True, it is not always possible to recover from a really big blunder. Some things are definitely not recoverable (bad-mouthing a previous employer, answering your cell phone during the interview, dressing very inappropriately, etc.).
But, often recovery is possible for two reasons:
1.) You might not have been as bad as you thought you were, and/or
2.) No one else was better.
So, don’t count yourself out of contention unless you have been told that you aren’t being considered. Do your usual follow up as though everything was fine (because it might be).
5 Steps to Recovery
Because it may take a while to discover whether or not this particular situation really is doomed, do these 5 things:
1.) Launch damage control.
If you haven’t sent your thank you messages yet, send your thank you, as usual, and, if possible, use it to launch your recovery. If you didn’t answer a question well, answer it better in your thank you. If whatever mistake you made is fixable, try to fix it with the thank you. If you forgot to hand them your list of references, send it along with the thank you. If you call Mr. Smith by the wrong name, be sure to use his correct name in the thank you.
Don’t reference the mistake (“Sorry I might have come across as socially inept when I called you Mr. Brown rather than Mr. Smith…”), but do try to correct what ever was wrong. This requires finesse, but it can be done.
If you’ve already done your thank you but didn’t use it for damage control, try a follow up message which attempts damage control. Simply correct the situation (still without admitting any specific mistake). ”As we discussed, Mr. Smith, forecasting has become more scientific. When I saw this interesting article about forecasting, I thought you might find it useful…”
2.) Don’t beat yourself up about what happened.
Being down on yourself won’t really help your job search. It’s over. You did what you could to recover the situation, and you need to move on. Your damage control may, or may not, have worked. Time to put the situation behind you so you can be confident going to your next interview.
3.) Analyze what happened.
Think about what went wrong, and see if you can figure out why it happened. Were you too tired? Were you distracted by something else going on? Were you not well-enough prepared? Was it a group interview and too many questions were being asked at the same time?
Did something or someone surprise you? If so, why and how?
4.) Develop a strategy for handling this kind of situation the next time you run into it.
What could you have done differently? How can you do better next time? Think about it. Ask friends. Maybe even do some research.
For example, if you didn’t answer a question well, write down the question. Perhaps do some research on what the answer should have been.
Then, write down how you think you should answer that question the next time it is asked, and read your answer out loud. Say it a few times, too, so you feel comfortable speaking the words without reading them. Have a family member, close friend, or career counselor ask you the question and give you feedback on how well you answered.
Or, perhaps you interviewed with a new kind of employer, a different industry or larger (or smaller) than your previous employers. Things can be quite different for the same profession or job function in different industries. And a large employer often does things quite differently than a small employer. So do some research into what the differences are and how the “other side” (the new industry or differently-sized employer) works – a good reason for a few “informational interviews.”
5.) Keep looking for a job.
Unless you’ve recently won the lottery, you can’t afford to let this stop your job search. So keep looking for a job. The best news is that, for most of us, interviews will be a part of our lives for many years. So, the better we become at interviews, the easier our subsequent job searches will be.
“To err is human” is a very old, very true statement (Alexander Pope, 1688 – 1744). So, welcome to the human race. Try to look on the bright side – you now have more experience with interviewing, and practice does make perfect or, at least, better. If you follow the 4-step recovery process, above, I bet you don’t make this mistake again.
© Copyright, 2012, Susan P. Joyce. All rights reserved.
About the author…
Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. In 1998, her company, NETability, Inc. purchased Job-Hunt.org, and Susan has been editor and publisher of Job-Hunt since then. Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on Google+.