How to Pivot When Asked an Uncomfortable Question in an Interview
Interviews can be awkward enough without having uncomfortable questions thrown into the mix. While there are some interview questions you flat out do not have to answer, what do you do when a query is simply, well, not to your liking?
Learn how to pivot
The important point is to pivot (otherwise known as “bridging”) in a way that does not draw attention to the fact that you are ultimately changing the subject. According to Mac’s List, a graceful pivot “effectively dismisses and redirects a troublesome line of inquiry to more familiar territory.” Whether it’s because the line of inquiry connects to a topic you would rather stay away from (a firing from a recent job, for example) or you’re simply unfamiliar with the subject at hand (a particular type of software, perhaps), draw the conversation back to the main talking points you rehearsed before the interview itself.
How do you do it?
Briefly acknowledge the issue and confidently move on to your strengths that directly offset the perceived weakness you just touched on.
Mention how the perceived negative situation changed you in a positive way, ask a question that highlights your strategic thinking, or discuss an issue you think is important to the needs of the employer (and how you could help achieve those needs). By ending your answer to the question on a positive note, you leave the interviewer with a constructive and forward-looking impression of yourself.
Stay confident and self-assured
Keep in mind that confidence really is key here: Be sure you exude it not only in phrasing but also in body language. The most effective way to do this is practice, practice, practice. Before the big interview, look at yourself in the mirror as you practice answering (or pivoting!) tough questions. Be sure any fidgeting is kept to a minimum, and never underestimate the calming power of a deep breath. Remaining tranquil will demonstrate to the interviewer that you can handle anything that is thrown at you.
If you do not feel confident in your ability to seamlessly pivot your way toward a related topic, Fast Company recommends simply suggesting a new line of inquiry yourself by asking something like, “Would it be of value if I described my experience with _____?” Or, if the question almost (but not quite) touches upon a project or assignment you would really like to talk about, try mentioning that and asking if it would be OK with them to expand upon it. These types of questions show initiative and prove you can think critically about a situation while steering the conversation toward a topic that you feel more comfortable discussing.
Stay on the most important topic: the job itself
If all else fails, keep in mind that you can never go wrong by bringing the conversation back to the job description itself. Interviews can sometimes veer into uncomfortable territory for a variety of reasons—but whether your interviewer is inexperienced, unprepared, or simply inadequate, you can rest assured you’re standing on solid ground when sticking to the requirements of the job in question.
Any question you deem inappropriate can be answered in terms of how it relates to the position. For example, a question about your children can be answered with something like, “I’m confident I’ll be able to perform all the duties of the role.” This type of response effectively shuts down a particular line of inquiry while reminding the interviewer of the whole reason you’re there: namely, to discuss your ability to fulfill the job’s requirements and your potential fit within the company culture.
Unfortunately, if the interview ultimately turns toward illegal or ethically questionable territory, sometimes walking out is your only option. But be assured it is possible to turn your run-of-the-mill uncomfortable interview questions into a positive experience that can give you a chance to really shine.