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Advice / Job Search / Interviewing

The Worst Interview-Day Disasters (and How to Avoid Them)

By properly preparing for an interview—doing your research, waking up early, dressing appropriately—you should walk out your door the morning of feeling unstoppable. But what happens when you hit a snag en route?

A worst-case scenario like getting stuck in traffic or spilling coffee on your suit may threaten to throw you off your game entirely. But instead of panicking, remember these tools and tips to remedy any pre-interview nightmares. No matter what you encounter, you can arrive feeling like the problem-solver you are.

Nightmare #1: You’re No Longer Looking the Part

Fix It: A Great Bag With an Emergency Kit 

Mary Poppins had her carpet bag, and you should have a go-to interview purse. It should be large enough to hold your everyday essentials and interview musts, such as extra resumes, as well as a special emergency kit stocked with what you might need in an unexpected situation.

Include Band-aids (for blisters), blotting sheets (for makeup-threatening sweat), a stain stick (for spilled coffee), tissues (for allergies), mini hairspray (for un-forecasted, frizz-inducing rain), tampons (no explanation needed), and the ultimate must-have, breath mints (bad breath is a confidence killer). To avoid having to carry a too-large bag, pack travel-size emergency kit items, pare down what you otherwise carry everyday, and above all, make sure you feel good and can stand up straight carrying your bag!

True story: One of my first go-to work bags was a large black Nine West the sales associate informed me could double as a diaper bag. But it was chic and it was so helpful having separate pockets for keys, my phone, a small notebook, and you guessed it—all of my emergency kit items, which came in handy more than once.

Nightmare #2: You’re Running Late

Fix It: Bluetooth and Cab Fare

Being late to an interview is not good—it’s better to be 45 minutes early to the location, run to Starbucks, and risk coffee spillage (good thing you packed your stain stick). But of course, even if you’ve planned out the route and gassed up your car or loaded up your Metrocard, traffic jams and subway delays do happen.

What now? If you’re in your car, use your hands-free to calmly call and ask the administrative assistant if she has suggestions for an alternate route. She knows the area around the office best, and it’s a way to hint that you may be unavoidably late without calling and complaining about traffic. Serious subway delays? Get off at the next stop and hoof it or catch a cab.

And if you still arrive late? Apologize sincerely—once—and put your game face back on. Don’t keep bringing it up.

Nightmare #3: You’re Sick

Fix-It: Forethought and DayQuil

This is the real nightmare scenario. Why? Because “I’m coming down with something” can be code for “I’m hungover or unprepared,” and you don’t want calling in sick to be your first impression.

The best way to handle this situation is to avoid it. Feel like you’re getting sick on Wednesday with that flu going around the office? Don’t chance your Friday interview—call and ask to push it to the following Monday.

And if you wake up the day of and feel a little scratchy? Ask yourself what you would do if you had a major presentation: Would you be able to load up on DayQuil, push yourself, do a good job, then go home and get into bed; or do you know you’d be foggy and coughy? If you won’t be able to make a good impression, call and apologize as early as possible. Try to schedule an alternative time while you’re on the phone, and make sure it’s more than a day away so you won’t have to call if off again.

Pitfalls happen (yes, even the morning of interviews) but the ability to move on and do your best despite them will show that you can roll with the punches. Be prepared—and that includes being ready for the worst—and you’ll be able to handle anything that comes your way.

Photo of woman running late courtesy of Shutterstock.