We’ve all been there: you arrived late, accidentally spilled coffee on your resume or even broke a heel. Interviews gone wrong are an inevitable part of life and can happen to the best of us (even in our cutest outfits). But even when your interview seems far from being saved, here are the best tips on how to salvage any interview on the verge of disaster.
Crisis: You arrived WAYYY late.
Your alarm didn’t go off on time. You had 24 notifications on Facebook that you had to check. The line at Dunkin’ Donuts was especially long. There was a nuclear war on I-95 this morning. Let’s face it: it doesn’t take too much to craft an excuse as to why you’re late for anything. One collegiette remembers, “On my very first interview, I ended up arriving exactly when they called my name because it took me 20 minutes to parallel park. I didn’t know that there was only street parking, and I never learned how to parallel park in Drivers Ed!”
First of all, nobody likes or appreciates excuses. With that in mind, the worst possible thing you could do is begin your already late interview with a laundry list of excuses as to what held you up. The fact of the matter is you arrived late. The best way to handle this is simple: APOLOGIZE. Donna Goldfeder, director of career services at Lehigh University, recommends, “If you know you are going to be running late you absolutely need to call ahead and alert them to this problem. Briefly apologize when you arrive and then get right down to business.” Generally speaking, if you will be more than 10 minutes late, consider asking if you should reschedule your interview for a later time out of respect for the interviewer and those interviewing after you.
Crisis: Your cell phone goes off during the interview.
Especially on those days when you have 80 million things to remember, somehow silencing your cell always falls to bottom of the list. If it happens during class, it’s embarrassing. If it happens during an interview, it’s just plain rude. Katie, a collegiette™ from Cornell University, remembers, “I forgot to turn my phone off during an interview, and I ended up being interrupted by my Michael Jackson ringtone… I didn’t even know what to say.”
First of all, DO NOT ANSWER YOUR PHONE. While this should go without saying, the inappropriate places and situations (e.g., the movie theater, church, econ class) where people will answer their phones never cease to amaze me. While your phone call may actually be important, unless you consider it to be more imperative than having a job and an income… ignore it. If your phone rings, immediately silence it. Apologize for not turning it off before your interview began, then continue with your interview. In this situation, the worst thing you can do is act like you can’t hear your phone ringing. Looking around the room pretending that you can’t hear “Ice Ice Baby” blasting from your purse probably won’t make you look like the brightest crayon in the box.
Crisis: You have a noticeable stain on your outfit.
Isn’t it always the case that your Tide® to Go pen mysteriously disappears the one time you actually need it? While you probably aren’t chowing down on a BBQ ribs minutes before your interview, that Starbucks Vanilla Latte can be just as dangerous to the interview outfit you spent four hours carefully assembling the night before. Combine your nervously shaking hand with a full cup of coffee and before you know it, there’s the most minute, yet completely noticeable stain on your shirt. Perfect.
When it comes to wardrobe crises, it’s always best to try to head them off in advance. With that being said, you can’t always be prepared (I mean, we’re not Eagle Scouts here). The best thing you can do is try to cleverly disguise the problem. Goldfeder advises that you, “should rearrange clothes to hide the stain if at all possible.” If you have a stain at the top of your shirt, try to sweep your hair to one side to cover it. If your tights have a run down the back, make sure you cross your legs during the interview to conceal it. Let them focus on you and your credentials, not your fashion faux pas. And don’t bring it up! In all likelihood, your interviewer won’t even notice it.
Crisis: You completely flubbed the answer to an important question.
“Oh yeah, Nick Carter was definitely my favorite Backstreet Boy…wait what was the question again?” Especially when your nerves or excitement distracts you, it’s easy to zone out or mishear an interviewer when they’re addressing you. Depending on whom you interview with, you may find yourself caught off guard by a question or two.
