Sometimes in Interview World, things go wrong, sometimes really really wrong. The electricity, and therefore your landline, goes out just before your screening interview. You get stuck in traffic and become hopelessly late. You break a heel. You go to the rest room and a broken faucet causes water to splash your silk blouse.
Can you recover? That is the question of the day, and the answer is:
Maybe; it depends.
These are accidents and disasters taken from Real Life Stories, but not my own experiences.
You drive to an interview location, park as close as you can to the location, and as you walk toward the door in your stilettos, the clouds open and the torrential rains come. You are now soaked to the skin.
What went wrong here? You were not prepared, with 1.) adequate rain gear, including at least umbrella and raincoat or slicker, 2.) shoes you can run or at least walk faster in, and 3. ) you apparently ignored the black cloud on the horizon. What can you do now? Here we go:
Assuming there is a receptionist, ask him or her to direct you to the nearest rest room. If you are male and wearing a suit, remove the jacket, shake it out, and don’t put it back on. If you are female and you are wearing a suit jacket, remove it and similarly, shake it out and then make a decision about putting it on. What you have on underneath it should guide you. Here’s a good day to have chosen the blouse over the cami.
Dry your face (hopefully this is not a paperless restroom) and comb your hair. Towel dry it if you can, don’t worry if you can’t. If you do encounter an automatic dryer (Yay!), give everything you can a once over.
Then smile and step back out to the reception area. If your interviewer comments, smile and shake your head in wonder. Then move on.
Enroute to the interview, your car breaks down.
Using the cell phone we know you have with you, you call the interviewer or organization’s central number (you would not fail to collect those in advance, right?) and cancel the interview. You ask for the chance to reschedule, and indicate you will call after you have managed your immediate problem.
Unless you are cool as ice, do not try to manage your car problem and interview in the same day. Do not burden your prospective employer with detailed stories of switching cars with your roommate, calling taxis, and the like. In fact, the look on your face while dealing with such problems isn’t nice to look at, and your attitude takes a beating when a car breaks down.
Word to the wise: maintain the car meticulously, fixing problems before they become emergencies.
You broke a heel enroute to the interview.
Switch to whatever extra shoes you have in the car, even if they are your running shoes. But let this be a lesson if they are your running shoes, place one pair of black flats in your car and leave them there.
If you have no shoes in the car, and you have time, buy a pair at the nearest mall.
If you have not entered the interview location yet, and you are not the kind of brave soul and blithe spirit for whom this is a chance to show your composure under stress, consider rescheduling the interview (from your cell phone, a distance away from the building) due to a personal emergency. Depending on who you are, this may be less risky for you and your objectives than trying to limp through the interview, so to speak.
You show up at the wrong location.
Call and tell the interviewer you will be late, and tell the interviewer why. You need to ensure that the interview time is still available for you, or ask if you can reschedule if the time is not available. If you are planning to go to the correct location, be sure you have correct and detailed directions, or a map.
If the place where you are and the place you should be are great distances apart, ponder for a moment how this happened, and what should happen now. Usually companies provide directions and emails and the like, and you should have those with you, in digital or paper form. Your error may not be your error, but you should always be understanding and offer to be flexible.
I once flew to New York for an interview, spent the night in a hotel, and checked in at the Company the next day, promptly. It turned out that my interviewer thought it was a phone interview. (I was working for a division of the Company and the interviewer was in the headquarters.) My invitation to interview specified the time, place, and names of all of those I was scheduled to meet. I was directed to make my own travel arrangements. . . .I knew where I was supposed to be. All you can do is be gracious, understanding. and cooperative.
A Fire Alarm goes off in the building where you are interviewing, and the interviewer doesn’t prepare to leave, though you see everyone else heading for the doors. She tells you it’s probably just a drill or malfunctioning alarm.
I’d leave. I’d apologize and tell her that in your tribe, alarms mean business, and you don’t want to risk your life for a great job. I’d smile and say, “Oh c’mon, we can talk outside.” This is actually a good time to show a little leadership; you never know.
If you get up to leave, and she doesn’t, ask her where you are supposed to go, and if it turns out to be a drill or false alarm, if you should return to this same office.
Emergencies involving light and sound are real, in my book.
Your interviewer appears to be drunk and is slurring his words, which don’t exactly hang together or appear to be relevant. He has stopped making any sense at all.
Excuse yourself and ask either the receptionist or the nearest responsible-looking person to return to the interviewer’s office with you, explaining that the interviewer is apparently quite ill. Explain the symptoms, without making any assumptions about the reasons. then excuse yourself, indicating that you will call later or the following day. Wild, I know, but it happened.
Call later or the following day, and ask to speak with the interviewer’s boss. Ask how he is dong, and explain who you are and why you were there, if necessary. Do not ask about the job. Sometimes you just can’t.
You are in the middle of an interview, when the interviewer excuses herself without providing a reason. She doesn’t return. A half hour passes, and then forty minutes. No one stops by to thank you for your patience.
Okay, this one did happen to me, a very long time ago. Apparently, this particular tribe rarely told the boss they were interviewing anyone for any job for fear of setting off a chain of risky conversations about whether the position was needed. So my interviewer left to attend what she thought was a quick stand-up meeting, which turned into a full-blown group sit-down.
At about the forty minute mark I went to the receptionist to ask about the health of my late interviewer. The (long suffering, I am sure) receptionist took the opportunity to get even with someone for a perceived or deliberately inflicted slight; I could see the glee as she paged the interviewer. Who stormed into the room, glaring at the receptionist. And at me.
I made my apologies: “I’m so sorry, I must go; wish I had more time today, but I have a commitment.” (. . . to avoiding crazy places. You all seem to be anything but my tribe. I plan to use the rest of the day to celebrate my liberation from your office.)
The most important thing to remember, though is that crazy, wrong-headed, or careless, we are all human, and stuff just happens. Sometimes it happens for a reason. Sometimes it happens because we didn’t prevent it.
I am one of those people who simply has to think about and plan for what could go wrong, whatever the occasion. In my car, I have rain gear and towels, the usual parking meter change, maps, flip-flops, and running shoes. I have, in my handbag, at this very moment, in addition to spendables and business cards, an umbrella, pair of fold-up black flats, smartphone with gps and traffic apps, nutrition bar and bottle of water, extra spectacles, teeny tiny makeup samples, writing implements and post-its. And Advil. Just in case of an emergency.