Dealing with interview disasters

If you have watched enough repeats of the TV sitcom, ‘Friends’, you might remember ‘The One With Rachel’s Inadvertent Kiss’. In that episode, Rachel’s interviewer had been signalling that Rachel had pen ink on the side of her mouth, but Rachel took it as an invitation for closer contact. Cue mortification and canned laughter.

The example is not to suggest that you are going to do this in your interviews but it is to point out that things can go wrong; nobody has ever planned to have an interview disaster, but the stories are out there. In fact, sitcoms like Friends do so well because they are easy to relate to and there are plenty of interview horror stories to back that episode up. Other familiar disaster stories include: traffic induced delays, turning up at the wrong venue, stained interview outfits, forgetting important notes and trying to leave through the cupboard door.

The best advice is to try to anticipate any possible problems in advance. You can avoid many potential interview disasters in this way: allow yourself time to get stuck in traffic and check for transport delays so that you can change your route if necessary; get dressed only after you have eaten and cover yourself with a napkin if you really must eat on the go; avoid any drinks with potential to stain until after the interview, pack your bag or folder the night before and run through what you will need to have with you; make a mental note of the door you used to enter the room with and use the same one to exit! Other more deeply rooted problems are avoidable too. Not being able to answer obvious questions about the nature of the company’s work and drawing blanks on the “why have you applied here” could easily be remedied with effective pre-interview research.

However, some disasters are simply impossible to anticipate. For those, it’s a case of thinking calmly and clearly to get out of them with minimal damage. If—despite your best efforts—you really are stuck on transport or cannot make the interview on time, contact the office and explain. If you do try to leave through the cupboard door, make light of it and admit that it was embarrassing. If someone else throws a cup of coffee on you, calmly apologise for your appearance and explain that luck wasn’t with you today. Unexpected hiccups don’t have to end your chances. Plenty of people have been hired after accidental blunders, it’s how you react that will determine your fate. Don’t forget, coping well under pressure or reacting calmly to unexpected developments are themselves skills that many employers look for! At the very least, you won’t be forgotten. And in case weren’t sure, Rachel did get that job… (after another blunder or two of course).

Hélène Tyrell
Applications Adviser
QM Careers & Enterprise Centre

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