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Worst-Case Scenario Survival Tactics for Job Seekers

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I spend a fair amount of time explaining how to achieve a best-case scenario. But what's a job seeker to do if she suddenly finds herself late for an interview? Or stumped by an interview question?

Certainly all those tips about how to prevent disasters are useless when you're in the thick of one. So in this article I'll tackle worst-case scenario survival tactics for job seekers.

I'm Going to Be Late for the Interview!

No matter how much you prepare, destiny still occasionally throws you a wild card.

Your car breaks down ... you get splashed by a bus ... your alarm fails to go off ... you're going to miss your job interview!

Take a deep breath. Collect your thoughts. You're about to place a very important phone call. The recruiter will want to know why you are running late and a realistic estimate of how long it will take you to (safely) get to the interview. The recruiter will also be looking for a courteous apology.

The call might sound like this:

"Hi Mel. This is Chris Jones. I have an 11 a.m. interview today for the editor position. Unfortunately, my car has broken down. I should be able to get there in 25 minutes if that's OK. I apologize for the inconvenience and I wanted to inform you as soon as possible."

Recruiters tend to be more accepting of incidents that fall under the "couldn't be avoided" category. If you live in New York like I do, traffic and bus drivers who speed up when they see mud puddles fall into this category.

Keep in mind that the recruiter is under no requirement to delay or reschedule the interview, but if you are polite and courteous, odds are you'll get a second chance.

I Don't Know How to Answer the Question!

If you get caught off guard by an interview question ... stall.

How you stall is the key. Saying, "That's a really good question," in a slow, measured tone is much more effective than, "Ummm. Let's see. Huh. That's a stumper!"

Don't make time for yourself by asking if you can "take a minute" or by coming up with a witty, tongue-in-cheek answer. This is not Hollywood Squares.

If you need more time, politely ask the interviewer to clarify a portion of the question. This is a very effective strategy, because often the interview questions that stop job seekers in their tracks are too vague to be approached logically. Asking for clarification can make a molehill out of a mountain.

I Forgot to Bring Copies of My Resume!

According to a recruiter colleague of mine, this happens far more often than you might think.

The key is to acknowledge it upfront and give a practical excuse -- one that avoids the perception of laziness or lack of forethought.

"I just wanted to let you know that I planned ahead to bring copies of my resume, but my printer didn't cooperate. It broke down on me. I can e-mail you a copy after the interview if that's OK."

And it should be OK. Chances are the recruiter will have a copy of your resume on hand. (Make sure you get e-mail addresses for all the interviewers who asked for a copy of your resume.)

I Called the Recruiter by the Wrong Name!

The average job seeker will meet anywhere from three to a dozen people during a job interview. Chances are that at some point he or she will call someone by the wrong name -- sometimes repeatedly.

If you find yourself in this situation, address it and move on.

"Amy, I'm sorry. I've met so many great people today, and I'm trying to put names with all the faces. Amy, I apologize."

Working the person's name into the apology will help keep you from making the mistake again.

Now, get back to the interview, phone screen or whatever matter was at hand.

Similarly, if recruiters call you by the wrong name -- which I've found to be far more common -- simply correct them after they've completed their sentence and move on.

Mistakes during the job search are like mistakes in business. They should be addressed -- not dwelled on.
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