How to recover from a job interview blunder

Female job applicant feeling nervous at job interview with potential employer.

Making mistakes is a part of life, but making a blunder during a job interview can feel particularly awful.

Few of us sail through an interview with perfection, so cut yourself some slack and remember that not every perceived slip-up constitutes a disaster. Maybe you felt like your voice wavered or that you didn’t smile enough. These types of things aren’t likely to be deal-breakers.

But maybe you gave a response to a question that was off the mark, forgot to include a key bit of information, or arrived late to the interview. These types of mistakes usually require some form of course correction. Here are a few tips for recovering from such interview blunders.

Be prepared. One of the best ways to recover from interview blunders is to prevent them in the first place. Take time to prepare before your interview by researching the company, planning responses to commonly asked interview questions, and crafting your own questions for the interviewer. (I recommend the book Knock ‘em Dead Job Interview and thebalancecareers.com to help with interview preparation.) Feeling prepared can boost interview confidence and reduce opportunities for error.

Explain any delay. If you’re late to an interview due to an unforeseen circumstance such as a fender bender or illness, contact the employer as soon as possible to let them know. Explain the situation, apologize and ask if you should reschedule or if they will see you late. Oversleeping is a different story, so don’t do it. Set multiple alarms to guarantee you wake in plenty of time for your appointment, and do a practice run to the interview site so you know how much time to allow for travel.

Rephrase, then move on. If you flub an answer during your interview, ask if you can rephrase your response. If the interviewer has already moved on, make a quick mental note or jot it down so you can address it at the end of the interview. Then regroup and move on. Don’t let this misstep hamper your focus for the rest of the interview.

Clarify in your thank-you note. Your post-interview thank-you note can be a good opportunity to bring up a detail that you might have omitted during the interview. Don’t apologize for your oversight, and only address it if you think it will make a difference to your candidacy. If you opt to mention it, make sure to be concise.

Use your references. If you neglect to emphasize a strength or experience that’s particularly relevant to the job, ask a professional reference who is familiar with this aspect of your career to highlight it when he or she speaks with the potential employer. 

The most important thing you can do if you make an interview blunder is learn from it. Think about how you’ll avoid making the same mistake in the future, then forgive yourself and move on. And who knows? You might just land the job after all.

Moira Kelley is a career and educational counselor at UW–Madison’s Division of Continuing Studies. She can be reached at moira.kelley@wisc.edu or 608-263-7136. This article originally appeared in the Wisconsin State Journal.