Recovering from a big interview mistake

Beth Braccio Hering, Special to CareerBuilder

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Oh, to be able to turn back the clock or eat one's words. Interview mistakes are not only embarrassing, they are potentially costly. Recovering can be tough -- but not impossible. Consider these ways to limit the damage:


Apologize

"People are more willing to forgive than we might think," says Marc Dorio, author of "The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Perfect Job Interview." He notes that owning up and uttering a genuine "please forgive me" can be quite disarming. "It demonstrates character, and an interviewer may be impressed by that. After all, it will show that as an employee you will be honest and admit when you make a mistake as opposed to hiding it or making excuses."

Dorio also recommends stating what you learned from your goof. For instance, if you are late to an interview, after your apology you can add, "I now know I need to allow more time when driving into the city on a weekday."


Don't dwell on the mistake

If an expletive accidentally pops out of your mouth or you make some other faux pas, save self-chastising for later and get back on track. "The candidate should apologize quickly and move on with answering the question," says Linda Matias, owner of CareerStrides.com and author of "201 Knockout Answers to Tough Interview Questions." "He should not apologize and then stop talking, because the mistake just lingers in the air. Dwelling on this fumble, or any other fumble, will bring extra unneeded attention to the situation."

Slip-ups in presenting information can be handled in a similar fashion. "If a candidate says something and instantly regrets it, he should make an attempt to make his position clear," Matias says. "He should not wait until after the interview to address the issue. That said, he should not harp on a mistake. Making a quick statement such as, 'Let's backtrack for a moment' and then going on to provide a clearer statement works well."


Think on your feet

While panicking may be your gut reaction, remaining calm in the face of a mistake may allow you to salvage the situation. Running late? Show you value the interviewer's time with a call to inform her, apologize and ask if the meeting can be rescheduled. Confuse the company or one of its products with a competitor? Quickly utter an "I'm sorry -- of course I know that you produce X" and then get on with how you will market X using your experience in the field.

Suppose you accidentally appear at an interview without your portfolio or list of references. What can you say that excuses such a lapse? John Scanlan, assistant director of the career services center at Cleveland State University in Cleveland, says you might try something like, "I don't have my portfolio (or list of references) today because I wanted to talk to you first about the specific skills and accomplishments that are most important to you. This way I can customize it to illustrate more effectively the sort of skills you are seeking."


Don't assume it's too late to act

Noticing an error in the moment can be horrific, but recognizing a mistake after you've already left the interview can make you feel hopeless. Yet Scanlan notes that the situation sometimes can be rectified. "If you feel you made a bad impression, committed some grave error in judgment and/or somehow offended an interviewer, one strategy is to address the problem in a thank-you note. But be sure to state the issue positively as opposed to simply reminding the interviewer of your gaffe."

Adds Matias, "If the candidate regrets something later, and the mistake is a biggie, then he can mention the situation in a follow-up letter. He can write, 'I would like to readdress the question you asked regarding ...' Then, simply re-answer the question. This is a strategy I use with my clients, and it has been very successful."


Prepare

The easiest way to deal with a mistake, of course, is not to err in the first place. Researching the company beforehand can eliminate the embarrassment of not knowing what it produces or who its biggest competitors are. Practicing aloud the answers to likely questions can build confidence and help you remember pertinent information and names. And don't hesitate to confirm an appointment, ask for the spelling of someone's name or request clarification of procedures. Better to look detail-oriented and responsible than to make a preventable blunder.


Beth Braccio Hering researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues for CareerBuilder. Follow @Careerbuilder on Twitter.



Last Updated: 03/10/2011 - 7:33 PM


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