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When looking forward to an upcoming interview, you know you must be impressive and memorable to the potential employer, right? But why are job interviews so awkward?
Let’s face it:
The art of the interview is subtle. You want to present yourself in the best light possible while remaining true to who you are. It couldn’t be better if you master being genuine and likable, with a sprinkling of positivity and enthusiasm.
There’s so much at stake here. You are convincing a stranger that you’re worthy of their company. Should you fail, your bank account will likely pay the price.
But while it’s understandable that your nerves can hit and the gut gets butterflies during an interview, openly projecting it could harm your chances with your dream job. Consider that 40% of recruiters reject candidates they deem less confident, according to a Twin Employment & Training report.
Here’s the good news: you can always master how to make any job interview smooth and comfortable.
This article will explain why interviews feel awkward and how to recover from select uncomfortable scenarios. More importantly, you’ll learn to stay calm and relaxed during a job interview.
6 Reasons Why Job Interviews are Awkward
Here’s why job interviews feel plain uncomfortable and weird for candidates:
- The stakes are high
- There’s a power imbalance
- We suck at talking about ourselves with humility
- You feel like you’re under a microscope
- Inappropriate topics can crop up
- The struggle to interpret the interviewer’s body language
1. The stakes are high
In everyday conversations, you get away with saying something dumb or making a blunder. But when you’re in an interview, one wrong answer can cost you the job. Understandably, it’s hard to stay calm when someone asks about your greatest weakness.
Still, it’s hard to interpret what questions to answer honestly or strategically. And while you’re only interviewing for one job at a time, usually you’re competing against many other qualified candidates. It’s all just so nerve-racking!
2. There’s a power imbalance
Most of us don’t get much practice having conversations with people who wield power over us. And we know that the interviewer holds all the cards in an official capacity.
So it’s only natural that you might feel a little bit tense, which can make it harder for you to think clearly and express yourself coherently.
3. We suck at talking about ourselves humbly
Try coming off as humble while also saying you’re the best person who can solve world hunger while working 60 hour weeks and raising triplets. Tricky, right?
Most people are notoriously bad at talking about themselves. We’re not good at assessing our strengths and weaknesses and describing our accomplishments coherently without being arrogant. And the interview asks us to do just that.
4. You feel like you’re under a microscope
Another reason job interviews are so awkward is that candidates are under constant scrutiny.
We often share our thoughts and opinions but don’t expect others to measure every word we say or try to find hidden meaning in our words. Interviewers, though, often will do precisely that — even if they aren’t conscious of doing so at the time.
Not only do they ask you question after question, but they scrutinize your body language to ensure you’re the best person for the job.
5. Inappropriate topics crop up
Some interviewers don’t realize just how personal they can get. However, it’s hard to blame them for asking about your family situation, religion, marital status, or plans to have children in the future.
Some often make small talk with such intrusive questions because they’re not thinking about an applicant’s right to privacy but their desire to get to know someone better.
However, employers cannot discriminate against a candidate based on religion, marital status, age, etc. Visit EOCC’s website for in-depth insight into the subject.
6. The struggle to interpret the interviewer’s body language
You can usually tell when an interview has gone well or not based on how it feels, but “feeling” isn’t quantifiable. You might think things went great because the interviewer was smiling or nodding along, but did those actions mean anything?
They might be sitting with their arms crossed, looking bored but could just be listening intently. Or they could be thinking about how little they want to hire you. It’s hard to tell, but you can read this post to help you out: What Are Some Positive Nonverbal Behaviors from Your Interviewer? [9 Examples]
How to Make Job Interviews Less Awkward
Here are some tips to help you navigate a job interview without getting your foot stuck in your mouth:
- Preparation is essential
- Master positive body language
- Stay calm under pressure
- Take a second before you answer
- Embrace those awkward moments of silence
Preparation is essential
The single most significant difference between good and bad interviews is interview preparation. Start with knowing your resume inside out and preparing answers to common interview questions way in advance.
Conduct your research on the company, too. It means digging into its industry, products or services, and competitors. That way, you will confidently answer related questions and ask thoughtful questions regarding the same.
Your outfit counts.
According to NVISION, 95% of employers and hiring managers feel that an applicant’s appearance during an interview reflects their level of professionalism. Top pet peeves cited included body odor, loungewear, casual attire, piercings, and tattoos.
While professional or business attire is the recommended option for job interviewers, choose an outfit that embraces your style and body. You will feel comfortable and, at the same time, exude professionalism and a more confident nonverbal presence.
Perfect your delivery with practice
If you practice interview questions beforehand so that they flow naturally from your tongue, rather than coming out as something awkward like “um… well… I guess I sometimes work too hard?”, you’re already far ahead of most candidates.
A mock interview can help you gauge how well your answers come across and trick your brain into thinking it’s experienced the situation before.
It’s simply a simulation of an actual interview where a friend (who knows you well enough to give constructive criticism on your performance) grills you with all the standard interview questions.
Exude confidence with your body language
Did you know that hiring managers make up their minds about candidates within the first 90 seconds of an interview? Nonverbal cues account for the most significant portion of that.
But for most candidates, it’s hard to convey self-assurance when someone is drilling them with questions and assessing their every twitch, blink, and grunt.
