The Secret to Recovering from Interview Mistakes

Posted: 08/07/14 | Category: Interviewing Job Search

At the start, all the signs were good. You planned your answers, prepared questions, slept well, ate well, and arrived at the office with 15 minutes to spare. Then the interview began and things went wrong. However, all is not lost. A clean recovery from interview mistakes often takes just a little bit of negotiating.

First, do a little triage to determine whether your mistake is big or small. A small mistake can often be brushed off with a simple apology and a correction. Larger mistakes may take a bit more of an explanation. Recovering from interview mistakes requires you to think on your feet, as each one has a distinctly different response.

Did you mispronounce a common word? This one offers a simple solution. If you’re on the cusp of mispronouncing a word, pause and pick a logical replacement. A reasonable pause saves appearances as you search for the best response.

If you’ve barreled past the point of no return, your best bet is to immediately laugh it off. Say something like “let’s try that again” and either go with the correct pronunciation or choose a different word. There’s no need to mention it going forward.

Did you call the interviewer by the wrong name? If you’re juggling job interviews, it’s not uncommon for names to get mixed up. Without having met a manager from Company X, Company Y, or Company Z, it’s hard to keep names straight.

Pneumonic devices can help you avoid this interview mistake outright. A memory trick (either a rhyme or a creative imagine) can help you link the right interviewer with the right company. Or if you can bring a notepad into the interview, scribble down your interviewer’s name and company. That way, if you space out, you can pretend to make a note while saving your skin.

If you still goof up, recovery isn’t so painful. Start with an apology and a quickly explain that you've met so many people lately its hard to keep track. Most people are willing to forgive the mistake.  

Have you said too much? Sometimes, an interview feels comfortable. There’s great rapport with the hiring manager and conversation topics run the gamut from professional to light-hearted personal stuff. Then, a line gets crossed – we reveal too many personal details or say something inadvertently offensive – and it feels as if all the good will we’ve built has fallen into a sinkhole.

Recovery from this interview mistake isn’t easy, but it’s not completely out of the question.

First, address what you did wrong. Neglecting the line you’ve crossed makes you seem oblivious or apathetic. Then, quickly try to redress what you’ve said. Explain in a sentence or two that you know how what you said is wrong, apologize again, and then immediately get back into the interview.

Another major tip for recovering from this interview mistake is to not dwell on your mistake once you’ve moved on. Acting timid or tip-toeing around your responses just reminds the hiring manager of your mistake. It’s better to reclaim your confidence and just be done with it all. 

On a final note:

No matter what happens, the best way to recover from an interview mistake is to show you’re awareness of the error, apologize, and confidently move on. It shows that you can easily adapt without getting flustered. Dwelling on a mistake or wallowing in your own melancholy won’t elicit sympathy and it certainly won’t get you the job.

by James Walsh

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