How to Recover When the Interview
is Going South


The sinking feeling in your stomach is the first sign.

Your mouth goes dry. The blood rushes from your head. The interviewer raises an eyebrow and scribbles something down on your resume. The interview is going south.

At this point, you’re considering leaping over the desk, jump-kicking through the window, and rappelling down the side of the building to escape.

You have another option: to try to salvage this interview. When an interview goes downhill, it usually begins with a weak answer to a question, a failed attempt at humor, or some other gaffe. But no matter how you started going in the wrong direction, you can recover.

Tap on the Brakes. Let’s face it, almost everyone’s immediate reaction to a mistake, is to start filling the room with words. Backpedaling, stammering, and ultimately slewing together words to somehow make sense of what you just said.

But don’t lose your cool. Pause. Take a breath and think.

Hiring managers are people, too, and most likely understand the stress of an interview. Which is why they won’t mind if you take a moment to collect your thoughts. Many people enter the interview as if they are facing a grand jury and must defend themselves. Get rid of that mindset, and remember that they brought you in to interview. Sure, they will want to grill you a little bit and see how you act under pressure, but ultimately they want you to be the person who will help their organization. And if you intend to show them you can react to pressure, making a smooth recovery is important.

Address the Error and Move On. Did your answer to a question leave a confused expression on the interviewer’s face? Don’t panic. Feel free to pause and say, “I didn’t phrase that exactly the way I wanted it to… what I meant to say is…” And that’s it! Don’t dwell on the error, or continue to try and justify and explain it. If you focus on the error, you can very well expect the interviewer to do the same. You need to get back in the flow quickly by focusing on the positives – and the value you offer.

Ask a Question. Still feel like the air has yet to clear? Here is a great way to get a chance to regroup. Ask them a question. Inquire about projects they are involved in, their day to day contributions or achievements. People genuinely love to talk about themselves, and this will help you in at least three ways:

  1. It will allow you time to regroup mentally, and do nothing but listen.
  2. It shows you are interested in what they are up to, and you are curious about how you might be able to help (find a chance to relate their stories with your own – sell your PAR–problem, action, results- stories).
  3. When people get to talk about themselves, they feel proud. This can help change the vibe in the room and make the interviewer feel more upbeat.

About the Author

Greg Olsten is Ivy Exec's Sr. Content Manager, producing Online Classes, and Executive Intelligence articles.