Nobody is going to sugarcoat it: There are a million things that can go wrong on an interview. And you won’t be able to recover from all of them. Some will give you nightmares for years to come. But for other common mistakes and tough questions, there are ways to bounce back.
We caught up with Lori Hourigan, a Philadelphia regional manager for specialized staffing firm Robert Half International, where they just surveyed hiring managers on the biggest interview blunders.
The problem: You’re a nervous wreck.
What to do: You don’t want to be shaking, but a little nervous energy can work for you — you’re supposed to be nervous. In any case, it’s better than the alternative. “There’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance,” says Hourigan. “Some people psych themselves up so much that they come off as arrogant.”
The problem: You answered a question totally wrong.
What to do: An unfamiliar new suit and bad conference room lighting can make you say weird things. And while you can’t un-say them, you can do some post-interview damage control in the thank you note, says Hourigan. (While she’s on it: Yes, you do need to send one.)
The problem: You don’t know the answer to a question.
What to do: Have absolutely no experience with HTML? Never wrote a grant proposal? Stop yourself before you try to gloss over it. “You can’t fudge it if you don’t know something. One of my clients is all about transparency,” says Hourigan. “The person on the other side of the desk does this every day, and they know you don’t know what you’re talking about. It’s better to say, ‘I don’t know, but I’d love to learn.’”
The problem: They want to know why you’re leaving — and the answer isn’t pretty.
What to do: It’s important to stay positive and not bash your job, but also to give a legitimate answer that at least incorporates the truth. Hourigan recommends “opportunity for growth” over, say: “My job is mind-numbing and I’m slowly rotting at my desk.” In this economy, it’s also OK to mention job security. “We know some companies aren’t doing well financially — you can say there’s financial uncertainty,” she says.
Other common mistakes
Wearing too much jewelry or perfume
“We tell people it’s not a cocktail party,” says Hourigan.
Being too early
“It’s important to show up on time, but if you show up an hour before, it doesn’t help — it gets weird.”
Asking about the salary too soon
“Talking about money isn’t a first-interview topic. You know what the range is or you wouldn’t be there.”
Being rude to receptionist
“I’ve seen receptionists give a thumbs up or a thumbs down as they walk into an interview.”