We’ve all done it, right? Said something regrettable to a recruiter, perhaps, or driven to the wrong site for an interview? These are just two of the many self-inflicted job search wounds I’ve heard from my clients – or perpetrated myself, unfortunately. Here are more:— Going on a digital holiday – and entirely missing an employer’s repeated attempts to schedule an interview.
— Skyping with an unmistakably risqué poster visible in the background.
— Telling an interview panel that this job is second or third choice behind others that didn’t come through elsewhere.— Using the mirrored glass outside the building to rearrange one’s outfit – without realizing it’s actually the interviewer’s office window. (Sadly, that one was mine.)
— Being dismissed from an employment test for inability to turn on the equipment. (And yes, again, I was this candidate.)
What unites all these stories? For one thing, each of these mistakes was avoidable. And, thank goodness, some of them were also recoverable.
That said, I should report that I did not get the job after having rearranged myself in front of the entire HR team via the one-way window. Nor did I get the bookkeeping job after it became obvious I had never operated a 10-key machine. But some of my clients with unforced errors do get their jobs, or at least advance in the process before being turned down.
Of course, these things will never happen to you. But just in case you were to find yourself in an awkward situation of your own making, here are some ideas for containing the damage.
Try earnest contrition. I’ve often replayed that moment when I stepped into the HR rep’s office only to realize I’d been aggressively tugging on my pantyhose a foot from her desk chair. Instead of internalizing my horror, I wish I’d said, “Oh my gosh, I’m guessing you saw me trying to adjust my outfit on the other side of your window. I guess I’m just a little nervous.” That might not have worked, but at least I could have gotten the incident out of the way so I could concentrate on the rest of the conversation.
Be frank about the mistake. The candidate who’d unfavorably ranked the company where he was interviewing immediately knew he’d messed up. As he described it, the room turned “chilly” and the meeting ended soon after.
Since it was too late to make amends in real time, he explained in a follow-up letter that he hadn’t meant to sound harsh in comparing the company to its competitors. He asked to meet again in order to clarify himself and to further the conversation about working there. He did get that meeting, but not the job offer.
Move past it. Although it’s not strategic for an active job seeker to take an extended communication holiday, nor is it actually a faux pas. Upon realizing he’d missed several calls and emails, this candidate decided to act as if nothing unusual had happened. He emailed the employer to say he’d “been away” and to offer alternate meeting times. Offers haven’t been extended yet, so it’s too early to say whether he’s managed to redeem himself.
Find humor in the situation. Normally I’m pretty quick with humor but everything looms larger when you’re young. I was a teenager when I interviewed for a bookkeeping job at a paint store where the office manager surprised me with a 10-key test.
When I couldn’t find the on-off button, I should have stopped immediately and quipped something – anything – to lighten the mood. Instead, I started with the flop sweat while running my hands over every inch of the machine. I even checked the cord all the way to the wall outlet, enduring her silent stare the whole time.
You probably know this, but it turns out that switch is usually on top of a 10-key machine, not along the sides somewhere. I’ve since laughed a lot about this story – I just wish I’d made her laugh at the time. Of course, if I had, I might be a bookkeeper now, or a paint store manager instead of a career counselor.
Prevent mistakes from happening. For what it’s worth, my unproductive encounter with the adding machine influenced me greatly. I’ve never again interviewed or let a client interview without anticipating the equipment and software that could be required in the position. This analysis, followed by an internet search to locate videos and downloadable manuals is all it takes to avoid making this particular mistake.
Not every error can be so easily prevented but a little foresight coupled with self-restraint should make a big difference – in which case, maybe you won’t need this list of remedies after all.
Amy Lindgren owns Prototype Career Service, a career consulting firm in St. Paul. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 626 Armstrong Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55102.