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Reset – How to Overcome Mistakes During a Job Interview

By: Leslie Stevens-Huffman

It can happen to anyone. You mistakenly call the engineering manager by the wrong name, lose your train of thought mid-sentence or provide the wrong answer to a technical question during an interview.

Relax, even veteran engineers usually bumble a question or two. The key is how you recover from a misstatement, faux pas, brain freeze or an incorrect answer when there’s a lot on the line.

Your mind goes blank

Brain-freezes are so common that public speakers and politicians train for these types of mishaps. (Check out these examples of famous brain freezes.)

If you blank out as you try to recall the name of a key engineering process or tool, stop and take a deep breath. Experts say that relaxation can help you regain your thoughts and composure by countering the release of the stress hormone cortisol. Another tip for beating tip-of-the-tongue syndrome is to clinch your right fist.

If you don’t come up with the answer in a few seconds, admit that you’re tongue tied and transition to a related subject to restore your confidence. It’s acceptable to be nervous during an interview so don’t be afraid to admit it; plus, your expanded response may convince the manager that you know your stuff.

For instance, if you can’t remember the name of a specific reinforcement, it may come to you as you describe your experience with pre-stressed modal analyses. If you think of it later, offer it up at an appropriate time.

Job InterviewYou commit a faux pas

Calling the engineering manager by the wrong name or inadvertently dissing his alma mater isn’t necessarily fatal. Admitting your mistake shows respect and that you’re willing to take responsibility for your errors. Here’s an example:

“Forgive me for calling you Bob. It’s just that you remind me of a colleague.” Or, “I didn’t mean to show a lack of respect for your university. It’s just that I graduated from that cross-town rival.”

Keep your apology simple and move on. Or as Ellie Williams wrote in this post for the Global Post, “No matter how badly you embarrass yourself, you’ll have a better chance of recovering if you don’t let on how much the incident rattled you.”

You give an incorrect answer

If you catch your mistake right away, simply say: “Let me restate that.” If you realize your mistake a few minutes later, wait until it’s your turn to ask questions and say: “May I go back to your question about reinforcements for a second? I’d like to clarify my answer.”

If you realize your mistake after the interview, your next opportunity to salvage a bungled response is in your thank-you letter or email. Provide a concise correction after thanking the manager for his time. For example: “In reference to your question about reinforcements for pre-stressed modal analysis, I wanted to let you know that I’m familiar with spalling reinforcement and equilibrium reinforcement.”

Don’t make too many corrections during the interview or call attention to your mistakes. Let sleeping dogs lie unless you bungle a critical question that could be a real deal-breaker.

Other information of potential interest

How to Create a Personal Brand to Promote Your Engineering Skills

Want a Raise? Top Paying Cities for Contract Engineers

Survive the Screening: Mastering Telephone Interviews

Help PEAK find the right placement for you:  Submit or Update Your Resume

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2 thoughts on “Reset – How to Overcome Mistakes During a Job Interview

