How to Overcome Mistakes a Job-Seeker Can Make During Job Interviews
Don’t blow it! Sometimes, interviews tank. Perhaps the interviewer thinks you are too good looking for the job, or that red ties should be worn only on Tuesdays. There’s very little you can do to salvage an interview under these conditions. However, arriving late, having a huge run in your stockings, and calling the employer by the wrong name are all recoverable errors. Stay calm, don’t panic and read on.
Damage: Can’t remember the name of the person you are meeting.
- Control: Crawl around on the company’s Web site. Try the staff directory and see if your memory is jogged by what you see.
Control: Call ahead and throw yourself upon the receptionist’s mercy. Explain who you are, that you are coming in for an interview for the Director of Student Life position and that you were so excited about the job that you forgot to write down the name of the person you are meeting. Generally speaking, this tactic will work, but be careful — receptionists and hiring managers do talk to each other!
Damage: Can’t pronounce the interviewer’s name
- Control: Ask the secretary/receptionist.
Control: Take advantage of voicemail technology. Call the company directory and see if the names are listed verbally. You can also call the person directly (outside of business hours, of course) to check if she speaks her first and last name in the voicemail greeting.
Control: Give it a shot and then ask, “Am I pronouncing your name correctly?”
Damage: The interviewer is mispronouncing your name
- Control: Correct, but gently. “My name is actually pronounced A-roar-ah”
Damage: Running late
- Control: Call as soon as you know you will be late. If you are going to be under seven minutes late, let the employer know when you will be there. If it looks like more than 10 minutes late, ask if you should reschedule or come in. Make sure you express respect for the interviewing schedule and reiterate your commitment to the position.
If you are in a major newsworthy traffic snafu, blame the traffic. With any other form of transportation problem, blame yourself. You can try something like “I’m so sorry. I underestimated the morning (evening, afternoon, 10 a.m.) traffic. I’m never late to anything and am really embarrassed.”
Always apologize again once you arrive, and then let it go. Understand that your interview may be truncated or rushed.
Damage: You have a run in your hose or a spot on your tie
- Control: First, try to stop and hide the run (carry clear nail polish in your purse just for such an emergency) or get the spot out.
Control: Acknowledge it briefly to the interviewer if it will make you feel better. Something like “Of all days to spill coffee on my tie on the way over…” Everyone’s been there, and acknowledging it is a better strategy than leaving the interviewer with the impression that you didn’t know you were wearing spaghetti sauce.
Damage: You realize the guy you honked at for cutting you off is your interviewer.
- Control: Don’t say a word. Pretend it never happened. No good can come from acknowledging this one.
Damage: The interviewer seems to hate you (doesn’t smile or nod).
- Control: Stay calm. Many interviewers like to see how people react under pressure. Is this the best way to test interviewees? Probably not — but it happens. Ask questions and answer them fully. The most important thing to do is to smile and project confidence. Many times, we unconsciously mirror the facial and nonverbal expressions of the interviewer. It’s important to counteract this natural tendency.
Damage: You spill something.
- Control: Good manners prevail here. Apologize, clean up (the interviewer as host should really offer to do it for you), and move on.
Damage: You flub an answer.
- Control: Start again. Say “Well, that wasn’t a good answer at all. What I should have said/meant to say was…”
Damage: It becomes clear that you are totally unqualified for the job
- Control: Answer the questions to the best of your ability. Although possible, it is rare that a completely unqualified person is called into an interview. The interview team may have seen something in your application that was intriguing. Don’t waste your time with negative self-talk. Concentrate on selling your skills and experience. If you’re convinced after the interview that the job is not a good fit, mention in your thank-you letter that you’d like to be considered for other positions.
Final Thoughts on Job Interview Damage Control
If you don’t realize what damage has occurred until after the interview, use your thank-you letter to address — carefully — anything that went wrong in interview. You can do damage control as long as you don’t draw too much attention to the low points of the interview. Damage control may be as simple as assuaging the employer’s doubts about your qualifications for the job.
You can also use this follow-up to bring up anything you thought of after the interview that is pertinent to the employer’s concerns. Did you smack your palm against your forehead as you left the interview realizing something important you forgot to say? The thank-you letter gives you the chance to say it. [Editor’s Note: See an example of such a thank-you letter here: A Thank You Letter that Aims at Damage Control.]
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
Regular QuintZine contributor Maureen Crawford Hentz is manager of talent acquisition, development and compliance for OSRAM SYLVANIA Inc., a Siemens company. She is a nationally recognized expert on social networking and new media recruiting. With more than15 years of experience in the recruiting, consulting and employment areas, her interests include college student recruiting, disabilities in the workplace, business etiquette, and GLBT issues. Crawford Hentz has been quoted by The New York Times, NewsDay, The Boston Globe, and National Public Radio, among others. In addition to her work for QuintZine, she is a contributor to the Boston.com HR blog. She conducts workshops, keynotes and conference sessions nationally. Crawford Hentz holds a master of arts degree in college student personnel from Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, OH, and a bachelor of arts degree in international studies from The American University, Washington, DC. She lives outside Boston, MA.
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