How you manage just 16 seconds may prolong your job search or get you hired. This principle of strategic recovery can propel you forward during interviews and your job search in general IF you know what to do.

* * *

Mel’s excitement grew as the interview progressed. It was going so well. He knew he had aced the questions about his background, his hopes for the future, and delivered his value statement. He had given excellent examples of past successes and even discussed how he had learned from a project that hadn’t turned out as well as he had liked.

He noticed that Jennifer, from Human Resources, was all smiles and nods. None of his previous interviews had gone this smoothly. He could feel it. There was good chemistry.

Jennifer looked up and smiled. She was watching him carefully when, in an upbeat tone, she asked, “Mel, can you name three previous Nobel Prize Winners?”


Mel paused and repeated the question in his head. He felt his forehead muscles tense. He was scowling. As his frustration mounted he blurted out, “What!” He realized too late that his tone was inappropriate. He rolled his eyes and then stared down at the floor. His hands fisted up. Trying to get hold of himself he sighed audibly.

Jennifer remained upbeat and reassuring, “That’s okay. Let me give you another one. How about, ‘What songs best describe your work ethic?’”

Mel couldn’t believe this was happening. He thought to himself, “Songs? They want to know about songs?” His mind was blank. His shoulders stooped as he looked up at Jennifer and shook his head.

* * *

Mel had failed a critical moment during his interview that could prolong his job search. Research in sports psychology has long shown that there are practical applications that can positively impact our effectiveness in our daily lives as well as our ability to adapt to changing situations. Here is a case in point.

Please watch this video with Dr. Jack Groppel and Dr. Jim Loehr from the Human Performance institute. This study of top tennis competitors in the world has a direct correlation to today’s job seeker experience. Afterwards, I’ll apply this study to the interview experience.

This study focused on how performers managed critical moments. Job searching, especially the interview experience is loaded with these kinds of critical moments.

* * *

Dead time.
There is a fair amount of dead time during an interview.
You might be walking from one office to another or it might be the dead time after you have answered a question and you are waiting for the interviewer to make a few notes.

Dr. Loehr makes a great case that these are “moments of strategic recovery” IF they are used wisely. Dr. Groppel gives us the steps to accomplish this during critical moments:


  1. If it’s a mistake. Follow with a positive physical response.
    “Image the correction.” (Replace a negative image with a positive one.)
  2. Relax:
    Deep breaths.
  3. Mental preparation:
    Decide next steps
  4. Rituals:
    Bounce the ball, shifting weight back and forth, twirling the racquet.

Together these happen in just 16 seconds!

Manage your critical moments.
What are you thinking about during your interview? How are you managing your strategic moments?
When you are asked an unexpected question, you might:

  • Roll your eyes
  • Look at the ceiling
  • Shake your head negatively
  • Scowl
  • Fidget in your chair
  • Wring your hands or crack your knuckles
  • Glare or stare at your interviewer
  • Finger your jewelry or your tie
  • Jingle loose change or your keys in your pocket
  • Tap your foot
  • Repeatedly click or twirl a pen or tap with a pencil
  • Okay, it’s obvious that none of those are going to help your case. Even one negative response will be remembered.

    Dr. Groppel uses the Eiffel Tower as an example to make a most important point: If we want to change our thinking, we have to put something else in its place. So here is a different scenario that applies these four structured areas to an interview situation.

    1. If it’s a mistake: Follow with a positive physical response.

      Smile lightly. Chuckle (if appropriate), Nod affirmatively.
    2. Relax:
      Breathe deep. This helps your body relax and sends oxygen to the brain. Deep audible sighs aren’t a good idea—but you knew that.
    3. Mental preparation:
      Decide next steps. Options include:

      • Respond with humor
      • Ask a question
      • Lead with a story
    4. Rituals:
      We all have rituals before we answer questions. We might look up and to the right, or at the floor. We might avoid eye contact while we think, or look at our notes. Choose and practice positive rituals. (More on this below.)
    5. * * *

      Jobseekers, both early and mid-career will usually agree on one thing: The biggest challenge is what goes on in their thinking. These concepts can help you manage your thoughts during the interview process.


      Managing Strategic Moments.

