Can You Save a Terrible Job Interview? Resources

Sometimes, you walk away from a job interview knowing you absolutely nailed it. Other times, not so much.

Maybe you showed up late, insulted the hiring manager, or knocked over the water cooler. You’re certain there won’t be a job offer in your future, and you’re ready to throw in the towel. Not so fast — in a great U.S. News & World Report story titled “How to Save a Disastrous Interview,” writer and editor Laura McMullen shares some fantastic tips for saving face and possibly salvaging your chances of landing the job.

In cases when you’re guilty of what McMullen calls a “major mess-up” — i.e. getting called out for a resume lie or saying something insulting to a hiring manager before you realize who he or she is — the smart play is to acknowledge the gaff in the follow-up thank-you email you should definitely still send. If you pretend like nothing happened, “they might just think you’re a jerk,” according to Jenny Foss, founder of the blog

If we’re talking “hopefully forgivable goofs,” McMullen offers similar advice. Spill coffee on someone? Say you’re sorry and offer to pony up for dry cleaning. If you’re running late, call from the road and give everyone some advance notice. Show up woefully underdressed? Explain those khakis by apologizing to your suited interviewers and explaining that you thought it was a business-casual workplace. None of these things need to be deal-breakers if you handle them properly.

Then, there are problems of performance. We all get those “deer in headlights” moments where interview questions leave us speechless or worse yet rambling, and if you give an answer that’s totally bogus, McMullen suggests asking something like, “Did that answer your question?” If not, the interviewer will rephrase it and hopefully steer you down a more coherent path; either way, you get another chance. And speaking of second chances, if you blank on something that you should’ve mentioned, like a project you worked on that’s relevant to the position you’re seeking, mention that in the follow-up email.

McMullen also outlines some general interviewing rules, which include “don’t be funny,” even when you’re really nervous; “don’t make excuses,” unless you’ve just gone through something really devastating that’s affecting your performance; and perhaps most importantly, “don’t ignore mistakes.” After all, to err is human, and everyone screws up at some point. Good job candidates, like good employees, know how to admit when they’re wrong.

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