gritty. Don’t let this be the point where it all comes apart, so tread carefully, advises executive coach and former investment banker and lawyer Hamilton Chan.

Start off on the right foot by first expressing gratitude before anything else, he said.

Ways to ask for a higher salary may be to first express your enthusiasm for the role and then ask if it would be possible to bring it up to X amount.

Alternatively, you could ask if there was any flexibility on the salary, or quote a figure and say you’d be thrilled to accept the role if they could meet it.

If it’s not remuneration you’re after, try a different approach by asking about flexibility or perks, Chan said.

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