Damage Control: What To Do When Your Job Interview Goes Awry
Last week, I was interviewing for a sales position with a company looking to expand into my locale. I’d made it to the last round, beating out over 100 other candidates for a coveted spot in the “final four.” The interviewers wanted me to role play a pitch with them, so I gave them what they asked for–I was energetic, persuasive, charming…I was in the zone. “I am nailing this,” I thought. “Wow…this is going really well.” Afterward, I began asking my own questions and taking notes in my padfolio, when I looked down and realized that a button had come undone on my shirt and I was exposing my bra to all four interviewers.
Ah, yes. The job interview gone wrong. We’ve all had it, albeit not all of those “oops” moments are wardrobe mishaps (that I seem to keep experiencing, but I digress.) How do you recover or bring it back around? Here are a few tips to keep your head in the game and your resume in the running, despite an unfortunate turn of events:
- Whatever you do, don’t panic. When I looked down to see my bra showing from my button-down, I had a split second to figure out what to do without being a distraction. There was, of course, no way to button back up without being obvious to everyone in the room. So, I cleared my throat and soldiered on with my questions, being careful to not falter in my verbiage or inflection. Maybe you didn’t have a wardrobe malfunction, but you got asked a question you know you don’t have a good answer to. Maybe the interviewer unexpectedly discusses their concern about your qualifications. No matter what it is, do not let your anxiety get the best of you. Once you let your emotions control the situation, the game is lost. Act unfazed, as though nothing in the world could bother you, and keep going. You can even look for a way to steer the attention elsewhere, by asking a question or using something they’ve said to shed light on how awesome you would be for this job. Looking good under pressure is a great way to show an employer just how much you will kick ass for them.
- Don’t be afraid to take a moment of pause. Sometimes, you’ve prepared inside and out for the standard interview and they throw a curveball your way. After mentally asking WTF?, take a minute to think about it. Yes, it is important to think on your feet…however, more interviews are ruined by saying the first thing that comes to mind instead of searching for a moment for a better quality answer. A good tip on how to buy time when you’re not sure how to answer a question: repeat the question back to them, then compliment them on the choice of the question. This will give you an extra few seconds to think on it without being silent. Don’t be afraid of a moment of silence, though. Employers will appreciate the fact that you took the time to think of the best quality answer as opposed to throwing crap against the wall and hoping something sticks.
- Know your tells. I know I’m not the only one who turns red when unexpected things happen. I don’t get embarrassed, but if I’m caught with my pants down (figuratively, although I have had a pants mishap in an interview before,) then I heat up and turn bright red–not in my face, though…all over my chest. Also, I am always the sweatiest girl in the room. My nerves don’t show in my voice or in my head or on my face…they show under my arms and on my chest. For this reason, I wear dark colored shirts or blazers to interviews so that you cannot see my sweat glands hard at work. I may also wear turtlenecks to avoid the inevitable, “Are you okay? You look really red and splotchy.” Things may go wrong–know how your body and voice react in these situations so that you can better prepare and dazzle them in other ways instead of distracting them.
- Stop overanalyzing. You may realize toward the end of the interview that things did not go exactly as you planned. Don’t let it stop you from ending strong with a firm handshake and a thank you. Once you walk out of that office, you can tell your bestie all about the crazy interview you just had…and then forget about it. You cannot change anything at this point. It will do nothing but drive you insane if you keep recounting it in your head and thinking, “I should have said this, I should have done this, I can’t believe I said that instead!” It’s in the interviewer’s hands now; all you can do is be patient and move forward with the rest of your life.
Things rarely go the way we plan for them to and it’s difficult to expect the unexpected–how can you prepare for the unimaginable? The important thing is to keep your cool and press on. Employers will often be impressed with someone’s ability to handle themselves under pressure or in unexpected or stressful situations. Remember to keep a smile on your face, make impeccable eye contact, breathe deeply, and for God’s sake…field-test your button-down shirts before wearing them to an interview.