Each year I do a round 700 hours of coaching with various clients for job interviews. Clients often ask for advice on what to do if they make a mistake in a job interview? What should you do if you make an error or stuff up? There’s quite a few posts about what you should do after a job interview if you realize you have made an error. But not so many about what you can do to effectively recover from a mistake in a job interview.
Some quick tips for dealing with making a mistake in a job interview include: taking your research notes about the job with you to the interview to help you, apologizing as soon as possible if you make a mistake, and asking for clarification or taking a sip of water if you are having a mental block. A half answer is better than no answer at all. And always leave the interview on a positive by thanking them for their time, even if you feel you have performed poorly.
Let’s go through some of the various scenarios now in more detail.
How to Prevent Yourself From Making a Mistake in a Job Interview
Before I discuss how you can recover from your mistake in an interview. Let’s talk about how you can prepare yourself effectively so that you minimize the risk of an error.
The most obvious thing that you can do to prevent yourself from making a mistake is to give yourself plenty of time to research the role and practice possible interview questions.
Here’s a list of questions you should ask yourself about the job you are applying for.
But what if you don’t have a lot of time to prepare and practice?
My favourite strategy for getting ready for a job interview will also help you to be better prepared for questions. With the bonus of something handy to take with you into the interview.
I call this process job alignment.
Put simply draw up a table with 3 columns in it.
Column A will be the selection criteria. Put each criterion in a single row by itself. And if there are other topics in the job description that you think might be relevant to the interview questions, for example organizational values. Put these in a row as well.
Column B is your evidence. You have probably already considered this in your application. But put it down again and go over it thoroughly. Do you really meet the criteria? Can you explain this effectively. Does your evidence include examples of achievements and outcomes?
Your final Column is Column C. And it is here that you want to come up with at least one good example that shows how you meet each criteria.
With this job now done you are armed with the information, you need to succeed in your interview.
What to do if You Make An Error in Your Answer?
Okay you have made it to your job interview and you have prepared your best. But sometimes things just happen.
So what should you do if you realize that you have made an awful mistake in answer to one of the questions posed?
Recover Quickly if You Can
If you realize mid-answer that you have made a fundamental error. For example, maybe you got the dosing of a medication wrong. It’s best to apologize straight away and correct your mistake. Then move on.
Whilst making mistakes in a medical job interview can be particularly fatal. Correcting yourself may actually be seen as a good sign. After all, errors do occur in medicine and if you can recognise one in yourself then you are showing a good trait.
Don’t Disrupt the Interview Flow to Correct a Mistake in a Job Interview
One thing you don’t want to do is disrupt the interview flow in order to correct a mistake.
If you do realize halfway through the interview that you made a mistake in question 1. Make a note. Write yourself a quick bullet point if you can.
Then when it comes time for the wrap up of the interview. Take the opportunity to add a correction.
Don’t make a big deal of your error. Just quickly point out that you want to correct something you said earlier and state your correction.
What to do if You Have a Mental Block?
We have all been there. You get asked a question that you know that you have prepared really well for. But your mind turns to fog. Perhaps you struggle to remember a term or a diagnosis or a name of someone important that you want to mention.
The first thing to do is to avoid panicking. Ask the interviewer if they can repeat the question. You can use this time to think. There is also nothing wrong with asking for a few moments or taking a sip of water. If you are still struggling after all this, then you should at least deliver a half answer as this is better than no answer at all.
Again. Some additional information may come to you by the time the interview comes to a close. If so request to add some clarification to your interview.
What to Do if You Are Asked an Odd or Confusing Question?
If you have done your preparation effectively you should be able to anticipate the intent of each interview question. But occasionally interview panels design weird questions for which the reasons are not immediately obvious. Sometimes these questions are designed to determine whether you have the skills or attitudes required to complete the job you are applying for.
If you are confused by a question or the angle in which you should respond, always try to bring your answer back to demonstrating a skill or quality you possess that shows you are able to do the job. This is a great time to consult your job alignment table for some inspiration.
Again. You may want to ask the interviewer for clarification or to put the question in a different way.
Make an Apology. But Don’t Over Do It
If you make a mistake during an interview, a simple apology can quickly remedy the situation. But don’t let this linger. Try to turn the interview back to a positive.
Focus on What You Bring to the Role
Once you have apologized focusing on your professionalism and qualifications can help save your application. For example, if you make an error discussing a clinical scenario. Try to point out how you are very systematic in your clinical practice and all the things you have learnt to do to remove errors from your practice.
Thank Them for Their Time
Even if you feel you have made a really bad mistake in a job interview be sure to end the conversation on a positive. The best way to do this is by telling them how thankful you are for their time and attention. This could potentially balance out your mistakes.
Use This Experience to be Fully Prepared for the Next Interview.
If you make a mistake in a job interview. Learn from your mistakes to present the best version of yourself in the next interview. For example, if you realize you were thrown by a number of the questions asked during your interview, write as many of them down as you can remember. And practice these questions for next time.
Forgive Yourself for Making a Mistake
Try to use your mistakes as a learning experience to make future interview performances more impressive. And most importantly, forgive yourself, because mistakes do happen.
If you are wanting help with your next job interview you should check out our job interview skills course.