How to Turn Candidate Bloopers and Blunders into Big Wins

At its height in the early ’90s, America’s Funniest Home Videos received more than 2,000 VHS tapes a day. Our country fell in love with these real people making real blunders, mistakes, and bad decisions. It was exciting to know that you could turn one of your most embarrassing moments from tragedy into triumph just by catching it on film. Accidentally knock the mayor into a lake during a civic awards ceremony or fall off the roof while pretending to be Santa for the kids, and you and the whole family could win a trip to Hollywood, a chance to wave to viewers across the land, and a $10,000 check.

As staffing and recruiting professionals, the bloopers our applicants and candidates make don’t seem nearly as funny as the candid capers and outrageous antics on America’s Funniest Home Videos. We risk losing a $10,000 placement fee or thousands of dollars in gross margins. According to a survey by Robert Half International, 32% of 1,400 hiring executives polled say job seekers stumble most often in interviews. Twenty-one percent said job applicants make the most mistakes on resumes, another 9% said cover letters are a major source of errors, and 9% cited reference checks as candidates’ greatest downfall.

Is it possible to turn your candidates’ bloopers into big wins? Consider these real-life job interview gaffes:

After meeting the interviewer and exchanging introductions, the receptionist handed me a note reading, ‘Your trousers are undone.’

It was cold outside and warm during the interview. My nose started running, then one of the interviewers said something which made me laugh. I blew an enormous nose-bubble, which burst onto my glasses!

I had to stay overnight at a hotel to get to an early morning interview, so I packed my overnight things in my briefcase. After the interview, when I got up to leave, my briefcase opened and spilled everything – yesterday’s boxers and socks, toiletries, and my half-eaten lunch – all over the floor.
Does it surprise you to learn that all three candidates were offered jobs after these very interviews? Often job seekers (and we as the professionals who advise them) lose sight of the fact that there are ways to salvage bloopers during an interview or application process. We all make mistakes; it is how we respond or react to them that ultimately decides our fate.

Employers aren’t looking to hire flawless individuals; they want to hire people who know how to remedy mistakes and recover quickly from missteps or embarrassing situations. No need to get those cameras rolling and count on Bob Saget to make your next $10,000; just remember to use these Blooper-Fixing Tips:

Prevention Eliminates Tension
The best way to fix placement process mishaps is to avoid them in the first place. Ensure that your candidates are as prepared as possible to minimize the need to back pedal. Do they know the company and its culture, do they understand the job, and are they ready for the style of interview the client will use (behavioral interview, stress interview, group interview, etc.)? Make a list of common interview foibles (i.e., running late, getting stumped by a question, interviewer notices a typo). Then follow each scenario with your recommendations for overcoming these sometimes inevitable, but always awkward moments. Email this list to your candidates to review a few days before an interview.

Teach Candidates to “Fess Up or Hush Up If You Can’t Speak Up”
Motivational speaker Craig Harrison tells a great story about one of his own embarrassing interviewing moments:

In an interview with a publisher of outdoor books and guides, I was asked if I could read maps. I said yes, upon which the interviewer unfolded a map unlike any I’d ever seen. Buttes, bluffs and trails abounded. He pointed to a winding river and asked me which way it was flowing. Knowing I had a 50-50 chance of being right, I mustered the confidence to voice my guess with bluster. “Correct!” the interviewer said. But then he asked, “How did you determine which way the river was flowing?” Stunned, I stammered a feeble answer that revealed my complete ignorance of map reading.

Job applicants don’t want to appear uninformed, so they’ll often guess at answers (like Craig) or ramble in response to questions that trip them up. Remind your candidates that it’s better to say something like, “I don’t know, but I’d be happy to learn” or “I’m really not sure; but I could research that and get back to you” than to fake their way through a tough question. Teach them that it is not only acceptable, but often effective to politely ask for clarification on a question they don’t understand. Asking for clarification can make a molehill out of a mountain.

People Remember Follow-Up Longer Than Falling Down
Prat falls may be a staple on blooper shows, but they are never the most memorable laughs. Likewise, one stumble in an interview doesn’t mean that a candidate should give up on the entire process. There’s no stigma attached to coming back with information after the interview as long as it is presented appropriately. Explain to candidates how writing a good thank you letter can take the edge off of a faux pas by demonstrating professional manners and reiterating interest. A client’s initial lukewarm reaction to a candidate can transform into one of enthusiasm and appreciation when supplemental information, clarification, or a show of strong interest is provided.

Mistakes during the interview process are like mistakes in business. They should be addressed swiftly and succinctly — not dwelled on or over-dramatized. Encourage candidates to maintain a professional posture following an interview mistake, no matter how flagrant it was. Revisiting any error is a judgment call that depends on the nature of the blunder. Contacting a client regarding an interview misstep might only make it stand out in the client’s mind. Always determine whether a blooper deserves further attention or if it’s wiser not to mention it again before taking action.

Learn From the Bloopers
We can all hope that the people featured on America’s Funniest Home Videos learned that it is unwise to wave to the camera while waterskiing or teach your children how to play baseball in front of the living room picture window, and that they did not repeat these mistakes again. Make a post-interview analysis part of your regular routine. Ask candidates what they thought went well, and what didn’t. Find out what they plan to handle differently in the next interview. Having candidates reflect and examine any missteps will prevent them from committing the same errors again in other interviews (and teach you a lot about your candidates and clients, too!).

By its very nature, the placement process is challenging, awkward, and stressful. Mistakes will happen. Gaffes will occur. Assure candidates that if they come prepared, remain confident, and stay positive and true to themselves, they are more likely to succeed. Above all, remember that it is important to maintain perspective and a sense of humor when candidate errors do occur. By creating contingency plans for candidates when errors happen and preparing for hiccups in the placement process, that next $10,000 check could be yours!