Your stomach drops to the floor. Your palms get sweaty. You begin to ramble incoherently, or worse, can’t come up with anything to say at all. Almost all of us know the feeling of making a big mistake during an interview.
Great. There goes that opportunity, you might think.
Don’t be tempted to wave the white flag of surrender just yet, though. Everyone stumbles in interviews once in a while—the trick is to handle it well, so that your interviewer is able to look past it.
Below, we’ve outlined four common examples of interview flubs and how to deal with them. Use these strategies, and you just might be able to win back your interviewer.
SCENARIO 1: YOU’RE RUNNING LATE
It’s unavoidable—even the most punctual people are sometimes late. And unfortunately, it seems like obstacles always tend to pop up at the most inconvenient time, including a job interview. But while showing up late to an interview certainly isn’t a good look, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re out of the running entirely.
The best thing you can do is be proactive and reach out ahead of time if you’re running behind.
“If you know within a reasonable amount of time that you’re going to be late, it’s a good idea to call the hiring manager that you’re meeting with to let them know,” says Chris Myers, CEO and president of staffing and recruiting company Professional Alternatives.
Once you arrive, acknowledge your tardiness and explain why you were late, while still taking full responsibility—you don’t want to sound like you’re just making up an excuse. Afterwards, make sure to reach out to your interviewers.
“Writing a personal note of apology after the interview, re-explaining the reason for your lateness and acknowledging that you really appreciate them still making the time to see you, should be well received,” says Sue Andrews, HR & business consultant at KIS Finance. “Good manners are important in business, and your apology will hopefully show that your lateness was out of character for you.”
SCENARIO 2: YOUR NERVES GET THE BEST OF YOU
Few things are more anxiety-inducing than an interview for a job you really want. As a result, it’s not uncommon for candidates to draw a blank when asked a question, struggle to properly articulate your answer, or fail to mention a critical detail. Drawing attention to yourself in this moment might be the last thing that you want to do, but it can actually benefit you.
“Ask for a time out and acknowledge to the recruiter that . . . you need a second to regroup. You can tell the recruiter that you are an introvert, and even if you did prepare and practice for the interview, you will need a moment to find your calm,” says HR consultant and career coach Irina Cozma. “The recruiter might [view] this as an authentic gesture, and most people will be supportive and encouraging in those moments.”
To avoid this hairy situation again, make sure to double down on preparing for your interview next time. Grab a friend or family member to ask you common interview questions so you can rehearse your answers out loud until you know them like the back of your hand.
SCENARIO 3: YOU DIDN’T DO YOUR HOMEWORK
It’s true that an interview is just as much an opportunity for you to learn about the company as it is for them to learn about you—but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do some additional research beforehand.
“Although in interviews companies will often tell you about them and the role, they expect you to be prepared and if not, that could cause you to flub the interview. With so much public information available, people expect you to have done your research,” says Howard Prager, president of Advance Learning Group. “If you don’t find ways to include this, it can show that you didn’t take the job interview seriously.”
If your answers are too vague, or you trip up on a basic question like “What’s the name of our CEO,” try not to let it psyche you out too much. If you dwell on your mistakes, you’ll likely be thrown off your game and struggle throughout the rest of the interview. Instead, take a deep breath and focus on hitting the rest of the questions out of the park.
After the interview is over, try “researching the company online using sources such as Glassdoor, using LinkedIn to find contacts that know someone at the company, and reading about competitors,” Prager says. Once you do, you can drop that knowledge into your follow-up note.
“In your thank-you notes to everyone who interviewed you, be sure to list some reasons that you are drawn to his company and position,” Prager advises—the more specific, the better!
SCENARIO 4: YOU DON’T HAVE ANY QUESTIONS FOR THEM
We’ll let you in on a little secret—when interviewers ask whether you have any questions for them, they’re not doing that just to be nice. They often use it as a test to see how interested you are in the opportunity, how much you know about the company, and how engaged you are in the interview process.
“Interviewers almost always will ask you what questions you have, and if you are only focused on preparing answers to other questions, you won’t be ready for this one,” Prager says.
Ideally, you would always have a few detailed questions on hand that show off your knowledge of the company and their industry, but sometimes life gets in the way. You might have been too busy or preoccupied to come up with questions beforehand, or it might have slipped your mind completely. In this case, there’s nothing wrong with asking a more generic question like “How would we work together?” or “What is it about this company that keeps you here?”
Again, the thank-you note will play a critical role in your rebound.
“In your follow-up thank-you note to all the people you met, you may want to end with a question that shows your interest but that you ‘forgot to ask,’” Prager suggests. Bonus points if these questions cover something mentioned in your interview or something you came across during your research on the company. This shows that you’re excited about the opportunity and thoughtful—both great qualities to have in an employee.
Making a major misstep in an interview is never a good feeling, but the strategies above can help you recover from some of the most common blunders. In a best-case scenario, these tactics will assuage any concerns an interviewer had about you and will take you to the next round, but even if your error causes you to be dropped from the running, you’ll walk away with a valuable lesson. Odds are, you’ll never make that mistake again, so it’s only a matter of time until you excel in an interview and get a great job offer.
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