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Everyone makes mistakes, but one of the worst times to do so is when you're applying for a job. As Lori McLeese, Chief People Officer at San Francisco-based nonprofit Room to Read, says: "I think of the job search process as dating, where you and the job seeker are on your very best behavior. If any red flags come up during this time, I wonder what the candidate's performance will be like if we hire him or her."
Indeed, many mistakes -- like showing up late to a job interview -- will throw into severe doubt your chances of receiving a job offer. Is there a way to recover from such a serious gaffe?
Despite your best efforts, there are some mistakes you simply can't recover from, such as submitting a résumé and cover letter addressed to the wrong employer. But other errors do not necessarily spell doom for you.
Following are common mistakes job seekers make and tactics that will give you a fighting chance to recover:
Mishap No. 1: You arrive too late.
If there's one rule of interviewing it's to never arrive late. And yet, despite leaving your house with plenty of time to spare, you get stuck in traffic and watch as your meeting time creeps closer and closer. The key here is to not wait until the last minute. If you expect to be late, call the hiring manager to explain your delay and provide an estimate as to when you will arrive. In most cases, the person will understand the circumstances and be able to postpone or reschedule the interview. The hiring manager will question your professionalism and desire to land the position if you keep him or her waiting without an update from you.
Mishap No. 2: You arrive too early.
Though it may not seem like a terrible offense, being very early for an interview can create a poor first impression. If you're camped out in the reception area half an hour before your meeting, the hiring manager may not appreciate the pressure to see you earlier than expected. Wait in your car or outside the building if you arrive more than 15 minutes before an interview and use the time to prepare. Then, head to the restroom to check your appearance one last time. Aim to be in the company's lobby about five minutes early.
Mishap No. 3: You flub an interview question.
"Why are manhole covers round?" Even if you're not asked a brainteaser like this, you may stumble when answering a question posed by the hiring manager. In this situation, don't panic. If you find yourself rambling or grasping for words, pause to think more about your answer. The interviewer will understand if you need some time to formulate a response. If you bombed a question earlier in the meeting, only to think of the perfect response later, ask the hiring manager if you can revisit the question. You'll demonstrate your ability to think on your feet and have the opportunity to get your message across.
Mishap No. 4: You hit "send" too soon.
A hiring manager at a Bay Area financial institution recalled a former candidate who was in the running for a job -- until the applicant sent the following thank-you e-mail: "I do think this position would be a great fit for my background and experience, and I'm sad to hear there will not be the possibility of working with you." Says the manager, "I was laughing too much at her mistake to take her seriously for the job."
But there is a way to make a comeback from this type of error. When a candidate McLeese interviewed made a similar mistake, the job seeker sent a second e-mail apologizing for the mistake and referencing a number of tidbits from their conversation. "She remembered that I was the first human resources employee at the company; that I have lived in Kuwait, Egypt and South Korea; and that I like to snowboard," McLeese says. "Given the follow-up and personal touch, it was a mistake I could overlook."
Your best approach when it comes to a technology snafu? Don't pretend it didn't happen. Instead, diplomatically address the situation. Even if you don't ultimately get the job, you'll showcase your personality and ability to recover from a mistake.
Mishap No. 5: You lowball yourself.
What happens when a hiring manager requests your salary requirements, and you later find that you asked for too little compensation? Be honest and act quickly. Tell the hiring manager that you've done additional research and feel the figure you quoted falls below market trends. Be sure to reference any supporting documentation, such as salary surveys, that help you make a case for higher starting pay. Employers are often willing to renegotiate salary before an offer is accepted if an error like this is made because they want new employees to feel valued from day one. However, in the future, you should always do your compensation research before you begin the interview process.
A blunder during the job search can create an opportunity for you to demonstrate skills -- such as diplomacy and tact -- not always evident during the hiring process. Often, it's how you handle a mishap that offers hiring managers valuable insight into your character -- and how you'd behave in a similar situation if you were hired.
Robert Half International is the world's first and largest specialized staffing firm with a global network of more than 360 offices worldwide. For more information about our professional services, please visit www.rhi.com.
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