Why You Should Own Your Mistakes in the Interview

If we’ve learned anything from politicians over the last century, it’s not so much the mistake or the crime that does them in as it is the cover up and the scandal that follows.  As a job seeker, the goal in an interview is to appear like the perfect, polished candidate, but the truth is, no one is perfect and we’re all human, and yes, we all have a few career skeletons in our closet.

The best way to deal with career missteps, interview mistakes, etiquette blunders, or personal flaws in the job interview is to face them head on.

Don’t get caught off guard in the interview.  If you have a reputation that precedes you, perhaps you were a little tipsy at an industry party the interviewer attended or you were fired from your last job, you need to be prepared to face your past.  Take time during your interview preparation to walk through how you are going to address the interviewer as wells as questions around your past performance or behavior.

Acknowledging your faults and showing how you’ve learned from them or grown up in your career can go a long way to restore confidence in your abilities.  As well, showing that you are confident in who you are and that you don’t dwell on the past can impress a hiring manager to the point of overlooking some shortcomings.

And, always remember that the truth will come out eventually, so hiding from faults or errors in judgment from your past will come back to haunt you if you don’t deal with them.  It’s better to be open about them and positive about a path forward than for a hiring manager to find out you lied or covered something up.

Breathe.  If you know you’re going to get asked a question about something that makes you uncomfortable, aside from preparing for it, make sure your remember to breathe and loosen up your nerves before the interview.  You can’t be prepared for the unknown so don’t let your anxiety overtake you.  Breathe and let it go.

All you can do is show the best side of you possible and the interviewer can take it or leave it, the same way an audience can take or leave a politician in a debate.  If you go in already defeated, that’s how you will come out of the interview.  And if you make a mistake or blunder in the middle of the interview, recognize it and find a way to overcome it.

You won’t know what you did right or wrong during the interview, in most cases,  unless you get the job.  And unlike our televised political debates, you won’t get real-time feedback, so focus on what you can control, listen to what you are saying and how you sound, and don’t sweat the small stuff.

If you say or do something inappropriate or ask an off-topic question in the interview, take a breath, apologize sincerely to the interviewer, let them know it was just nerves (or some other appropriate excuse) and convey the new message that you want them to hear.

Don’t try to cover up a blunder or pretend it didn’t happen—this will only leave the slip-up on yours and the interviewer’s minds and create an awkwardness that can have a lasting impression.  Breathe, laugh it off inside, deal with it, and move on in a positive manner.

Remember why you’re there.  An interview should always be professional, even if you’re meeting with a company that has a laid back culture.  They style of the interview can be casual, but you should remain professional in what you say and do and how you appear.

One of the biggest mistakes in an interview is a candidate with a bad attitude who appears arrogant or indifferent.  As a job seeker, you need to own your attitude and how you feel about an opportunity.  If you go into an interview with a chip on your shoulder, you’ll be leaving the interview carrying it with you instead of an offer.

Don’t waste a company’s time if you think you’re too good for a role or you just don’t care.   You and the hiring manager have mutual goals in filling the position. Even if they’re courting you for the job, they still want to know that you’re interested and that they’re going to like working with you.  Get rid of any off-putting attitudes and get positive about why you’re there.

If you feel a wave of disenchantment or indifference hit you in the interview, refocus your attention on something positive like what you can learn from the experience.  Find something to get excited about so that enthusiasm is what’s seen and not any fear, loathing, or apathy.

Everyone is human, and sometimes putting your flaws on the table can spark a higher level conversation that shows you’re a stronger person with greater character than the candidate who hides everything about themselves.  And as a job seeker, if you’ve learned anything from researching interview preparation, it’s that any weakness can be turned into a positive if you find the right angle to look at it from–the same way a politician with a good marketing team can spin anything to win over a voter.

But unlike most of our current politicians, stand out by being honest if approached about your shortcomings and own who you are.  A job is an important decision and its better to be happy in who you are in a role than to always have to pretend to be someone you’re not. Remind the interviewer that despite your flaws and any mistakes in the interview that you’re still the best candidate because of what you can do, what you’ve learned, what you’ve overcome, and how you’re the best fit for the job.

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About Robin Rayburn

Robin L. Rayburn is the Editor & General Manager of Robin was introduced to the recruitment industry in 2007 and her passion for people has never let her stray far from it since. In her spare time she manages her blog,, tweets from @interviewingcom and @chitowntexan, and is always striving to help those around her who have a vision for success. You can also find Robin on LinkedIn and Google+.

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  1. Spark HireOctober 19, 2012 at 3:49 pmReply

    Great advice! Owning your mistakes in the interview is the best and really the only way to get past your former mistakes. Whether the interview is in person or through online video, it’s important to be calm, cool, and collected when talking about your former mistakes. Make sure to empathize what you’ve learned from the experiences instead of trying to justify your actions. Employers want people who can take responsibility, not candidates who go on the defensive.

  2. interviewingcomOctober 18, 2012 at 2:20 pmReply

    @intellegojobs Thanks, for the retweet! Hope you guys are having a great week over there.

  3. interviewingcomOctober 18, 2012 at 2:03 pmReply

    @CHOPCareers Thanks for sharing our article! We’re always curious how people really feel about owning who they are…

  4. interviewingcomOctober 18, 2012 at 12:45 pmReply

    @MatthewSm1th Thanks, Matt!

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