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Bad Mistakes. I’ve Made a Few. How to Recover from a Mistake in Your Job Interview.

Unless you have been living under a rock for the last 30 years, you are familiar with the Queen song “We are the Champions.” Watch any major sporting event, and you will likely hear Freddie Mercury saluting the winners. But I am focused on a specific set of lyrics from the song: “And bad mistakes I've made a few; I've had my share of sand kicked in my face; But I've come through.”

When I reflect on my career, I hear that song. I made a lot of mistakes. I was supposed to be an architect but ended up in sales. I got an MBA in Finance but didn’t make the grade as a financial analyst. I retired, started my own business, and have made a litany of marketing mistakes (hopefully this blog is not one of them). And yet, despite these mistakes, I achieved a measure of success. I just kept pushing forward and tried to learn from each error.

But what if you make a mistake in the heat of a job interview? How do you recover, keep your job search on track, and the offer letter in reach?

In truth, I don't like this question. No one is perfect. I have done over 3,000 interviews in my career and hired a lot of candidates. But none of those people were perfect, and you can put me at the top of the list. Mike Trout plays major league baseball and is one of the greatest payers in the game. He makes $33M per year and currently has a .298 batting percentage. He only hits the ball a third of the time, and he will be in the Hall of Fame one day! Perfection is a mirage. Something you strive for but will never actually reach. Try to be perfect in your interview, and you will end up sounding like a robot. Despite recent advances in artificial intelligence, no one wants to hire a robot.

First, let me put some boundaries around the definition of a “mistake” in an interview. My focus is primarily on errors of omission or delivery. For example, sharing the wrong version of a STAR story in response to a behavioral question. Spending too much time focused on work experience not relevant to the target position. Or neglecting to reinforce that you are open to relocation or business travel. Mistakes related to interview performance such as nerves, dress, or speech pattern are not errors. Those challenges are more closely aligned with interview preparation and best addressed through more focused training.

If you are in the interview and know that you made a mistake, whatever you do, don't stop mid-stream and call attention to the error. Keep going. Move forward and don’t miss a beat. Before the interview ends, you will most certainly find an opportunity to address the issue. When presented with an opening or a pause in the conversation, say, "If I could, I want to clarify and expand on my answer to one of your earlier questions." Then dive in with what you believe is the correct answer.

If you are doing the mental debrief, post-interview, and believe you made a mistake in the actual interview, first ask yourself this question. Was it a do or die error? If you were on the other side of the table as the interviewer, would you reject the candidate (you) because of this error? If you answer “No,” then do nothing. If, on the other hand, you answer “Yes” and believe the mistake will end your candidacy, you still have a path to redemption. You always need to send a short thank you note as a follow-up to an interview. Add a short paragraph to the note explaining that you wanted to expand on a topic from the interview and provide your better answer.

Most importantly, you want to learn from the mistake. When you get back to your home or office, turn on your webcam and ask yourself the question again. Record your answer multiple times until you get comfortable with the right delivery. There is no such thing as a bad interview. No matter the outcome, just like a baseball player, you are still getting served up with batting practice. Always view the interview as an opportunity to answer the questions and improve your interviewing skills.

And never forget about Freddie Mercury and Queen. Brush the sand out of your face and push forward. Your job search is like a sales funnel. You are not going to win every deal or every interview. So, don't sweat the small stuff. Not everyone is going to buy your product. Learn from it and go crush the next interview.

If you like getting your job search advice served up with an authentic voice, a dose of humility, and some popular culture, please subscribe to my AdvantEdge blog.

Dan Troup is the Managing Director of the AdvantEdge Careers coaching service. If you are interested in learning more about how a job search expert and certified career coach can assist you, please contact AdvantEdge Careers for a free initial consultation.


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