      Unlike athletes who may be in the middle of continuous play, the interview process lends itself to verbal communication. So here are some options to consider:

      1. If it’s a mistake: Follow with a positive physical response.
        Lead with, “Hmmm; that’s an unexpected question.” This buys time to breathe deep.
      2. Relax:
        Breathing deeply helps your body relax and sends oxygen to the brain. Deep audible sighs aren’t a good idea—but you knew that.
      3. Mental preparation:
        With questions that are unexpected or bizarre, humor (not sarcasm) will win you points.
        NOTE: Your interview preparation should include how to manage these kinds of questions.
        You could (should) have a story ready about an awkward moment that will allow you to bring an element of humor into the situation and demonstrate that you can lighten up.
      4. Rituals:
        We all have rituals and it’s important to know what they are. There are verbal rituals as well, such as starting each sentence with “Uh…” or “Um…” To bring a polished presentation to a job interview requires self-awareness about our rituals.

      Helpful rituals:
      There are some excellent rituals to answering questions that can be a plus. Here are some examples:

      • Nod approvingly.
      • Maintain a positive expression.
      • Lean slightly forward in your chair.
      • Eye contact.

      How to respond to bizarre interview questions:
      Bizarre interview questions can be unsettling, especially in an interview. Here are some responses with various degrees of humor.

      • “Thank you. I wasn’t expecting that one but I appreciate the question.”
      • “Hmmm…that’s a very interesting question. Let me think for a moment.”
      • “Nobel Peace Prize winners? Let me check my notes (Do so, then) No, no. I didn’t anticipate that question.” (smile)
      • “Songs that demonstrate my work ethic?…I’m not sure, but I could make up a few titles…”
      • Clock_Ticking

        16 seconds of dead time…really?
        Sixteen seconds of dead time may seem like a lot of silence during an interview. Oftentimes a candidate may draw a blank and need to “buy time” before giving an answer. I suggest that jobseekers practice using “filler sentences” to give them time to formulate an answer. With a little practice even 35 seconds can be managed without any awkwardness. Here are a few examples of filler sentences:

        • “That’s an interesting question.”
        • “I hadn’t thought of that.”
        • “Let me think for a moment.”

        What’s with these weird interview questions?
        When interviewers ask these kinds of questions they are trying to find out how flexible the candidate is in their thinking. They aren’t trying to trip people up. Today, in most work environments, changing directions on a project or initiative can happen several times a day or even an hour. So this is important.

        Demonstrating your ability to manage change and proving that you are flexible and resilient while maintaining a professional and positive attitude will win points during your interview. It may be the difference between getting a job or prolonging your jobsearch.

        Points to remember:
        Dr. Loehr makes the point that our initial response, if negative, can block the recovery mechanism. So it’s important to understand how you respond to unexpected situations.

        This approach is about strategic recovery in the moment. It will enhance your ability to perform at your best under the pressure of the interview.

        Dr. Groppel takes the application of these principles directly into our daily lives to bring energy into a difficult day or situation.

        Practical suggestions

        • Use every opportunity to record yourself while practicing for an interview. This includes audio – to prepare for phone interviews, as well as video.
        • Carefully watch and listen to your interview practice sessions to understand your negative responses and rituals. This may be painful but it’s worth it. Replace negative responses with positive ones. Practice so you can catch your responses earlier and change faster.
        • Learning to manage the myriad of possibilities that you might face in an interview is daunting. It takes most people time to learn to manage their emotions and maintain their focus. Learn what you can and move on if you don’t win an interview.
        • For additional Bizaar interview questions, try this link. Here is a general search.
        • Learn. Move forward. Repeat.

        Please follow and like us:

3 thoughts on “Is your thinking killing your job search?

  1. […] highly recommend this article: Is Your Thinking Killing Your Jobsearch? When the world says, “Give up,” Hope whispers, “Try it one more time.” […]

  2. Great article and terrific practical advice! Getting clients to practice out of their comfort zone with bizarre or unexpected prompts with “improvisational” drills with a career professional before the interview would certainly certainly add material for their “notes”. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Great article, this helps me be prepared for the unexpected, Dead air is always an issue and as someone being interviewed I can see where that might cause a lot of anxiety. Having a couple of tools in my kit that help me manage that are a great asset. I like the suggestion of saying “Let me check my notes (Do so, then) No, no. I didn’t anticipate that question.” Hopefully it would bring a little levity into the conversation and help me relax. The idea of practice is something that needs to be driven home and I bet not something we would all think to do. The links provided were also helpful.

Comments are closed.