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Advice / Job Search / Interviewing

4 Major Interview Mistakes (and How to Recover)

After sending out countless resumes, you’ve finally landed a job interview with your dream company. You’ve picked the perfect outfit, tucked ample copies of your resume into your folder, and practiced your answers over and over.

And then—it happens. You realize the interview was at 11:30, not 1:30. You spot an error on your resume. Or you make some other totally avoidable mistake that you know, backwards and forwards, that you should never, ever make as an interviewee.

No matter how thoroughly you prepare, mistakes can still happen during the job application and interview process. But, they don’t always mean game over—yes, even imperfect people get jobs. If you’ve made one of these common blunders, a few key steps can help you make the best of a bad situation.

1. Submitting the Wrong Resume

It’s actually a good idea to have a different version of your resume for each position you apply for (or at least, a couple versions for different types of jobs), especially if you’re applying for jobs that tap into diverse types of skills and experiences. Of course—this results in having 35 documents titled some version of “Resume” saved to your desktop, and it puts you at risk for sending the wrong one. And happens what if you do?

If the resume you submitted was only subtly different than the one you wanted to, let it go. But, if there’s a glaring problem (say, you’re applying for a marketing position and your entire resume focuses on corporate communications), that’s another story. Try to recover by sending an email (as soon as possible) stating that the resume you submitted was not the best, most relevant one to the position, and attaching the correct document.

If you do score an interview (even with the wrong resume), send the correct document to the hiring manager prior to your face-to-face meeting, and distribute hard copies to the interviewers when you meet them in person. No need to point out your blunder then—just smile and say, “I brought you a hard copy of my most up-to-date resume.”

2. Appointment Mix-Up

If you’re on a really determined job hunt, you hopefully have a calendar full of interviews lined up. And that’s great—until you mix two dates up on your calendar, or misunderstand the meaning of “next Tuesday.”

There’s no way around it—an accidental mix-up that leaves the interviewing company thinking they've been stood up is a major faux pas. If you find yourself in this situation, for whatever reason, you absolutely must call as soon as you realize your mistake. You don’t need to give a lengthy explanation (or worse, grovel), just state your sincere regrets about your calendar mix up. Then, offer to reschedule or otherwise accommodate the hiring manager’s schedule.

Chi Malker, a writer and editor in the Midwest, found herself in such a situation. "I accidentally transposed location information and showed up at the wrong office at the right time,” she admits. “A quick phone call and apology helped me sort out the situation, but I made sure to follow up with a short, handwritten note expressing my sincere interest in the position."

Owning up to your mistake and making a proactive effort to connect with hiring managers on a personal level is exactly what employers are looking for—so, it might just get you a second chance.

3. Being Late for an Interview

Being late to an interview isn’t always your fault—but more often than not, it makes a bad impression.

So, if you’re stuck in traffic, your subway car has broken down, or you know there’s a slight chance you won’t make it to the interview on time, try to alleviate the situation preemptively by making a quick call to the interviewer. Explaining your situation, giving them a heads up, and apologizing before you’re actually late will make a far better impression than leaving them sitting in the lobby, wondering where you are.

The most important thing to remember is to not offer lame excuses. Acknowledge your tardiness, apologize for the error, and then, once you’ve made the call, take a deep breath. Remember: you only get one chance to make a first impression, and the appearance of a flustered, bedraggled interviewee can be a lasting one.

4. Flubbing a Question in the Interview

In your mind, you have a perfect answer for every question, and you execute each one flawlessly in a way that highlights your strengths and experiences.

In reality? When you’re being fed difficult questions about your career rapid-fire, you can stumble from time to time. In fact, everyone does it. And interviewers get it.

So, if you make a major flub in answering a question, relax: Take a deep breath, backtrack, and rephrase 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.

Remember, no individual error in the interview process has to be a fatal one. Rather than wasting time stressing about what you could have done differently, think about how you can put a positive spin on the experience. And it may not work—but hey, you’ll never know until you try.

Photo courtesy of Giorgio Montersino.