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.
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.
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