Recently, a job seeker commented that she had really messed up a very important interview, and she wanted to know if she could recover. After a job interview, many of us have had these thoughts – “I really wish I hadn’t said that!” Or, “I could have handled that question MUCH better!”
It is not always possible to recover from a really big blunder. Some things are definitely not recoverable (bad-mouthing a previous employer, answering your cell phone during the interview, dressing very inappropriately, using bad language, etc.).
Recovery may be possible because you might not have been as bad as you thought you were, and/or, perhaps, no one else was better. Here’s how…
Recovering from a Bad Job Interview
Most interviewers understand that people are nervous in job interviews, and they take that into consideration when evaluating the job seeker (unless the job requires absolutely complete control over your nervous behaviors, like diamond cutting or bomb disposal).
Do try to correct what ever was wrong. This requires finesse, but it can be done.
Because it may take a while to discover whether or not this particular situation really is doomed, do these 5 things:
1.) Immediately launch damage control in your thank you note/message.
Send your thank you, as usual, and use the thank you to launch your recovery.
If you did not answer a question well, answer it better in your thank you.
“I have been thinking about your interesting question concerning [whatever], and want to add this thought, [what you wish you had said in the interview].”
If you called Mr. Smith by the wrong name, be sure to use his correct name in the thank you.
Do NOT reference the mistake (“Sorry I might have come across as socially inept when I called you Mr. Brown rather than Mr. Smith.”).
If you forgot to hand them your list of references, send it along with the thank you.
If you have already sent your thank you but did not use it for damage control, try a follow up message which attempts damage control. Simply correct the situation (still without admitting any specific mistake).
“As we discussed, Mr. Smith, forecasting has become more scientific. When I found this interesting article about forecasting, I thought you might find it useful…”
2.) Don’t brood about what happened.
Being down on yourself won’t really help your job search. The interview is over. You did what you could to recover the situation, and you need to move on. Your damage control may, or may not, have worked. Time to put the situation behind you so you can be confident going to your next interview.
3.) Analyze what happened.
Think about what went wrong, and see if you can figure out why it happened. Were you too tired? Were you distracted by something else going on? Were you not well-enough prepared? Was it a group interview and too many questions were being asked at the same time?
Did something or someone surprise you? If so, why and how?
4.) Develop a strategy for handling this kind of situation the next time you run into it.
Whatever the situation, try to develop a strategy to better handle it – if it occurs again. What could you have done differently? How can you do better next time? Think about it. Ask friends. Maybe even do some research.
For example, if you did not answer a question well, write down the question. Perhaps you could do some research on what the answer should have been so you can be well-prepared if it is asked again.
Or, perhaps you interviewed with a new kind of employer, a different industry or larger (or smaller) than your previous employer. Things can be quite different for the same profession or job function in different industries. And a large employer often does things quite differently than a small employer. So do some research into what the differences are and how the “other side” (the new industry or differently-sized employer) works – a good reason for a few “informational interviews.”
5.) Keep looking for a job.
Unless you have recently won the lottery, you can’t afford to let this incident end your job search. So keep looking for a job. The best news is that, for most of us, interviews will be a part of our lives for many years. So, the better we become at interviews, the easier our subsequent job searches will be.
“To err is human” is a very old, very true statement (Alexander Pope, 1688 – 1744). So, welcome to the human race! Try to look on the bright side – you now have more experience with interviewing, and practice does make perfect or, at least, better. If you follow the 5-step recovery process, above, I bet you don’t make the same mistake again.
More About Successful Job Interviews
© Copyright, 2013, Susan P. Joyce. All rights reserved.
About the author…
Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. In 2011, NETability purchased WorkCoachCafe.com, which Susan has been editor and publisher of WorkCoach since then. Susan also edits and publishes Job-Hunt.org. Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on Google+.