Of all the days for the alarm clock to fail you, it has to be the one with the all-important job interview. Frantically rushing out the door, you think you can win a race against time, beat traffic, and make a punctual arrival. But your wishful thinking turns out to be just that, as you greet the receptionist 10 minutes past your scheduled interview time.
Is this a fatal blunder that will kill your chance of getting the job? Not necessarily. Here's how you can confront mishaps like this, and others, to revive your prospects.
1. The late arrival. While you shouldn't ignore your tardiness, don't dwell on it, either. Take ownership and relay regret to your interviewers. "[If] you're late, you're late, acknowledge it and let's move on. Don't ignore it," says Marc Dorio, author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Perfect Job Interview.
By apologizing, you're showing "self-awareness" for your error and being mindful of the interviewer's schedule, he adds.
2. Your phone rains on your interview parade. Just as you're telling your interviewer how disciplined and attentive you are, the wild ring tone or text alert on your phone goes off.
Once the device has become an uninvited guest, turn it off and "don't answer--don't even look at it," Dorio advises. The exception: if it's an emergency call from your spouse or child's school. Explain that such calls are rare instances, and ask to be excused.
Otherwise, Dorio suggests you ask for forgiveness and remark that "you thought you had turned the phone off," and that this is not typical.
3. Your potty-mouth kicks in. Swearing is as natural for you as breathing. Still, as the interview approaches, you're confident you can tame your tart tongue. But midway through, you leave your interviewer's ears ringing with a high-flying expletive.
Vicky Oliver, author of 301 Smart Answers to Tough Interview Questions, recommends you quickly apologize and jokingly acknowledge the "truck-driver gene in [your] family."
If you recognize that your swearing could become a liability, find a practice exercise before the interview that will help you control the habit for at least one day. Oliver suggests taping your own questions and answers to "pressure-inducing questions."
"It's very hard to un-train yourself of these little verbal tics, but with practice, you can get better," she says.
4. The brain-freeze moment. Every interview has staple questions, such as "Can you tell us about your background?" and "Why should we hire you?"
While you studiously prepared for several of them, you're suddenly drawing a blank. To combat the brain funk, "I advise my clients to come back with another question," Dorio says. He notes that posing a question like, "What would you like to know that would be helpful for you to determine that I'm a qualified candidate for this job?" This will give you time to get back on your feet, reframe the question, and provide a thoughtful answer.
[Read: The Interview Isn't a One-Way Street.]
5. When "Theresa" becomes "Jennifer." After visiting your interviewer's LinkedIn page and Twitter feed several times, you thought you had her name down pat. But somehow in the midst of conversation, you blurt out the wrong name. "Sometimes you can handle it in a humorous way," Dorio suggests.
If cracking a joke isn't your stock and trade, explain that the mishap was the result of how your interviewer legitimately resembles a close friend of yours or simply apologize.
6. You blast your former boss or employer. Your last bout of employment left you with embittered feelings toward your boss or colleagues. When the question comes up, they quickly spill out into the open.
Sounding a derisive note about those you previously worked with can come off as graceless and inappropriate, even if the criticism is deserved. "The job interview isn't really the place you want to bad-mouth somebody, even if it's merited," Oliver says.
To re-establish your classy credentials, circle back to the more positive aspects of your last experience. "Try to immediately turn it into something positive," she says, adding, "Always talk about what you learned from the experience. If possible, be complimentary to your former employer and colleagues."
Post-interview cleanup. As Oliver points out, the interview is only one part of a longer "campaign" to getting hired by a company. If you failed to apologize or feel that your already-uttered apology wasn't enough to erase the negative impression you left, address the matter once more in your follow-up email. "When you're thanking him or her for the meeting, you say, 'I was thinking a little bit more about the question that you asked and I wanted to provide further clarification,' and then fill in the answer you should have given on the spot," she says.
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