How to recover when you fumble an interview

You didn’t think it was possible, but you found it — your dream job. According to the description of the position, the role plays to all of your skills and gives you the chance to make a real difference in an industry that matters to you. It will open opportunities for you to learn new things to advance your career. And the salary and benefits don’t look bad, either! Now, your only challenge is making the job yours. Nailing the interview is obviously a key part of landing any new role, but what happens when things don’t go perfectly? Is there room to recover? After an interview fumble, is the dream job still within your reach? According to data from LinkedIn, 55 percent of working professionals admit to making a mistake that affected an interview or their career, so it’s clear that perfection is far from the norm.

LinkedIn career expert Blair Decembrele tells us that it can be tricky to distinguish mistakes that are bound to be “interview killers” from slip-ups that can be more easily forgotten. After all, every interview and interviewer is different, so it’s hard to say once and for all which fumbles are actually recoverable. Still, relationships are everything when on the job search.

“Having a strong professional community built on real relationships will always be helpful when trying to turn things around,” asserts Decembrele.

“Be sure to contact colleagues and friends working at the company when you’re interviewing.”

Before you even set foot in the office for the interview, do everything you can to establish positive vibes with people who already work for the organization. If you don’t have personal friends who work there, do some homework to find out if there are friends of friends who do —or if there might be some other connection you can leverage in the application process. Even without those connections, you can ensure that the existing team has a positive view of you as a candidate with friendly, well-written emails and cover letters that may help tip the scales back in your direction if you mess up come interview time.

Beyond that, your best bet in recovering from an interview fumble is to simply apologize in the moment. If your interviewer corrects a statement you’ve made about the company or if you forget their name (yikes!), it’s best to acknowledge the error ASAP. Per LinkedIn, just over half of working professionals think that apologizing privately and in person is the best way to recover from a fumble, and nearly as many feel that handling it right then is the way to go. If you can’t come up with a good answer to a more challenging question during the interview, you may want to follow up that stumble with an email as well.

“Take an opportunity to thank the interviewer for the excellent question, request some time to consider your answer, and come back with a response later in the day,” Decembrele suggests.

“You can send a more well-considered response with your thank-you note.”

If you’re in the midst of an interview and feel like your nerves are going to get the best of you or make you lose your train of thought, the best way to get things back on track is simply to relax. Yes, we know this is easier said than done, but it’s a great approach if you want your interviewer to forget any weirdness from earlier in the conversation so they can simply be impressed by the brilliant responses that are still to come out of your mouth. Take a deep breath, look at your resume to help you refocus, and forge ahead. It’s okay to jot down a few notes if it helps keep your mind from wandering as well.

“You can write down a one- or two-word prompt for each question as it’s asked, so you can refer back to it should you lose your train of thought,” says Decembrele.

“Or, if you’ve been distracted, acknowledge the distraction, ask the interviewer to repeat the question, and get yourself back on track.”

An interview mistake doesn’t have to mean the end of your journey to nab your dream job — it’s all in how you take charge in handling it.

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