Bounce Back: Don’t Let a Mistake Derail Your Next Interview

You finally land an interview for a job you really want. You spend hours prepping for the meeting. You thoroughly research the company, practice responses to common interview questions, and develop a well-researched list of discussion topics.

But despite your diligent preparation, something inexplicably goes awry on the day of your interview. You hit a major traffic jam on the way to the office, spill a latte all over yourself, or get tongue-tied while explaining why you’re the perfect person for the position.

Whether you run into bad luck or bad timing, there’s likely something you can do to remedy the situation and get the interview back on track. But there are also actions you can take that will put you out of the running completely. Here are some dos and definite don’ts to keep in mind if you make a mistake during a job interview:

The problem: You built in ample time to arrive early, but Murphy’s Law strikes, and you get a flat tire. You’re going to be late.

Do call the interviewer as soon as you realize you’re not going to make it on time. Briefly explain the circumstances, provide an estimate of when you’ll arrive, and apologize for the inconvenience. Most hiring managers will understand that innocent and unforeseen mishaps occur. They might need to reschedule, but they probably won’t hold it against you.

Don’t leave the interviewer to wait and wonder where you are. Explaining that you will be 20 minutes late is infinitely better than offering after-the-fact excuses about why you are 20 minutes late.

The problem: You notice spilled coffee on your neatly pressed shirt just before the interview begins.

Do stay calm and confident. While first impressions matter, a stain alone isn’t going sink your chances. You could even make a lighthearted, self-deprecating joke, using the stain as a vehicle to break the ice and display your roll-with-the-punches attitude and sense of humor. “I see you’re drinking coffee; I’m wearing mine,” you might say. You’ll gain empathy and maybe even score a laugh.

Don’t make a scene by exclaiming “Oh, no!” and darting to the restroom. And don’t preoccupy yourself with trying to hide or camouflage the unfortunate blotch. Interviewers can easily overlook and forget a stain, but they’ll definitely remember if you appeared uncomfortable and tense throughout the meeting.

The problem: You fumble in your first response by referring to the company by the wrong name.

Do maintain your composure. Quickly correct yourself and weave the right name into subsequent answers. Stay positive and remind yourself that everyone misspeaks at times, especially when nervous.

Don’t dwell on the error. Allowing an early slip-up to set the tone of the interview is an even bigger mistake. Mentioning that you’d love to work for “Roger Half International” when you meant to say “Robert Half International” doesn’t spell doom. But calling further attention to the gaffe by following up with, “I’m such an idiot, I can’t believe I said that!” will compound the problem.

Finally, even if you feel that the interview went poorly and you have no shot at the job, it’s still wise to write a prompt thank-you note to show your appreciation for the opportunity and reiterate your interest in the position. Your perception of your performance may be vastly different from the interviewer’s assessment. People have a tendency to be their own worst critics.

In fact, a swift recovery from a mishap can actually work in your favor, showing the prospective employer that you can handle tough situations and quickly bounce back from setbacks.

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