If you’re lucky enough to realize that you flubbed an answer, you still have time to fix it! Start by apologizing and then begin to formulate your new answer. Say something along the lines of: “I apologize, that answer was poorly said. What I was trying to say was…” I have yet to meet anyone who enjoys answering rapid fire questions in a high pressure situation, and so we all know what it’s like to be so nervous that we blank on what we’re saying. As long as you improve upon your answer the second time around, you’re good to go.
Even if you realize after the interview that you may have bombed an answer to an important question, there is still time to get it right. Goldfeder has another suggestion: “I had one student who knew she had not done a good job when she answered a question on current events. Right after the interview she did her research and emailed the interviewer with a ‘this is what I should have said’ message that was thorough and informative. I wasn’t sure that would work—but she got the job!”
Crisis: You accidentally said the wrong name of the interviewer/company.
Think of it like being on a first date with somebody. If you call your date Chad, only to realize that his name is Charlie… it makes for an “awkward turtle” kind of moment. Aside from being awkward, name slip-ups clearly show that you have somebody else on your mind. Interviews are the same way. Calling the interviewer the wrong name or mispronouncing the company’s name immediately shows a lack of commitment to where you are that moment.
While name blunders make for a less than perfect beginning of the interview, they’re not the end of the world (or the opportunity). Goldfeder says, “I tell students that it is only natural to be nervous and that a bit of nervousness shows that you are taking the interview seriously.” Especially when you’re on the hunt for a new job, it’s understandable that you will have your fair share of interviews in a short period of time. If the interviewer calls attention to your mistake, Goldfeder suggests that you say something along the lines of: “I’m sorry this interview means so much to me that I guess I’m a bit nervous. I am truly very excited about the opportunity available at [insert correct name here].” After that, move on with poise and confidence.
Crisis: You are totally unqualified for/no longer interested in the job.
Interviews are not solely about the interviewer getting to know you; it’s also your opportunity to see if you are a good fit for the position. Sometimes during an interview, it becomes very clear that you are either A) not qualified for the position you are being interviewed for, or B) no longer interested in the position. Scarlett, a collegiette from the University of Connecticut, remembers, “I was interviewing for an internship when I realized about halfway through the conversation that I would be beyond bored if I had to spend my summer there. I just didn’t click with the company’s environment.”
It’s totally okay to recognize that you are not the person to fill a certain job. After all, it’s better to realize that you’re not fit for something right away than try to make it work and end up with a job you hate five months later. In the event that your credentials seem lacking but you are still sincerely interested in the position, Goldfeder suggests, “…you should still try to prove that you are very eager to learn the skills required for the job. You can also give examples that show you are a fast learner.”
If you’re definitely not interested in the position that you interviewed for, there is an easy way to remedy this. Politely tell your interviewer why you changed your mind (e.g., not qualified, not a fit for the work environment, etc.), but be sure to thank them for their time and the opportunity. If it is clear that they are not in a hurry or there are no other interviewees after you, you can feel free to use the rest of the interview to your benefit. Ask your interviewer if there was anything that you could improve upon for your next interview, or if there was anything that made you stand out in a good (or bad) way to potential employers.
The Thank You Note (aka Every Collegiette’s Lifesaver)
Never underestimate the power of a well-written thank you note (check out how to write the perfect thank you note. If all else fails (even if the interview went perfectly), as a polite collegiette™ you should always follow up your interview with a kindly worded note, thanking the interviewer for their time and consideration. Maggie Scotilla, a career counselor at Penn State University, adds that a thank you note is a good way to, “make sure to reiterate your interest in the position,” especially if something went wrong during your interview! You should send a thank you email within 24 hours of your interview, and then be sure to follow this up with a handwritten one within a week.
Now get out there and rock that interview!
Donna Goldfeder, Director of Career Services, Lehigh University
Katie, student at Cornell University
Maggie Scotilla, Career Counselor, Penn State Career Services
Scarlett, student at The University of Connecticut
College women from across the country