  1. DANIEL T. WONG dtw45@cornell.edu | 371 Classon Ave, Apt 3B, Brooklyn, NY 11238 | 908-907-1485
    EDUCATION
    Cornell University, Ithaca, NY MS, Mechanical Engineering – Controls, Systems, & Dynamics
    GPA: 3.72 / 4.30 2014
    Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ BS, Mechanical Engineering (Honors Program, Rank #1 of 129)
    GPA: 3.99 / 4.00 2007
    SAT: 800 (quantitative), 740 (verbal); GRE: 800 (quantitative), 640 (verbal) AWARDS Cornell Diversity Programs in Engineering: Graduate Excellence in Leadership 2013 American Controls Conference: Best Presentation in Session Award 2013 National Science Foundation (NSF) Honorable Mention 2008 Rutgers Presidential Fellowship ($30,000 award, only 10 awards granted per year) 2007 SKILLS MATLAB; Pro/E; SolidWorks; Microsoft Office Suite (Excel, PowerPoint, Visio)
    TECHNICAL EXPERIENCE Cornell University, Mechanical Engineering Department, Ithaca, NY Controls Theory – Research Assistant  Developed algorithms for robust controller switching under persistent disturbances.  Communicated theory and simulation at academic conferences and a departmental seminar.
    2010 – 2014
    Rutgers University, Mechanical Engineering Department, New Brunswick, NJ Material Dynamics Modeling – Research Assistant  Theoretically modeled piezoelectric crystals using micromechanics first principles.  Developed computational simulations of the theory under various electro-mechanical loads.
    2007 – 2009
    NASA Langley Research Center, Hampton, VA Langley Aerospace Research Student Scholars (LARSS) – Engineering Intern  Created a thermal model of a cryogenic chamber through analytical software.  Developed CAD models of the cryogenic chamber via Pro/E modeling software.
    Summer 2008
    CODING PROJECTS
    Autonomous Mobile Robots – iRobot Create® Programming Final Project  Implemented algorithms on physical hardware for localization, mapping and planning. (MATLAB)  Worked in a high intensity team environment to competing against other class teams.
    Spring 2011
    Topics in Computational Sustainability – Electric-Car Efficiency Project  Demonstrated reduced battery usage by as much as 40% via a model predictive control approach.  Developed a MATLAB program to compare various strategies with real city-driving data sets.
    Spring 2011
    CAD DESIGN PROJECTS
    Creative Machines Lab – Multi-legged Robot Design  Designed an extensive CAD model of a multi-legged robot via SolidWorks modeling software.  Constructed a prototype via rapid-prototyping and laser cutting machinery.
    Summer 2009
    NJ Governor’s School of Engineering & Technology – RC Car Modeling and Design  Designed a simple project to teach fundamentals from computer-aided design to prototyping.  Instructed a group of 6 high school students on how to design and then build a prototype.
    Summer 2007
    PUBLICATIONS D. T. Wong, B. Hencey. A Controller Switching Design Approach for Control of HDD Dual-Stage Actuators, Proceedings of the American Control Conference. Washington, DC.
    Jun 2013
    D. T. Wong, B. Hencey. A Youla-based, State Space Approach to the Parameterization of H2 Suboptimal Regulating Controllers, Proceedings of the American Control Conference. Montreal, CAN.
    Jun 2012
    D. T. Wong, B. Hencey. A State Space Approach to the Parameterization of Output Regulating Controllers, Proceedings of the IEEE Conference on Decision and Control. Orlanda, FL.
    Dec 2011
    G. J. Weng, D. T. Wong. Thermodynamic driving force in ferroelectric crystals with a rank-2 laminated domain pattern, and a study of enhanced electrostriction, Journal of the Mechanics & Physics of Solids.
    Mar 2009
    TEACHING Cornell Catalyst Academy: Cyber Physical Buildings for Education – Instructor Summer 2013 Cornell University: Feedback Controls Systems – Lab Teaching Assistant Fall 2012 Rutgers Engineers of the Future (EOF) Summer Institute – MATLAB Programming Teacher Summer 2009 LEADING Cornell Engineering Grad Student Association (EGSA) – Vice President 2012 – 2013 Cornell Graduate Consulting Club (CGCC) – Vice President 2013 VOLUNTEERING Ithaca Sciencenter – Homeschool Science Program Volunteer, Ithaca, NY 2012 – 2013 Greater Ithaca Activities Center – Science Program Volunteer, Ithaca, NY 2012 – 2013 INTERESTS Competitive Ultimate Frisbee Player; Amateur Graphic Designer; Travel (Beijing, Dubai, Montreal)

