A man in a suit sitting on a bench outdoors with his head in his hands after a bad interview.
Image: © tostphoto/Stock.adobe.com

What should I do after a bad interview?

8 May 2019

Have you just come out of a bad interview? Don’t worry, Hays’ Jane McNeill is here to walk you through your next steps.

You know what your best interview performance looks like, and that wasn’t it. Despite all of your careful interview preparation, the points that you wanted to make just didn’t come across in the right way. You felt nervous and uncomfortable, you went blank when asked questions, and you struggled to build a rapport with the interviewer. It may feel as if all of your best efforts have gone to waste and a bad interview can certainly throw your confidence. But rest assured, all is not lost.

Of course, there’s always a chance that the interview may not have gone as badly as you thought. But if it did, you may well be able to salvage the situation or at least make the best of it with the below advice.

Write everything down

First off, I’m sure your head will be swimming with worries over where exactly you think you went wrong. While this might not feel like the most appealing task at the moment, try to write an honest account of this bad interview while it’s still fresh in your mind, from the beginning to the end. This will allow you to offload your many thoughts and feelings about the interview so you can recollect more clearly how it went.

What mistakes did you make?

Now you have written everything down, it will be easier to pinpoint what mistakes you made during the interview. Try to answer this question honestly. For example, did you forget to prepare questions to ask at the end? Did you ramble too much with one of your answers? Did you accidentally speak negatively about your last employer?

Crucially, consider why you think you made these mistakes. For instance, you might have forgotten to prepare questions for the interviewer because you were so concerned about the questions they would be asking you. Or you may have spoken negatively about your last employer because you were caught off guard by a question asking why you want to leave your current company. Whatever it was, identify how the mistakes happened so you can avoid them for next time.

Could the interviewer have been more welcoming?

It’s key that you make the distinction between your mistakes and what the interviewer could have done differently – after all, they are only human. Your interviewer might have unknowingly come across as hostile – for instance, by asking you questions in quick succession without smiling or commenting on your answers in between.

Perhaps their body language was closed off, which made you feel nervous and lose your focus. While it’s not ideal, you may be faced with less-than-perfect interviewers again in the future. Therefore, it’s worth learning how to deal with these types of interviewers now and not let yourself get flustered in the moment.

Now that you have a clearer recollection of this bad interview, I would advise that you pick up the phone to your recruiter. They will be awaiting your call to see how the interview went and you should come back to them that same day.

Give balanced and professional feedback to your recruiter

When you speak to your recruiter, it is worth saying from the get-go that you don’t feel the interview went as well as it could have. When feeding back about your own performance, it’s important that you’re honest but also that you aren’t too negative in the language you use or cross the line from self-aware to self-deprecating. Be sure to also highlight the lessons you have learned. For example, instead of saying:

  • ‘This was a really bad interview. I completely messed up one of my answers. I wasn’t expecting the question, so I just rambled and talked absolute rubbish.’

You might say something like:

  • ‘One of the interview questions caught me off guard. Having never been asked this in an interview before, I rambled a bit. Next time I’ll draw a few deep breaths and perhaps ask for a couple of seconds to think about my answer.’

If feeding back to the recruiter about the interviewer’s behaviour, it’s vital that you avoid negative language and try to keep this feedback balanced and professional. For example, instead of saying:

  • ‘The interviewer was blunt and aloof. They asked me quick-fire questions without trying to build up a rapport or make conversation in between my answers.’

You might say something like:

  • ‘While the interviewer was very professional and structured in their interview technique, they had a tendency to ask all of the questions in quick succession without much conversation in between. Therefore, I struggled a bit to build a rapport.’

Following this, I also think it’s worth telling your recruiter that you would really appreciate another chance to meet with the interviewer and prove your suitability (if this is something you are willing to do). This will show initiative and determination on your part. The recruiter can then run this idea by their client on your behalf and come back to you.

Take your recruiter’s feedback on board

Once you have fed back to the recruiter, listen to what they have to say. They have plenty of experience in coaching candidates for interview situations and gathering feedback from their clients, and they will be able to provide you with some advice.

The recruiter might also have some feedback from their client so remember to listen carefully. If the client picked up on some of your slip-ups, as well as some that you weren’t aware you were making, don’t panic. Let the recruiter know the reasons you think you made these mistakes and how you will avoid them in the future. This shows self-awareness and honesty – both valuable traits and both of which can be fed back to the interviewer.

Remember to take note of positive feedback and don’t be too hard on yourself. The interviewer isn’t expecting you to be perfect, and your good points may well have outshone a couple of innocent mistakes.

Keep calm and carry on job-searching

Now comes the limbo period between interview feedback and hearing about the next stages. This can be quite an emotionally stressful time, and it’s important that you keep calm and positive, and avoid certain pitfalls.

Firstly, don’t contact the interviewer directly or connect on social media – this can sometimes be perceived as invasive and presumptuous. Instead, send a ‘thank you’ note to the interviewer via your recruiter. In this note, don’t overstate where you went wrong or over-apologise. Simply reiterate your interest in the role and thank the interviewer for their time. Leave the rest to the recruiter.

Secondly, don’t give up on your job search while waiting to hear back. By all means, take some time to recharge after a bad interview. After all, interviews can be draining enough as it is. Relax, spend some time with family and friends who can boost you up, and then get ready to bounce back and carry on looking for new roles.

As I said, a bad interview experience shouldn’t knock your confidence. Best-case scenario, the interviewer will be understanding and see that your overall positive attributes outweigh a less-than-perfect interview performance. And if worst-case scenario – you don’t get the job – then you can treat this as an opportunity to refine your interviewing technique for next time.

By Jane McNeill

Jane McNeill is managing director of both New South Wales and Western Australia at recruiting expert Hays.

A version of this article previously appeared on Hays’ Viewpoint blog.

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