An interview with the media is tricky at the best of times, but when you’re faced with an interviewer who is determined to make things difficult for you, it can go horribly wrong. These six tips will help get you through the tough times.
1. Use emphatic language
When an interviewer throws an inflammatory or accusatory question at you, it’s tempting to try to diffuse the question with a gentle response like “I’m not sure I would agree with that” or “That’s not entirely the case.” This kind of language is not convincing enough.
Be emphatic, assertive and unequivocal: “I totally disagree with that” or “Absolutely not”. This will leave the audience in no doubt. But stay calm and composed – there is nothing to be gained in losing your temper.
2. Be prepared for surprise questions
When going into an interview situation, you’ve probably been briefed on the subject. Perhaps it’s about a positive story, such as some good financial results. You’ve prepared, and the first part of the interview goes swimmingly. Then, suddenly, you’re hit with a question about a scandal involving your company. The news broke an hour ago and you know nothing about it.
The lesson is this: right up until the interview takes place, you need to be scanning the news and social media for any stories which you may be asked to comment on. Pleading ignorance does not put you in a good light when it’s a subject you should clearly know about.
3. Deal with interruptions
Interviewers interrupt for various reasons – to steer you on a particular course, to unsettle you or, most likely, to get in more questions before the time runs out. But you need to get your message across and you can’t afford to have interruptions take you away from this.
Be firm: “This is an important question and I’d like to finish my reply…” The audience will empathise with this and it will put you back in control.
4. Draw a line
As well as preparing what you are going to say in an interview, you should always prepare what you are not going to say, or how far you are prepared to go. A hard interviewer will push you on subjects that may not be appropriate for you to comment on.
As soon as you are presented with a question like this, make it clear immediately why you are not prepared to answer it. The interviewer will probably keep pushing. Simply repeat yourself until the interviewer moves on.
5. Don’t give guarantees
Interviewers love to ask for guarantees. They know it puts you under pressure, and it can lead to a great headline. But it’s often impossible and downright dangerous to give a guarantee – there are certain things you simply cannot control.
So unless you can be absolutely certain, do not issue a guarantee. Be honest, explain why you can’t. By all means guarantee that you will do your best, but don’t be drawn into making promises you can’t keep.
6. Know when to stay silent
In order to really pile the pressure on, when you have finished responding to a question, an interviewer may continue to hold your gaze and say nothing, as if asking “And? What else do you have to say?” It’s tempting to start speaking again to fill the silence. This often leads to saying something you’ll regret.
When you’ve said what you wanted to say, stop. You’ve done your bit. It’s the interviewer’s job to keep the interview going, not yours.