The One Small Action that Can Change Everything

By: TalentWorld
January 9, 2020
Job search
Interviewing tips

A little thing can pack a huge punch. There’s one very small move you can make in an interview that can drastically affect the outcome.

It’s so tiny as to be imperceptible, but so powerful that we should explain before we reveal it.

Having placed thousands of candidates successfully, TalentWorld recruiters know interviews can sometimes put even the most chill easy-going person on the defensive.

Play it cool

Our advice is to approach any meeting as a positive conversation, but we get that when the stakes are high, it can be tough to play it cool.

However much you prepare, you can get lobbed an unexpected question or comment that throws off your game. And even the most experienced interviewees can find it a struggle to keep their reactions in check when they’re put out.

For proof, try a search for celebrity interviews that went wrong and you’ll get dozens of articles about stars who lost it.

Here’s a notable one: Robert DeNiro walked out of an interview when promoting his movie The Intern because he didn’t like it when the reporter, Emma Brockes of London’s Radio Times, asked if he sometimes went on autopilot when acting.

Hollywood royalty like DeNiro can have a temper tantrum without it hurting their career trajectory–but they’re the exception.

Case in point: Piers Morgan, in defending Emma Brockes, called out DeNiro for being “the rudest, most difficult and frankly obnoxious star to interview.” And so what happened? The movie studio banned Radio Times and Emma Brockes from attending future press junkets.  Checkmate DeNiro.

Those of us who aren’t box office draws have to play it differently.

The challenge is to figure out how to stay chill and refrain from venting – until later when you can erupt safely with understanding friends and family.

React vs. respond

Behavioural science tells us we all have 2 options when triggered in an interview. We can react or we can respond. And there’s a huge difference between the two.

A reaction is impulsive – it’s knee-jerk. During a reaction, we don’t control our feelings, they take us over.

A response is the opposite – it’s thoughtful and outcome-oriented.

Exchanges can tank despite our best intentions  

Typically, all of us go into an interview or any workplace meeting with our Plan A. We intend to have a constructive exchange information and show how our strengths and experience will contribute to the discussion or company.

But sometimes for unexpected reasons – we have to activate Plan B and the goal of Plan B is ultimately to not burn any bridges.

Ask any of us at TalentWorld and we’ll all tell you the same thing from our first-hand experience: Even a small explosion during an interview can cause a bridge to collapse.

You don’t want to burn bridges because …  you just never know

Hiring managers, like everyone else, change jobs too. You never know where or when you’ll run into the very person who annoyed you in an interview at another company or a networking event.

It’s not worth saying anything to someone who irritated you. It could work against you tomorrow.

Now for the reveal 

Here’s the one tiny activity to keep you from potentially blowing your interview and your reputation.


That’s it. When you feel yourself reacting, pause – and breathe.

When you pause, you pivot

When you give yourself time to take a few breaths, you’ll pivot from losing your cool to meeting your goal of staying professional. You’ll respond rather than react.

Here’s how it works:

Say you’re asked a question that you think is dumb or illogical. Or you just don’t like a tone of voice.

In reactive mode, you might say, “That’s absolutely ridiculous. Are you nuts?”

In responsive mode, you might say :

(Take a breath here) “Well, that’s an interesting question. (Breathe, breathe, be strategic.) I can tell you this … (and talk about something more meaningful, it may not even have anything to do with the irksome question.)”

If it’s that easy, why doesn’t everyone do it?

Typically, the behaviourists explain that we feel we have to respond to any question immediately without hesitating and we naturally jump when prodded.

But volumes of research confirm that taking a short pause makes people think better of you, not worse.

A pause greatly increases credibility

There’s a lot of power in showing that you’re taking time to reflect.

If you need to buy yourself response time, you might say something along the lines of, “That’s an interesting question/point” or “Intriguing point, let me think about that for a second.”

When you breathe through an event, rather than react to it impulsively, you stay in control and show your mettle.

There’s another benefit to breathing and staying calm – you get to reward yourself for having maintained your composure.   

Finally, few could explain the power of the reflective pause more masterfully, and knowingly, than Victor Frankl, the legendary psychologist and philosopher, whose award-winning books following his time in a concentration camp include Man’s Search for Meaning.

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

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