Wednesday 20 August 2014 8:38 pm

Salvaging a bad job interview in three easy steps

Even when you’ve left the building, it’s not necessarily too late.
We've all been there. An interviewer asks a question like, “what do you think makes you a good fit for our company?”, but your mind is completely barren of thought. Days of preparation and practice go up in flames, in a mixture of nerves and awkwardness.  
Of course, with the help of what French philosopher Denis Diderot called “staircase wit”, the perfect answer always comes to mind the second you’ve left the building. But isn’t that too late? And what can be done to fill any gaping silences in the middle of the interview?


According to Miriam Salpeter, a job search and career consultant, hellish moments like this don’t have to be the end of the line – it is possible to save a bad interview. The first priority, she says, is to not panic. Doing so only draws the interviewer’s attention to the fact that you’re on shaky ground, and will make it far harder to impress in later questions. But staying calm after a cataclysmic answer, or in the face of an onslaught of tricky questions, is easier said than done. How to pull it off? 
Salpeter says that giving yourself a few seconds to think about what to say next is absolutely fine – “even if it seems like minutes to you”. But don’t ask for the question to be repeated (it will seem as if you weren’t paying attention, thinks Salpeter); instead, buy some time by asking for clarification. While they’re rephrasing the question, take a deep breath and try to compose yourself. 


Now you’ve steeled your nerves, it’s time to think about the rescue operation – what can you salvage from the interview so far? Lindsey Harper Mac, writing for the Daily Muse, says that one technique is to return to a previous answer. Say something like: “actually, can I repeat that in a different way?” She thinks that the interviewer is more likely to be impressed by a smooth recovery than put off by the original mistake.
Another option is to take a different angle on the topic that originally tripped you up. There’s likely to be at least one part of the question that you can spin into a viable answer. “Watch any politician or political operative interviewed on television for examples of this technique,” says Salpeter. 


But even if, like Diderot, the best lines only come to mind once you’re on the train home, this isn’t necessarily too late. Paul Freiberger, author of When Can you Start? Ace the Interview and Get Hired, says that it’s worth tacking on some extra information to a thank you email in some situations. But this depends on the scale of your original error. Did you leave out specific evidence of a key skill during the interview that could ruin your chances of getting the job? In this case, it’s definitely worth following up. But for smaller lapses, like a nonsensical answer on a minor topic, there’s a risk of calling undue attention to something that may have barely registered. You’re not offering an apology, so keep any follow-up focused on the overlooked information, rather than dwelling on mistakes.

Swot up and avoid gaffes

Friends and family are likely to get bored of helping you prepare for an interview at some stage, but the Job Interview app is a decent substitute. It allows you to access a huge range of preparation videos, including practice questions and model answers. But only a few come for free as part of the app – extra video packages and flip cards start at 69p. The content covers a variety of difficulty levels, and is tailored to specific industries, including accounting, finance, sales and engineering.