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Advice / Job Search / Interviewing

7 Horribly Awkward Interview Mistakes—and How to Bounce Back From Them

Trying to convince strangers to hire you is a stressful process for most people—and one mistake can make the whole experience feel like a total nightmare.

What people forget is that everyone makes mistakes—we’re only human! So, we’ve compiled the most common ones and how to get past them.

1. You Bad-Mouth Your Previous Employer

Oops! You probably didn’t mean to say that, or else didn’t mean to say it in that way. The question was, “Can you tell me about a time you showed leadership at work?” And somehow the story went from a great example to you making a jab at your old boss who never showed up to meetings on time.

If you catch yourself doing this, take a breath, apologize for phrasing it the way you did, and clarify.

It’s as easy as saying, “Whoops, did not mean to take the story there. What I meant to say was that…”

Wrap up your answer up by being extra positive and putting the focus back on your actions—and not on your former manager’s.

In the Future

Check out Muse writer Kat Boogaard’s article on the six best stories to have on hand during interviews. If you have stories prepared, you’re much less likely to go off-script.

2. You Forget the Word for Something

Oh no, what’s the name of that stock again? How do you pronounce that one word? Being nervous during an interview can sometimes result in you completely blanking.

Don’t try to make something up if you’re uncertain about it. Instead, work around the problem by just being honest.

Try: “Sorry, I’m completely blanking on the name of that app—which is crazy because I work on it every day. But what’s more important than the name is that it helped us hit our quarterly goals faster than ever.”

By focusing on what’s important (and what’s important is rarely the name), you’re distracting the hiring manager from your brain fart.

In the Future

Make a cheat sheet on your phone with any important terms that you think will come up in the interview, and take a look at it a few minutes before you walk in.

3. You Let a Swear Word Slip Out

Sure, sure you know that you’re never supposed to swear during an interview—that’s covered in Interviewing 101. But sometimes, when you get super excited, you let one slip out. While you can’t ignore it, you also shouldn’t let it bring the interview to a screeching halt.

Instead, be honest: “Sorry, I get so excited about Project X that I sometimes let my emotions get ahead of me. It’s just that when we saw the results…”

Like forgetting an important name, the key here is to swivel and re-focus on your accomplishments and achievements.

In the Future

If you find yourself getting really excited, take a deep breath and slow down. You’re less likely to blurt out something regrettable if you’re speaking more slowly.

4. You’re Caught Off-Guard by a Question

No matter how long you prepare for an interview, there’s always going to be one question that throws you for a loop. And chances are, the interviewer knows this one’s tricky.

So, take your time in answering. There’s nothing wrong with saying, “That’s a great question—let me think about it” or “Do you mind if I take a second to think that through?” Giving yourself a few extra moments to compile your thoughts shows that you’re taking the process seriously and want to respond to the best of your abilities. Remember: An interview’s not a timed test.

In the Future

Take a look at this guide from interview expert Lily Zhang to answering off-the-wall questions that make you say: “Huh?”

5. You Notice an Awkward Pause

You just finished what you had to say, and then…silence. The dreaded awkward pause follows. What do you do with your hands? Should you say something?

Chances are, an awkward pause to you doesn’t always mean an awkward pause to the person interviewing you. He or she may be taking notes (physically and mentally) or thinking of the next question. Silence between talking is completely normal, so give this person some time to process what you just said before jumping back into conversation.

Don’t just keep talking to fill the silence—this might interrupt the hiring manager’s flow and thought process. And what if he or she’s just pausing to take a mental note of how awesome you are?

In the Future

Count to five between pauses. Odds are high you won’t get to five because the pauses are not anywhere near as long as you think. Or, if it really seems like your interviewer is waiting for you to initiate the next conversation, follow up with a question related to your own responses, such as “Does your company work the same way?”

6. Your Phone Goes Off

Whatever you do, don’t answer it. But also don’t ignore it—especially if your settings dictate that it will buzz or beep or make some other kind of noise until you acknowledge it. Just apologize for the interruption, turn it to silent, put it back in your bag, and carry on.

In the Future

Turn it off. Double check that it’s off. Maybe triple check, just for good measure.

7. You Have a Wardrobe Malfunction

Despite picking out your outfit and ironing it the night before, you somehow spill coffee on yourself moments before the interview. There’s no time to change.

So what do you do? Remind the hiring manager that you’re human by making a quick joke at the beginning of the interview about the situation.

“I apologize for my shirt. I was so excited to come in this morning that I spilled all over myself. Note to self: Tide Stain Sticks are your best friend.”

Then move on.

The reason you want to acknowledge this is not to show off your sense of humor, but rather so that the hiring manager knows you’re not an outright mess who would walk in with a stained shirt.

In the Future

Stop by a mirror on your way into the interview. Take a selfie. Do what you need to do to make sure that you’re looking your best. And maybe carry some stain remover, just in case.

Sometimes you are going to make these mistakes and it’s going to eat you up inside, but honestly, you’re not the first—and you won’t be the last. The most important thing is to give yourself a break and remember that not every interview is going to go completely smoothly.

And, if you can handle it like a champion, there’s no reason that one mistake should affect your chances at getting the job. Who knows, maybe the quick recovery is what gets you to the next round.

Photo of upset man courtesy of Shutterstock.