Damage Control: How to Recover From an Interview Disaster
It’s easy to get rattled by a high-stakes job interview—and so, it’s also not uncommon to experience a certain head-smacking moment right after you walk out the door. You know what I mean: You suddenly realize an answer you gave was completely off the mark, or that you entirely forgot to include a key piece of information about yourself, like that you’ve had an internship in the field you’re trying to switch into.
So how can you recover when you think you’ve blown your chances of landing that new gig? Post-interview damage control is a tricky process—you don’t want to destroy whatever polished, poised confidence you did manage to exude during the interview, or point out a flaw your interviewer just might have missed.
If you think some post-interview damage control is in order, it’s important to plan carefully and really think it through before you go contacting your interviewer in a frenzy. But if you’re going to do it, follow these four steps to make sure you’re approaching your blunder with grace.
Step 1: Don’t Over Analyze
It’s perfectly normal to mentally rehash every detail of an interview immediately after that final handshake: Did you remember to smile? Ask questions at the end? Did you really convey that you’ve been working on your delegation skills, or did you come across as a total control freak?
As you think more and more about each question and answer, there’s a good chance you’ll start dwelling on small mistakes you think you made—like how your voice slightly wavered when you talked about your weaknesses, or that you were too vague about your five-year goals.
In most cases, you can rest assured that these are slip-ups you don’t need to address—because they’re much more obvious to you than to anyone else, and probably didn’t have a significant impact on your interviewer. Plus, they’re mistakes that will look much worse when highlighted to your interviewer the next day than if you just let them go.
Of course, if you’re certain that you completely flubbed an answer, or left out some vital information about yourself, proceed to step two: Figure out if there’s anything you can do.
Step 2: Determine Your Plan of Action
I’ll be honest: Damage control can be risky. Some interviewers will appreciate the extra elaboration on a question you think you botched, but to others, it will simply draw more attention to your mistake.
So, it’s important to pinpoint if the errors from your interview are important enough to bring up again—and if bringing them up is going to help you. To determine if it’s actually worth doing damage control, you should ask yourself a couple questions:
1. Was it a Make-or-Break Mistake?
Will your mistake (or lack of information) make a significant impact on the interviewer’s perception of you?
Maybe you had a great answer planned out about how your past experience would make you a perfect fit for a business analyst position, but you forgot to mention you also have an interest in social media and would love to help expand the company’s online presence. Is this an essential piece of information that may affect the interviewer’s ultimate decision? Probably not.
On the other hand, if you’re interviewing for a position in another state and completely forgot to mention that you’re OK with relocating, your interviewer was probably left questioning. The same would go for a situation where your level of experience is in question, and you failed to mention a relevant internship you completed. That could ultimately affect the interviewer’s decision, and damage control is probably worth the risk.
2. Can You Recover By Sharing Additional (Concise) Info?
One of the key elements of damage control is being able to recover in a concise manner. If you can convey additional information in a few sentences to clear things up—perfect! You’re good to go. If your explanation would require pages of writing or a lengthy phone call, your chances of success fall dramatically. Hiring managers don’t have time to read a two-page essay, especially after they just set aside time in their day to speak with you in person.
Also, if your recovery sounds mostly like an apology, rather than providing concrete new information (“I know I didn’t smile as much as I should have, I was nervous—but I really enjoyed meeting you!” or “I can’t believe I messed up the multiplication on that problem!”)—just skip it. If you aren’t giving your interviewer new information about you as a candidate, addressing the mistake isn’t likely to help you.
If, after considering these questions, you determine you have a short—but absolutely essential—piece of information to share, move on to your plan of action.
Step 3: Fix It Gracefully
The smoothest way to approach an interview blunder is a short comment (not an apology) in your thank you note. Your follow-up email should only be a paragraph or two, so you don’t have much room to explain yourself. That’s why, as we determined above, that you should bring up only the most influential and important mistakes and omissions.
After you thank your interviewer for her time, transition into your additional information: “Since we were talking about my social media experience, I should also mention that as part of my internship at Smith Media, I wrote weekly blog posts and initiated a campaign to boost the company’s Facebook followers to over 3,000. This experience, along with the rest of my background, would really allow me to shine as your new Social Media Specialist.”
This casual note explains further details that you forgot to mention—but doesn’t outwardly admit to a mistake, as it would if you started with, “I’m so sorry, but I completely forgot to mention one of my internships!”
Another good option is to recruit your references to help you recover. As soon as you leave the interview, contact your references and give them an update. They should already be familiar with the position that you’re applying for, so you can simply encourage them to mention specific information. For example, if you think you didn’t emphasize your customer service experience enough, ask your former boss to point out specific examples of when you went above and beyond to make a client happy.
Step 4: Learn From It
The most valuable damage control you can perform is to learn from your blunder and prepare well for your next interview.
What was the core cause of your mistake? Did you get nervous and fumble over your answers? Consider enlisting a friend or career counselor to conduct a few practice interviews with you. The more comfortable you become answering interview questions, the less nervous you’ll be when you’re in the real thing.
Maybe you just forgot to mention relevant experience or bring up a certain point that you wanted to bring up. These signs point to a lack of preparation, so before you head into the interview, try writing out a few bullet points of accomplishments and other specific points you want to address. Keep these tucked in your notepad, so that before that final handshake, you can glance down and make sure you covered absolutely everything.
I know—messing up an interview sucks. But before you start explaining yourself, realize it’s probably not as bad as you think. And, despite the blunders, if you’re the right fit for the position, the hiring manager will know.Photo of upset woman courtesy of Shutterstock.
About The Author
After beginning a career in management, Katie realized she wasn’t doing what she loved and determined it was time for a major career transition. Now, as a staff writer/editor for The Muse and a content marketing writer for a healthcare IT company, she gets to do what she loves every day—write and edit content ranging from demand generation campaigns to career advice. Her career and management content has been published on Forbes, Mashable, Business Insider, Inc., and Newsweek. Find her on Twitter @kgwolfie.