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How to Recover from an Interview Nightmare

Meeting

Picture this: It’s the morning of your big job interview and everything is going smoothly. You wake up on time, remember to pack extra résumés, dress professionally and arrive at your daughter’s daycare 10 minutes early. Just as you’re handing the baby off to her teacher, she spits up on your suit. You’ve got plenty of time to get to the interview, but not enough time to go home and change. So you wipe off your blazer and head back to the car.

You hit the highway, only to find yourself in the midst of a huge traffic jam. After what seems like a lifetime, traffic finally starts moving. Though you’re stuck behind a driver doing 20 in a 50 mph zone, you pull up to the office just in time. Good news! There’s a parking space right in front. All you have to do now is feed the meter. You rummage through your briefcase where an uncapped pen gets ink all over your hands, but come up empty. So you scour the car looking for spare quarters to no avail. Given the choice between missing the interview and getting a parking ticket, you choose the latter. Exiting the car, you notice a huge run in your stocking. You arrive for the interview 10 minutes late, sweating, disheveled and a nervous wreck.

We’ve all been there. Sometimes the best intentions go awry. Though not every botched job interview can be salvaged, these eight steps may put you back in the running.

During the Interview

  1. Breathe!
    While sitting in the reception area, try some relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and visualization. Breathing has proven to be one of the most effective ways of creating calm. Visualization — imagining yourself in a great job interview for example — will help put you in a confident and positive state of mind.

  2. Don’t be too sorry
    Apologize for your lateness but only once! Bringing it up repeatedly will only call attention to your tardiness and away from your good points.

  3. Watch your (body) language
    When we’re nervous, many of us fidget, slouch, twirl our hair and have trouble maintaining eye contact. All of these gestures can be turn-offs for hiring managers. In fact, “studies indicate that body language accounts for a full 55 percent of any response, while what you actually say accounts for just 7 percent,” says Tony Lee of CareerCast.com.

  4. Think before you speak
    While some clam up when they’re nervous, others can’t stop talking. Don’t feel that you need to answer an interviewer’s questions without thinking them through. Drawing a blank? Ask the interviewer for clarification. It may help you formulate an answer and, at the very least, stall for time while you think of one.

  5. Ask for a do-over
    As soon as the words leave your mouth, you know you’ve given a sub par answer. When this happens, don’t panic and don’t freeze up. Instead, Lindsey Harper Mac from The Muse suggests taking a step back and rephrasing your answer. “You can even say, ‘Actually, can I repeat that, a different way?’ The most important aspect to coming back from a blunder is to keep your cool — the interviewer will most likely remember your smooth recovery better than your slip-up.”

After the Interview

  1. Call your recruiter
    One of the wonderful things about working with a recruiter is that you can call him at times like this. Perhaps he knows the hiring manager and has some ideas about how best to approach her. Better yet, maybe he can make a call to smooth things over and get you another shot.

  2. Say thank you
    Not only is the post-interview thank-you email a must, it’s also a great way to do damage control. Write a gracious thank-you email or letter that same day, reiterating your interest in the job. Don’t even mention the fact that the interview went poorly. Most of us are self-conscious during interviews, and it’s quite possible that it didn’t go as poorly as you think.

    Is there an important fact you neglected to mention, or do you feel you misspoke during your interview? Use the thank-you note to add a fact or clarify a statement.

  3. Give yourself a break
    Most importantly, don’t beat yourself up. Being excessively self-critical lowers your confidence — and it won’t help you find a job. Instead, realize that perhaps this job wasn’t the right fit for you and treat the bad interview as a learning experience. Figure out what can be done, if anything, to prevent a similar result next time. Then, move on.

Have an interesting interview nightmare to share? Tweet us at @aerotek using hashtag #interviewFAIL.