  2. DANIEL T. WONG dtw45@cornell.edu | 371 Classon Ave, Apt 3B, Brooklyn, NY 11238 | 908-907-1485
    EDUCATION
    Cornell University, Ithaca, NY MS, Mechanical Engineering – Controls, Systems, & Dynamics
    GPA: 3.72 / 4.30 2014
    Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ BS, Mechanical Engineering (Honors Program, Rank #1 of 129)
    GPA: 3.99 / 4.00 2007
    SAT: 800 (quantitative), 740 (verbal); GRE: 800 (quantitative), 640 (verbal) AWARDS Cornell Diversity Programs in Engineering: Graduate Excellence in Leadership 2013 American Controls Conference: Best Presentation in Session Award 2013 National Science Foundation (NSF) Honorable Mention 2008 Rutgers Presidential Fellowship ($30,000 award, only 10 awards granted per year) 2007 SKILLS MATLAB; Pro/E; SolidWorks; Microsoft Office Suite (Excel, PowerPoint, Visio)
    TECHNICAL EXPERIENCE Cornell University, Mechanical Engineering Department, Ithaca, NY Controls Theory – Research Assistant  Developed algorithms for robust controller switching under persistent disturbances.  Communicated theory and simulation at academic conferences and a departmental seminar.
    2010 – 2014
    Rutgers University, Mechanical Engineering Department, New Brunswick, NJ Material Dynamics Modeling – Research Assistant  Theoretically modeled piezoelectric crystals using micromechanics first principles.  Developed computational simulations of the theory under various electro-mechanical loads.
    2007 – 2009
    NASA Langley Research Center, Hampton, VA Langley Aerospace Research Student Scholars (LARSS) – Engineering Intern  Created a thermal model of a cryogenic chamber through analytical software.  Developed CAD models of the cryogenic chamber via Pro/E modeling software.
    Summer 2008
    CODING PROJECTS
    Autonomous Mobile Robots – iRobot Create® Programming Final Project  Implemented algorithms on physical hardware for localization, mapping and planning. (MATLAB)  Worked in a high intensity team environment to competing against other class teams.
    Spring 2011
    Topics in Computational Sustainability – Electric-Car Efficiency Project  Demonstrated reduced battery usage by as much as 40% via a model predictive control approach.  Developed a MATLAB program to compare various strategies with real city-driving data sets.
    Spring 2011
    CAD DESIGN PROJECTS
    Creative Machines Lab – Multi-legged Robot Design  Designed an extensive CAD model of a multi-legged robot via SolidWorks modeling software.  Constructed a prototype via rapid-prototyping and laser cutting machinery.
    Summer 2009
    NJ Governor’s School of Engineering & Technology – RC Car Modeling and Design  Designed a simple project to teach fundamentals from computer-aided design to prototyping.  Instructed a group of 6 high school students on how to design and then build a prototype.
    Summer 2007
    PUBLICATIONS D. T. Wong, B. Hencey. A Controller Switching Design Approach for Control of HDD Dual-Stage Actuators, Proceedings of the American Control Conference. Washington, DC.
    Jun 2013
    D. T. Wong, B. Hencey. A Youla-based, State Space Approach to the Parameterization of H2 Suboptimal Regulating Controllers, Proceedings of the American Control Conference. Montreal, CAN.
    Jun 2012
    D. T. Wong, B. Hencey. A State Space Approach to the Parameterization of Output Regulating Controllers, Proceedings of the IEEE Conference on Decision and Control. Orlanda, FL.
    Dec 2011
    G. J. Weng, D. T. Wong. Thermodynamic driving force in ferroelectric crystals with a rank-2 laminated domain pattern, and a study of enhanced electrostriction, Journal of the Mechanics & Physics of Solids.
    Mar 2009
    TEACHING Cornell Catalyst Academy: Cyber Physical Buildings for Education – Instructor Summer 2013 Cornell University: Feedback Controls Systems – Lab Teaching Assistant Fall 2012 Rutgers Engineers of the Future (EOF) Summer Institute – MATLAB Programming Teacher Summer 2009 LEADING Cornell Engineering Grad Student Association (EGSA) – Vice President 2012 – 2013 Cornell Graduate Consulting Club (CGCC) – Vice President 2013 VOLUNTEERING Ithaca Sciencenter – Homeschool Science Program Volunteer, Ithaca, NY 2012 – 2013 Greater Ithaca Activities Center – Science Program Volunteer, Ithaca, NY 2012 – 2013 INTERESTS Competitive Ultimate Frisbee Player; Amateur Graphic Designer; Travel (Beijing, Dubai, Montreal)

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