Fortunately, you can always learn to inject more confidence into your body language without being cocky or arrogant. After all, 65% of employers would readily dismiss an arrogant interviewee.
First, assume proper interview posture. Sitting up straight with both feet on the floor can make an incredible difference in how powerful and confident you look.
In addition, lift your chin when speaking with the interviewer and maintain eye contact throughout the interview, experts recommend.
Leaning slightly forward conveys curiosity and interest as well as confidence. Sitting back in your chair could make you seem bored or unengaged with the interviewer’s questions.
Remember to nod and smile during the conversation — not too often, but enough to indicate you’re attentive and engaged.
Master being calm under pressure
Among the best ways to feel more comfortable in interviews is to perfect being yourself. You want to be the type of person who naturally stays positive, thinks on their feet, and responds well under pressure.
The key is to work on your awareness and confidence, so your authentic self shines through. If you’re generally a positive person, it’ll be easier for others to see that when they talk with you.
Do you get stressed out quickly? If so, working on handling stress better will be a huge plus when talking with someone who’s sizing you up for a job.
A trickier situation is when the interviewer asks about your weaknesses. Here, the interviewer’s focus isn’t much on the self-evaluation of your shortcomings but on how you handle the question.
And while it is tempting to emphasize your perfect self, the best approach is to touch on a skill or two you’re striving to improve.
Take a second before you answer
Don’t stumble over your words. If you need a moment before answering a question, please take it.
The momentary pauses may feel like a long period of silence but are an excellent opportunity to think through your responses—rather than just firing off the first thing that comes to mind. That also helps keep the conversation natural.
Consider saying something like: “I’m glad you asked that question” or “That’s an interesting question.” Alternatively:
- Sip water (if available)
- Breathe for a second without the awkward side glances
- Rephrase the question as if seeking clarification
Embrace those awkward moments of silence
Few things are as awkward as when a conversation feels like it has to be artificially elongated. That often manifests in a back-and-forth of questions followed by extended periods of silence.
The silence drags on, and you can almost hear the crickets chirping in the background. Is this part of the test?
Relax, it’s not you.
This is a common interview technique called the “silence trap.” The interviewer is testing your initiative and confidence. Calm and collected, fill up the silence by offering more information about yourself or asking a question.
How to Deal with Awkward Job Interviews
It’s impossible to predict the exact happenings of your interview—every hiring manager is different, and so are every company’s needs. But preparing for known scenarios can propel you ahead of the competition.
The following are among the most prominent awkward situations during job interviews – and how you can diffuse each gracefully.
Interviewers provide conflicting details about the job
Most interviews are a conversation with different company representatives. However, it’s not uncommon for different interviewers to give conflicting information about the role. Whenever this happens, don’t get or seem upset. Instead, politely request clarification.
The interviewer brings up inappropriate topics
You do not have to answer the question about your religion, political inclination, marital status, and other personal matters. But if they come up during the conversation, try responding in a way that communicates that the question isn’t acceptable — but politely so as not to offend the interviewer. You can also try the “why do you ask?” with a friendly tone of curiosity.
An interview question catches you off guard
Interviewers will often ask random questions to see how you perform under pressure and whether you can think on your feet. The worst you can do is get flustered.
Being upfront is almost always better than being dishonest or trying to make something up on the spot. You’ll seem more likable and professional in the interviewer’s eyes if you handle this situation graciously.
An excellent way to go about this is to ask for some time to think about the question. Then come back with an answer that shows your thought process and creativity.
When you must explain a past firing
The thought of explaining a past firing can be stressful, but there are ways to approach the topic that will enable you to move forward in your job search.
Be honest and straightforward.
Discuss the circumstances surrounding your termination, including only the facts of the situation. Do not make judgments or personal attacks on anyone involved.
Most importantly, focus on what you learned from the experience.
Money conversation comes up
If the employer asks about your salary expectations, avoid disclosing your current salary. That could affect how much the employer is willing to offer you.
You can throw out a number, but you might leave money on the table or disqualify yourself from consideration. It’s unfair, but it’s just reality.
So what do you do? Choose from the options below:
- Give a range: “I’m looking for something in the range of $Xk-$Yk” (research the acceptable salary range for the role)
- Ask for their guidance: “What range have you budgeted for this position?”
- Say you’re flexible: “I’m sure we can agree on a fair wage if I’m offered the job.”
It feels like you bluffed a question or two
After messing up, the best thing to do is what you should have done before or during the interview: figure out the interviewer’s expectations.
The note doesn’t need to include an apology. Highlight how excited you were about the position and how you resonated with the conversation.
Next, include an authoritative answer to the question you bluffed. Something like:
I feel we covered X well. But I realized I didn’t address the point on Y well. So, I just wanted to clarify. [include your answer]
It’s common to interview for a job that’s perfect for you, yet it takes a turn for the awkward for one of the reasons discussed above—your handling matters.
Generally, choosing to remain calm and collected in the face of existing discomfort increases your odds of success. With more preparation and some mind tricks, you can make job interviews feel more like casual conversations.
I hope the above guidelines help you stay relaxed and comfortable in even the most awkward interview with relative ease.
With that, best of luck with your upcoming appointment!